small banner
home page about us page activities page publications page Wakefield's history contacts page links page

the gissing trust

Gissing House

Gissing's House in Thompson's Yard, Westgate
Watercolour by Joe Clay © The Gissing Trust

The Gissing Centre is open to the public without charge every Saturday afternoon from 2-4pm, May to September.

George Gissing (1857-1903) the renowned Victorian novelist, lived as a boy behind his father's chemist's shop in Thompson's Yard. Although he left Wakefield as a young man, his early experiences in Wakefield are often reflected in his writing. He wrote 23 novels, short stories, and two studies of Charles Dickens.

The Gissing Trust was founded in 1978 by Wakefield Historical Society, Wakefield Civic Society and others to acquire and preserve the childhood home of George Gissing in Thompson's Yard, where family memorabilia, books and an exhibition are housed.

The Centre is in the house where the Victorian novelist George Gissing lived as a boy, behind his father’s chemist’s shop at the top of Westgate. George wrote 23 novels between 1880 and 1903, and is regarded as one of the leading English novelists of his generation, enjoying friendships with fellow writers such as Henry James and H.G. Wells. The Centre houses family memorabilia, exhibition material and a large collection of books by and about Gissing. There is also a video to provide background information about George’s links with Wakefield.

The Gissing Centre
2-4 Thompson's Yard

contact: Dr. Phil Judkins
mobile: 0797 144 9451

George Gissing

George Gissing


The 2018 Exhibition at the Gissing Centre

Although George Gissing wrote around 100 short stories, several works of criticism and a travel book, it is his novels for which he is valued, and the 2018 exhibition presents these novels in order of publication.

Workers in the Dawn
[1880] was George Gissing’s first novel. The first of his five ‘proletarian’ novels, it opens in a squalid slum, but is mainly set in the poor, but more respectable areas of Bloomsbury. The Unclassed [1884] was shocking for the time in having a heroine who is a prostitute and who is held up as a moral exemplar. Demos [1886], Gissing’s first successful novel, is built around the failed love between two people of different classes. Thyrza [1887] is also tale of doomed love between a local girl and the middle-class philanthropist who sets up a working-men’s institute and library in Lambeth. The Nether World, the last of Gissing’s five ‘working-class’ novels, is a brutal presentation of the hardship and degradation of proletarian life in London, and the impossibility of escape from it. In these five ‘slum’ novels Gissing created a new type of social fiction.

In Isabel Clarendon[1886] the male protagonist falls in love with a woman socially his superior and philosophically incompatible; the story examines the disintegration of their relationship.  A Life’s Morning [1888] will be of interest to those who know the Wakefield area since, although the place names are changed, it is set in a clearly recognizable, though unflatteringly portrayed, Wakefield. The Emancipated [1890] marks Gissing's move away from fiction of the very poor; it is misogynistic in its portrayal of the sanctity of art and the struggles of (male) artists with philistines, particularly philistine women.

New Grub Street
[1891] cemented Gissing’s reputation and remains his best-known work, depicting the struggle for life, the jealousies and intrigues, of the literary world of his time, and writers’ struggles to maintain artistic integrity while earning a living from their art. It also dramatizes the blighting effects of poverty and an ambitious, socially superior wife on artistic endeavour.

Denzil Quarrier (1892), the story of a young man persuaded to stand as parliamentary candidate in a provincial constituency, is built upon the Victorian trope of the guilty secret and the threat of exposure. Born in Exile (also 1892) follows the life of a young man from leaving school to establishing himself in the world. The Odd Women (1893) tells of three unmarried sisters, dealing compassionately with the challenges and restraints on unmarried females or "odd women", relegated to a world of second-rate jobs. In the Year of Jubilee (1894) addresses the problems of courtship and marriage, the nature of marriage and the role and position of women, presenting a picture of the pretentiousness, shallowness and vulgarity of the newly-comfortable lower-middle classes. 

Three novellas follow - Eve's Ransom (1895) deals with Gissing’s obsession and resentment at the need for the artist to be forced to work, when he should be free for a life of travel and leisure. Sleeping Fires (1895) features a flawed aristocratic heroine, its theme being that she should not have rejected the hero for having fathered an illegitimate child. The Paying Guest (1896) again explores subtle social mores, centering on the comic conflict between a poor but respectable couple’s fearful gentility and their comfortably-off, but low-born, lodger’s spirited vulgarity.

The Whirlpool
(1897) is a ‘sensation’ novel with much melodrama and is the story of fashionable extramarital intrigues with a compelling central female character. The Town Traveller (1898) is the Gissing’s only work which sets out to be funny, aiming at broad Cockney farce. The Crown of Life (1899) shows the worst side of ‘Imperialism, […] that hateful spirit which, by its greed and arrogance, threatens such disturbance to the peace of the world’ and marks a return to the poor idealistic male protagonist who falls in love with a wealthy young woman. Our Friend the Charlatan (1901) satirizes males, whose gentlemanly manners, superior minds, and brilliant eloquence win them ideal women, ideal wealth, and sometimes even ideal seats in Parliament. The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903) is taken by most readers to be largely autobiographical, or perhaps wishful thinking, in relating the imaginary journal of a recluse, who enjoys release from poverty and worry, amid books, memories, and reflection. Veranilda (1904), published posthumously, is set in classical Rome.  Will Warburton (1904), also published posthumously, the tale of a well-born young man who becomes poor and sets himself up as a grocer, focuses on the pitfalls of living in a class not one’s own.