Friday, 27 January 2017

Commonplace 224 George & Forster's Life.

With paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792).

If he is remembered for anything, John Forster (1812-1876) will forever be thought of as the man who knew Charles Dickens well enough personally to write a three volume book about his life and works: 'The Life of Dickens' (first vol pub 1872; last in 1874). Forster knew Dickens as a good friend and intimate; they were close enough for the author to appoint him his literary executor. And no one was better placed to know about the works as Dickens as he ran all his novels and part-works past Forster before he sent them for publication.

Self Portrait aged 17
All reasonably well-educated and reasonably affluent households will have kept a copy of Forster's on their shelves, and George was very familiar with it when he was asked by publishers Chapman Hall to abridge and update it. The original three volume edition needed trimming to make it marketable in a world (1901) when Dickens was not all the rage for readers. 1901, remember, was the same year of Freud's 'Psychopathology of Everyday Life', Chekhov's 'The Three Sisters' was first performed and Booker T Washington's 'Up From Slavery' was carving a furrow through racist bigotry to demonstrate how all people, whatever their origins, have potential that cries out to be realised. Not exactly a world a-trembling for another trawl through Dickens, but there you have it.

There is an old saying: You can judge a person by the company they keep. Forster, being an all-round wordsmith by calling, mixed with literary legends such as Thomas Carlyle and Robert Browning. A particularly close associate for a time was Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton (1803-73), a man addicted to philandering, sodomy and wife-beating, who turned to Forster in his hour of matrimonial need to get his unbiddable wife carted off to a mental asylum. John Forster was the ideal helpmate in this endeavour because, from 1861-1872, he was the Commissioner for Lunacy, having previously been the secretary to the Lunacy Commission since 1855. To understand how this governmental role oversaw the lives of the mentally ill, you can do no better than to look up 'Inconvenient People, Lunacy, Liberty and The Mad-Doctors In Victorian England' (2012) by Sarah Wise.
Sarah Campbell 1777
The Lunacy Commission was formed in 1845 to oversee the treatment and incarceration of people with mental health difficulties in a range of residential settings. I am making that sound too twee - the Commission oversaw the various levels of privately-run and publicly-owned asylums, following a series of scandals involving sexual and physical abuse of mentally ill inmates, and a trend in certifying sane, uncooperative, mostly female, family members who needed removing from the scene for financial or other reasons. In 1839, Bulwer-Lytton asked Forster to spy on his wife, Rosina, who was a problem he needed to fix. B-L was a successful author, with a vast fortune accrued from his writing, and an MP for a 'rotten borough', which was a small constituency that could be bought out or manipulated into voting for the candidate. At home, he was a cruel and violent tyrant - he kicked her in the side when she was eight months pregnant; he tried to stab her; he bit her deeply in the cheek. At the last of these, he needed to be retrained by the servants. He fled to the Continent and wrote a letter of apology that Rosina kept for future evidence should she need to move against him.
He subsequently denied both the attack and writing the letter, but as the latter was still in Rosina's possession, she had the upper hand. Bulwer-Lytton's many infidelities were common knowledge, but when she flirted with a man at a party, her husband had slammed her face into a stone floor. More damning was Rosina's claim that he had sodomised her and made her submit to a raft of sexual activities she did not want to participate in - all grounds for a successful divorce petition. Rosina was the originator of the saying ' Marriage is Saturnalia for men, and tyranny for women'. Divorce seemed the only option, but only if Rosina confessed to infidelity - which she strongly denied. A financial settlement that was well under what she could have demanded gave her freedom, and she got to keep her children.
Lady Cockburn
and Her Three Eldest Sons 1773
Rosina made a significant income from her own writing - she always claimed to be the guiding light behind Bulwer-Lytton's literary success, and she had a fluid, lively style. They spatted via published verse, and he did his best to suppress publication and distribution of her works. Read her 'Blighted Lives' to find out how much she suffered at the hand of a man who refused to accept he was a monster. She was living in Bath, the watering place beloved of all the top toffs, when Forster was recruited to surveil her and report back with enough evidence to discredit her. She had just published her novel, 'Cheveley, or The Man of Honour', a satirical look at married life between aristocrats that was generally taken to be about her own marriage, and if Bulwer-Lytton could prove she was a reprobate he could divorce her, or label her as mad if evidence could be found to link her to heavy drinking. Anyone with a modicum of knowledge of George's attempt to do something similar with his first wife Marianne aka Nell, will hear bells ringing. See Commonplaces 35, 36 and 37 for more on this egregious bit of vileness from our man.

Forster didn't find much to report back about (ditto the detective George hired to surveil his wife), but advised B-L that his best course of action was to find enough for a committal under the Lunacy Act.
In fact, Forster had a good deal of animosity for Rosina as he blamed her for breaking up his marriage prospects with a young woman he fancied - so he can hardly have approached the subject with anything like an open mind. Forster later distanced himself from the matter and denied he ever suggested a committal, but there is a letter extant that puts him right in the frame. Rosina had been creating merry hell by sabotaging the hustings her husband was conducting. She turned up dressed to the nines berating her husband and encouraging the onlookers to ask awkward questions, causing the Baron to run for his life and be forever labelled a chicken. Forster colluded with Lord Shaftesbury to have Rosina forcibly taken to an asylum and detained, even though the necessary legal checks should have stopped this. In a letter to B-L, Forster writes, vis-a-vis the hustings stunt that she had spoken to the crowd in a ...most violent and excited way ... her words... were those of utter insanity... Lord Shaftesbury knows I am writing this to you, and desires me to tell you that there can be only one impression as to the wretched exhibition made by this unhappy person - a full justification of yourself in any measure you may now think is right to take. 

Jane, Countess of Harrington 1778
To cut a long story short, Rosina was kidnapped and incarcerated in a private asylum where she lived with the family who ran it, and eventually won her release after a tsunami of support from the general public and an investigation into the circumstances of her captivity. She was separated from her children and forced to live in France - though what she did to deserve that fate is unclear haha. Public opinion landed firmly against Lord Bulwer-Lytton and he never fully recovered his position in public life. We shouldn't feel too sorry for him - according to his wife he advocated incest if a daughter was attractive enough to her father. 

As for George, there are echoes of the part John Forster played in the assault on Rosina in the way he set about inveigling Clara Collet and Eliza Orme into helping him when he planned to have his second wife, Edith, incarcerated in a mental hospital to get her out of his way. We only have George's version of how Edith's mental health declined, but he played a huge part in unhinging her. His cruelty to her and the way he punished then persecuted her via the children, impugned her mothering skills and eventually wound her up to the point where he claimed she lashed out and trashed a shrubbery is a pale imitation of the Bulwer-Lytton case. To find out more go to Commonplaces 62-69.

And, he may well have delved into his hero Charles Dickens' investigations into having his unwanted wife, Catherine, certified insane as he thought of her as unhappy without any interest in their children. Women not being good mothers was a common claim made against women who were in the way. George himself regarded Edith as a bad mother because she let his first son listen to music hall songs! Fortunately for Catherine, the humane and concerned Dr Thomas Harrington Tuke (of the Tuke mental health care and provision dynasty), expert in mental illness advised Dickens there was no evidence to commit her. And in the end, both Dickens and Forster turned their backs on Bulwer-Lytton, and struck him off their Christmas card lists. 

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Commonplace 243 George & History.

George liked the past. Not his own, perhaps, but the past as recreated by middle class and above male academics, who cherry-picked the bits they wanted to preserve. The best of them were serious-minded explorers who trawled the original sources to find accounts of what had gone before, representing prior times as best they could with what they had found in their research. Of course, most of what was written about in British history, even what was based on primary sources, is skewed in favour of the white, male middle-class and above; women, children and the poor were never fully or fairly represented. In George's day, the British Empire ruled in much of the world - but few historians wanted to view that empire from the position of its subjugated peoples; women, too, were a species beyond the ken of the average male historian.
Sandal Castle near George's home town of Wakefield, West Yorkshire. click
History can be seen as a study in interpretation. Who really knows what motivated Henry VIII to disdain Anne of Cleves? What did he stand to gain from Thomas Cromwell's execution? Did he really write 'Greensleeves'? (Well, no, he didn't, but it is presented as fact in some history books and is often touted in dramatisations of his life.) Was he a good or bad ruler? Was Elizabeth I better? We read the biographies and fall back on making up our own minds, regardless of what we have read. I prefer Elizabeth to Henry, but is that because she's a woman? I always think of her as courageous and a good role model to women who want to live in spite of men, not because of them; whereas Henry seems to be self-indulgent and spendthrift of his talents. Perhaps it's all about identification - I identify with the sort of woman who proves she is as able as any male counterpart.

George was lucky to be born in Yorkshire, a place chockablock with history. Apart from the Vikings, the War of the Roses, and the effects of the English Civil War, (not to mention the Industrial Revolution), one of Yorkshire's most famous claims to historical fame is the Battle of Towton where 28,000 men were killed in one day. If you are fortunate enough to be able to visit the battlefield, you will get some idea of how massive the fray must have been click and how terrain and luck were two of the most significant factors, but not as important as weather. (Remember George's obsession with weather and how it finished him off? Commonplace 139).
Towton Cross battlefield

Of all the historians George admired, Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) click was probably his favourite. Gibbon's 'The History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' was a treasure he clung to and reread many times, often using what he found there as inspiration. On a slightly lighter note, he admired John Ruskin, though he went off Ruskin, possibly because of the casual display of wealth Ruskin employed in his writing. For example, in February 1889, when in Venice, George was reading Ruskin's highly-regarded 'The Stones of Venice', a treatise on the Art and architecture of that city. In his diary, George writes:
By the bye, why does Ruskin invariably address himself to rich people? In "S. Mark's Rest", eg, when speaking of the Pillars, he tells you to imitate the capitals by cutting "a pound of Gruyere cheese". Then again "From the Grand Hotel, or the Swiss Pension, or the duplicate Danieli with the drawbridge, or whatever else among the palaces of resuscitated Venice you abide", etc. - This is a great fault. He then goes on to demolish Ruskin and point out the mistakes made in these few extracts (eg no drawbridge at Danieli). Spite and envy, two of George's dark traits, come into play here. Though he admired Ruskin, in secret, George was jealous of the ability, the vision, and the money Ruskin could draw on to swan about writing readable, inspired books. Deep down, George would have liked to be Ruskin, which made jealousy and eventual falling out of love as the only way for him to deal with his feelings of envy. He is being a tad hypersensitive here - Ruskin in using cheese for non-cheese illustrative purposes, and so it cannot be viewed literally. 
Richard Plantagenet 
(Richard III's father click).
In this rant against Ruskin, George goes on:
This fault of temper leads him into other errors. Speaking of the Rialto: "You will probably find it very dirty, - it may be indecently dirty, - that is modern progress, and Mr Buckle's civilization". Absurd; old Venice was vastly dirtier, as we well know. Do we? 

Anyhoo, this chap Buckle; who was he and what was George reading him for?

According to his Wikipedia page (all the greats have Wiki pages haha), and as mentioned by George in September 1889, Henry Thomas Buckle gave us his life's work in the form of his 'History of Civilization' (click for free download). This is not to be confused with Sir Kenneth Clark's opus on all things Art: 'Civilization', (made into a groundbreaking tv series click -everyone should see it), who is not to be mistaken for Ken Clarke, the MP and so-called 'big beast' of the Tory party click, considered left-wing by hard-line Tories. Much as Mao might be seen as to the left of Stalin?? Anyhoo...

Mr Henry Thomas Buckle (1821-1862) was a chap who was too ill for much school learning when he was a child, but managed to become an expert historian, thanks to the 10-hour days of self-imposed study he put into learning all about it. He inherited enough money to travel and fund the writing of his comprehensive overview of whatever he thought might be termed 'Civilization'. In a time when science was highly regarded, and when every discipline required a testable application of some sort of scientific principle, Buckle was of the opinion that history has a similar set of predictable and quantifiable, principles. In this, he skates closely to the Positivist creed set down by Auguste Comte, and followed by George for a brief while when he was hobnobbing with Frederic Harrison. To Buckle, external factors such as climate, agriculture and weather have as much impact on civilization as the acts and behaviour of people. He also thought wealth is the basis of culture (which is the bedrock of civilization) - which predates the work of Abraham Maslow click by a century. (It was Maslow who gave us the Hierarchy of Needs that suggest the attainment of self-actualization can only take place in the absence of financial insecurity.) 
Richard III much maligned and much loved by 21st century folks
Born: 1452  Died: 1485. State burial: 2015 click 
Some of Buckle's most ambitious ideas are well worth taking a look at. He held that religion, literature and government are, at the best, the products and not the causes of civilization. (This fits in with generally held twentieth century view that the Arts tend to follow trends, not set them. Artists are observers and interpreters, not innovators.) Another is (from the Wiki page):
That the progress of civilization varies directly as "scepticism," the disposition to doubt and to investigate, and inversely as "credulity" or "the protective spirit," a disposition to maintain, without examination, established beliefs and practices. Buckle was sceptical about the so-called civilizing effects of organised religion, which again is a reasonable view based on what we now know about the terror and bigotry exemplified by religious fundamentalism of all stripes. 
Facial reconstruction of Richard III click
Buckle also wrote for periodicals and his 'The Influence of Women On The Progress of Knowledge' was published by Fraser's Magazine in April of 1858 (the year George's first wife Marianne aka Nell was born). We know George read many books about the 'problem' of women possibly to help him flesh out his female characters, but mostly to give him a template for managing the women in his life. He was spectacularly ignorant of what women are really like, but he wrote confidently about how we should be 'managed', and gave us plenty of tips for how we should behave in a more emancipated climate. None of his relationships with the women in his life were particularly successful - according to George, even his mother wasn't keen on him! He was smart enough to realise that the shoe would soon be on the other foot, and women would be claiming their rights, having waited in vain for men to gift them, and so his study of what were the current trends in suffrage developments was all about self-preservation.
Commonplace 242 George & An Outburst On Gissing.

No, not me this time - but Douglas Goldring (1887-1960).
Douglas Goldring 
by Elliot and Fry 1920
Goldring was a fascinating bloke - his was the sort of social trajectory George would have envied, and would have cut his right arm off for. Born into an independently wealthy family, Douglas went through the usual middle class private school to university system, but didn't need to graduate as he came into a substantial inheritance - he left Magdalen College to become a writer. He took on the editorship of Country Life magazine - but you can't hold that against anyone haha. He worked for Ford Madox Ford (and if you haven't read Ford's 'The Good Soldier' - why are you wasting your time reading this when you could be reading that???) Then he opened his own magazine, the Tramp, and published work by Wyndham Lewis and the British Art movement known as the Vorticists by way of Italian fascist Futurist Marinetti. (Does having fascist friends make one a fascist? Discuss.) Douglas was instrumental in the publication of Blast click, the Vorticist group's manifesto-styled magazine, mostly written by Lewis.

He volunteered in WW1. was invalided out, then took up an anti-War position. He became involved with the Fabians and the Bloomsbury Group, and was a committed Socialist. He made use of the 1917 Club, so-called to commemorate the Bolshevik Revolution, where he took afternoon tea with the likes of Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Ramsay McDonald, Aldous Huxley, HG Wells and DH Lawrence.

A prolific poet, writer, critic and editor, in 1920, Douglas wrote 'Reputations', the work the following piece is from. Enjoy. And maybe debate that parting shot about George's 'factitious' (ie made up) reputation. Bloody cheek of it!!

Commonplace 241 George & His Contemporaries - Israel Zangwill

Israel Zangwill 

We have seen (in Commonplaces 80 and 81) how Frederic and Ethel Harrison - whose influence over George's early adult years was immense - were staunch anti-suffrage supporters, happily invoking George's name post-death to support their views. I'm not sure George would have been happy with the reference Ethel made in her letter to Queen magazine, though all it paired him with was the widely-held view that 'a woman's place is in the home' - utter tosh, we know, but there you have it. One of George's wider set who was very for Votes For Women was Israel Zangwill, a prolific and extremely successful author, playwright and political commentator click (though he disapproved of arson and the more dangerous of the Suffrage movement's tactics).

George and Israel might seem to be natural confederates, as both covered superficially similar ground, particularly in their writings about the lives of the impoverished and marginalised from the poorer districts of London. George had his Workers in the Dawn and The Nether World and Israel gave us, amongst other influential works, Children of the Ghetto: A History of Peculiar People. In February 1895, long after poverty ceased to be a topic of interest for George and his writings, he read 'Children' and wrote of it in his Diary: 'a powerful book'. Which, for George, was high praise.

Israel Zangwill was writing from the sort of experience George could only imagine, being as how he was born in one of the country's poorest areas (Whitechapel), and into one of the world's greatest disadvantaged groups (the Jewish faith), which gave his work an authenticity and feel for his subject that is more akin to Dickens by way of Henry Mayhew. George's colder, more distant responses and his stance of critical, middle class sociologist observer, seem all the more judgemental for this lack of emotional connection.

Israel proudly backing the women.
Israel's Children of the Ghetto click is a series of snapshots of life lived under great stress and privation in the poverty and deprivation of London;s poorest district. Israel clearly has great affection for these disadvantaged souls, and encourages the reader to feel at ease in their company. This is partly due to the humour and the wealth of detail about the many instances of neighbourly goodness between his characters, but it is also because the author gives reasonable explanations in mitigation for the behaviour of his people. We feel he likes his characters and we can see he might sit with them and take tea.

George's jaundiced world view, apparent at the beginning of his writing career and only eradicated much later in his life, cannot mask his distaste for his characters, even though they live in similar situations to Israel's. George's 'ironic' critical voice, cold and analytical, not concerned with offering a defence for their predicament except for the 'fate' he relied on to defend the indefensible in life, makes us feel he despises his characters - the ones who fail in his 'Poverty' books. Isaac throws us in with his folk and makes us feel the texture of their lives, allowing us to see some intrinsic value in the culture they represent. George gives up the ghost to 'fate' and almost sneers at the poor as having no culture to celebrate. For George, the only culture seems to be the one approved of by white, middle class well-educated males who live in London. Israel allows his to be intrinsically worthwhile and full of potential. For George, the poor are a burden on those who are 'natural' aristocrats - and he includes himself in that category, of course - who will rise up and smash whatever they can get their greedy mitts on. To get a feeling for the differences in approaches to similar subject matter: Israel describes the tragedy of losing children in childbirth as 'worse than barrenness' - George says it should be a cause for celebration. In comparing the two, in her book about Zangwill: A Jew in the Public Arena', Meri-Jane Rochelson (2008) refers to George's writing about poverty as 'brutal' when compared to Israel's click.
The Woman of Fashion - La Mondaine - by James Tissot 1885
George's first Diary entry (July 15th 1893) mentioning Israel comes when Algernon sends a cutting of a piece written in the third edition of the brand new Pall Mall Magazine. George has recently moved home to leafy Brixton and is getting the house ready for Edith and Walter to join him. Miss Collet has begun their whatever it was she enjoyed with him and George is about to start his drive to groom her for the future role as minion and eternal sympathetic maternal bosom offerer. It is summer so George is moaning about the heat and the amount of sweating he is doing. (Makes you wonder how many layers of clothes he kept on, even at home, poor chap, though hyperhydrosis is a recognised medical condition, and does not affect the aprocrine sweat glands, the ones that produce odours, so he was not smelly).

Algernon's cutting, according to the editor's (Pierre Coustillas) note in the Diary:
In a series of paragraphs about Gissing Zangwill wrote: Gissing has this supreme distinction: he is the only man of the age who has never been paragraphed - not even meticulously. His movements are a mystery, his style of dress is known only to his tailor. Shakespearean in his range of character, he is Shakespearean also in his incorporeality. But unlike Shakespeare, he has not kept his personality out of his books - and in so doing he has missed being the Shakespeare of our day.
Evening On Karl Johan Street by Edvard Munch 1892
Superficially, George was not much impressed by over-praise - presumably, he had surfeited on that during his school-days! - but he was impressed enough to read, and admire, Zangwill, and, on June 25th 1896, records that he finally met his fellow-writer at a Cosmopolis dinner, and subsequently paid him a couple of social calls. Can we take this praise at face value, or is hyperbole meant as facetious sarcasm? Or, was there something more spiteful behind the piece?

It was after the first of these that Israel wrote the famous letter to Montagu Eder (September 2nd 1896) where it is revealed quite a few people knew about George's past colourful life:
The mysterious Gissing has come within my ken at last and sitting in my study poured out his sad soul. He is a handsome youthful chap but seems to have bungled life in every possible way, and after a terrible uphill fight to be still burdened with some woman who, I suspect, breaks out in drink. He hates woman and is not in love with life. From another source I hear that the cloud on his career had its origins in imprisonment for stealing money from overcoats &c when he was the pride of Owen's College, Manchester. This statement being 'libellous' please do not 'publish' this letter. He is now making a fair income but unfortunately he has no interest in his old books and he will probably never write anything again as good as Thyrza or New Grub Street or Demos or the Nether World. Still, I encouraged him to go on, in his old groove, and not now knuckle under to the popular demand. 
The Tyger of Wrath by William Blake 1790-93
It's interesting to note that George has given the impression Edith (his wife in 1896) 'breaks out in drink'. Was he up to his old trick of assassinating his current wife's character - to a virtual stranger - to get sympathy? (Creating the impression she was a drunkard? And yet some biographers fail to notice this tendency in George to portray his wives as drunks! Hmm... ) Anyhoo, it is clear George gave enough of himself away for Israel to form the opinion George had issues with 'woman' (let's park the bit about not being in love with life - George was such a whinger about how miserable he was, we can take it as read he was a sad sack all of the time he wasn't in Italy haha). 

Did George see Israel as a fellow traveller in the world of misogyny, and so feel free to expand on his pet subject? If so, it back-fired. He would not have known that anyone but his closest confidantes (as Paul Delany notes in his biography, Frederic Harrison might have been the ratfink source) knew about prison and Owens' - which is a blessing, but also a legitimate qualification for our sympathy. To not know people talked about it behind his back - and may have judged him negatively on it - is a sad state of affairs. However, if he was reckless in his choice of confidante (though he would have trusted Harrison, and if he couldn't trust Fred, who could he trust??) in order to screw that ridiculous sympathy out of them, he only had himself to blame - again! If only he had adopted the approach Stephen Fry uses when he discusses his youthful crimes click - to 'fess up and say he has moved on, George would have lived it down by turning it into part of his legend. (If only he had had me for an agent... haha).  
Composition 7 by Wassily Kandinsky 1917
One of the great unknowns of George's life, is how his contemporaries' knowledge about his Owen's debacle affect his writing career - did publishers hold it against him and pay less for his work because they knew he would not argue and risk becoming associated with wrangling over money, because money was a touchy subject? George certainly didn't seem to make much for of his work - unlike Israel Zangwill who ended his days in the exact sort of home George would have loved for himself 
(East Preston in West Sussex click - and died in Midhurst, HG Wells' literary 'Wimblehurst'.) 

Fairy by Arthur Rackham 1918
Israel went on to tremendous success both sides of the Atlantic and George went on to France and his place in our literary hearts. One is hardly read any more and one is now a National Treasure who is hardly read any more. Kismet.
Commonplace 240  George & His Tendency To Tyranny  PART TWO.

George was, to say the very least, critical of his second wife, Edith. On almost every - no, on every - level, right from the beginning, he saw her as being composed of various faults he would have to tinker with and obliterate.
A typical diary entry might have said:
'Very trying day. Had to address two incorrect uses of the possessive apostrophe on Edith's shopping list. She refuses point blank to comply with standard usage. I said to her, 'If in doubt, leave it out, because to leave it in - and it be wrong - you prove to the world you are an ignoramus'. Made her do one hundred lines: 'I am an ignoramus'. She made four spelling mistakes with that simple task! Had to resort to a fair chunk of Heine and several bowls of Cavendish Old Black Shag packed hard into my pipe to regain equilibrium. How I bless the Fates for making me a smoker. Thought about how the Romans in the Colosseum dealt with female dissenters and wondered if Edith would have arm-wrestled a tiger to the ground, or just make a lunge for its windpipe. Made me wish we lived in those days and could settle things once and for all with the jab of a trident. Noticed a smear on the hall mirror and cursed Edith (silently) for not managing the servants to a higher standard. Put my unused postage stamps in order of value, which took much longer than planned, then in colours of the spectrum, from red to black. Noticed I am very short of the 2d. How I rail against the Fates that omitted to remind me to buy more when I slipped out this morning to purchase tobacco. Fretted for a bit over why no-one wants to read my books - just because I think they are shit doesn't mean everyone else should. The monstrous cheek of it! Wondered at the number of turnips we are using - three since last Tuesday fortnight, which is a disgrace. The cost of turnips is astronomical; advised Edith to be more economical with them as they don't grow on trees. Noticed a pimple on my bell end; took me right back to the old Owens days. Mused a bit on why Fate made me dip my hand into the pockets of others when it just as easily could have found me a Saturday job at the Dog Inn in the city centre. I suppose Fate didn't have me down as a barman - it had me down as a 'tea leaf', as Edith would be wont to say if she ever found out about it. Felt a bit shivery and feeble after supper (lentil sandwich and cold tea - if only women could learn to enjoy lentils we would have harmony in this world) then coughed up some yucky stuff. Fate decreed it wasn't red, just yellowy-green. Chastised Gubbins for noisily slurping his rusk - that boy takes after his mother, poor wee common as muck mite that he is. Cursed the Fates that made me fertile. Moaned at Edith a bit for not teaching the boy more Greek nursery rhymes. She charmingly told me to 'do one'. O, why did Fate make me offer marriage to this totally-unsuited-to-my-particular-peculiar-pernickety-needs girl? After tea, penned letters to Alg; Nelly; Madge; Mother; Bertz; Roberts; Hick; Alg again, Nelly again and a post card to Alg's Katie's cat who is three next Monday. Quite overcome with writer's cramp after that, so took a nap. Odd dream where Bertz, wearing a spectacular black off the shoulder evening gown, came round to fix the gas boiler not sure what it means, but it certainly woke me upAll these distractions keep me from the sacred art of book writing! Kismet, I suppose.'
Is This Really Worse Than Marriage To A Totally Unsuitable Woman?
Naturally, George made use of sly manipulation as much as in your face fronting of his criticisms, probably in the belief Edith did not get his clever barbs and insults. He was, and this is a dead cert, a passive-aggressive cove. But, what is passive-aggressive behaviour? How could we recognise it in our hero?

Here is a table formulating Theodore Millon's 4 sub-types of negativism (the 'passive' bit) from   I've left the links in for your enjoyment.

Personality Traits
Emotions fluctuate in bewildering, perplexing, and enigmatic ways; difficult to fathom or comprehend own capricious and mystifying moods; wavers, in flux, and irresolute both subjectively and intrapsychically.
Grumbling, petty, testy, cranky, embittered, complaining, fretful, vexed, and moody; gripes behind pretence; avoids confrontation; uses legitimate but trivial complaints.
Includingdependent personality disorder features
Opposition displayed in a roundabout, labyrinthine, and ambiguous manner, e.g., procrastination, dawdling, forgetfulness, inefficiency, neglect, stubbornness, indirect and devious in venting resentment and resistant behaviours.
Includingsadistic personality disorder features

Contentious, intransigent, fractious, and quarrelsome; irritable, caustic, debasing, corrosive, and acrimonious, contradicts and derogates; few qualms and little conscience or remorse.

A passive-aggressive personality is 'often overtly ambivalent, wavering indecisively from one course of action to its opposite. They may follow an erratic path that causes endless wrangles with others and disappointment for themselves'. Characteristic of these persons is an 'intense conflict dependence on others and the desire for self-assertion. Although exhibiting superficial bravado, their self-confidence is often very poor, and others react to them with hostility and negativity'.
Monarch of the Glen by Sir Edwin Landseer 1851
We also have this:
'Passive aggressive behaviour takes many forms but can generally be described as a non-verbal aggression that manifests in negative behaviour. It is where you are angry with someone but do not or cannot tell them. Instead of communicating honestly when you feel upset, annoyed, irritated or disappointed you may instead bottle the feelings up, shut off verbally, give angry looks, make obvious changes in behaviour, be obstructive, sulky or put up a stone wall. It may also involve indirectly resisting requests from others by evading or creating confusion around the issue. Not going along with things. It can either be covert (concealed and hidden) or overt (blatant and obvious).

A passive aggressive might not always show that they are angry or resentful. They might appear in agreement, polite, friendly, down-to-earth, kind and well-meaning. However, underneath there may be manipulation going on - hence the term "Passive-Aggressive".

Passive aggression is a destructive pattern of behaviour that can be seen as a form of emotional abuse in relationships that bites away at trust between people. It is a creation of negative energy in the ether which is clear to those involved and can create immense hurt and pain to all parties.

It happens when negative emotions and feelings build up and are then held in on a self-imposed need for either acceptance by another, dependence on others or to avoid even further arguments or conflict. 

Some examples of passive aggression behaviours might be:

Non-communication when there is clearly something problematic to discuss 

Avoiding/Ignoring when you are so angry that you feel you cannot speak calmly

Evading problems and issues: burying an angry head in the sand

Procrastinating: intentionally putting off important tasks for less important ones

Obstructing: deliberately stalling or preventing an event or process of change

Fear of Competition. Avoiding situations where one party will be seen as better at something

Ambiguity. Being cryptic, unclear, not fully engaging in conversations

Sulking. Being silent, morose, sullen and resentful in order to get attention or sympathy.

Chronic Lateness: a way to put you in control over others and their expectations

Chronic Forgetting: shows a blatant disrespect and disregard for others to punish in some way

Fear of Intimacy:  problems with trust issues and guarding against becoming too intimately involved or attached will be a way for them to feel in control of the relationship

Making Excuses : tending to come up with reasons for not doing things

Victimisation: unable to look at their own part in a situation; will turn the tables to become the victim and will behave like one

Self-Pity: the poor me scenario

Blaming others for situations rather than being able to take responsibility for your own actions or being able to take an objective view of the situation as a whole.

Withholding usual behaviours or roles for example sex, cooking and cleaning or making cups of tea, running a bath etc. all to reinforce an already unclear message to the other party

Learned Helplessness where a person continually acts like they can’t help themselves – deliberately asking others to do their dirty work for them or doing a poor job of something for which they are often explicitly responsible
Mask II by Ron Mueck 2001/2
One of the clearest indicators for assessing George's tendency to passive-aggressive behaviour is the way he looked to others to make his decisions for him, thus relieving himself of all personal responsibility for the outcome - classic learned helplessness. I mentioned this in the previous series of posts looking at the time he thought to divorce Marianne. In this, if we are to take his version as authentic, we can see he suspected the police spy/detective was immoral and corrupt and yet still employed him - George did not ask himself if such a tripe hound was reliable and trustworthy because then he couldn't be blamed tor making a wrong call if things went badly. He doesn't seem to have spoken to Marianne herself. He preferred to sneak around behind her back employing a dishonest policeman (who could also take the blame for doing the actual sneaking around) hoping to find evidence against her. He admits he does not want to be unfair (with her alimony) whilst plotting behind her back (did he really want her out of his life or was he looking to gain more control over her?), going to Fred Harrison for guidance, though in fact he was just looking for someone to agree with him as he had already made up his mind. Harrison would have taken the rap for instigating the divorce proceedings, and, if George had subsequently regretted it, he could have said, 'Fred Harrison made me do it'.  
When no evidence materialised, George doesn't seem to have cared one jot. He seems to have embarked on it with a sort of distanced indifference and when it fizzles out, he just grieves for the money it cost him, not for the moral implications of his actions, or the existential emptiness of his passivity. One wonders if he ever thought of apologising to Marianne for his bad faith. But, did he ever really want her out of his life? I think not. Marianne was still very much his girl until the day she died -  and then, she haunted him. 
Having her in the background would have been an immense totem of sadistic control - and we should never underestimate George's penchant for retributive cruelty especially towards his first and second wives. If you find that 'heroic', I pity your damned soul.
The Eagle Slayer by John Bell 1851

You can see the bind George was in: to appease his peers in this middle class world he could not be authentic - just in case that authenticity turned out to be naturally lower middle class with working class traits! However, he stopped being authentic to himself when things didn't go his way quickly enough, and he degenerated into the bully who blamed Marianne for his failings and her lack of good health. Whatever tendency she had to scrofula would have been exacerbated by poor nutrition in damp, cold houses, and so George, inadvertently would have contributed to her decline.

But, who did he have to guide him? He felt himself surrounded by nonentities who were not up to his high academic standard, and that is why thinking movements like Pessimism and Socialism appealed, but he soon gave up on them. Demos was creeping up on him left right and left again. I like to think he wanted to be honest with his communication but he confused good manners with deceit - most people prefer the truth to lies, don't they? Suppression of rage is debilitating and counter-productive. We know from Maslow the self-actualised life requires authenticity of communication. The endless acute sense of having to edit every word - no wonder redacting the Diaries came easily to him. The nervous energy required to maintain a front at all times, and the assault to his sense of self-esteem at being a base liar must have dented his pride in his manliness. Poor George (for a change) indeed... 

So, we now know more about passive aggressive personality. Does any of it sound familiar? Where is the line between this and just being polite or easy-going or that dreaded concept 'nice'? It's very British to be this way - we favour politeness and making the other gal or fellow feel good. White lies, irony, manners, good-naturedness, kindness... maybe we all passive aggressives at heart - all except for you psychopaths!
So, where does this leave us? There is another explanation... One that is not often considered as a cause for this sort of rank awfulness - syphilis. Sounds fanciful, I know, but the disease causes rampant personality changes, enough to mar a life. Easy-going dufuses become tyrants; good men become bad; gentle souls develop vices. Something to think about!
Commonplace 239  George & His Tendency to Tyranny. PART ONE

Part of the Jake and Dinos Chapman Installation
at White Cube Gallery Summer 2011
Like many of those caught between two social classes, George had difficulty in expressing his true feelings to equals and those by whom he strove to be accepted. But he was, by nature, secretive and his need to control others' perceptions of him and his doings made the class thing so much worse. Caught between a variety of worlds both internal and external, he struggled with personality and character flaws (aloofness, lack of empathy, pride, arrogance) and set himself almost unwinnable goals - such as a happy marriage to an ordinary working class woman.

Many converts become zealots and George was lured into the frenzy of middle class aspirational dogma - but embraced it wholeheartedly. There are no other words for it: he was a snob. The very worst snobs are those so ashamed of their roots they have to prove they are, despite financial elevation, not still mired with their origins
I qualify it as middle class because there are also working class snobs and presumably, all cultures and all peoples have snobs, too. Snobbism, like the creation of the Universe, is not a steady state. Like the Universe, it is expanding relative to place and time click ;) It's essence is about classifying selected others as inferiors but it requires a constant evaluation of everyone who is U and Non-U, as they say.

An example of George's snobbery is his criticism of Edith's accent. How hard he must have worked to rid himself of his Yorkshire one! This, I believe might go some small way to explain why Edith's accent offended him so. Neither of George's parents were from Yorkshire, so his 'mother tongue' was not infected with a Wakefield twang - for info on the varieties of Yorkshire accent click. There is in England a north-south social divide, between the more affluent south and the poorer north. In George's time, this would have been a significant marker of social class, despite the money being made by northern industrialists, many would have been looked down upon for their native accent.  Then there is the regional difference in accent between Yorkshire and Lancashire - the county where George went to school and college. These two counties have their own internecine conflicts based on historic claims to the English crown, but accent is a sign of which camp you are in. Both are united in their mistrust for and hatred of, southerners. Again, accent comes into play. Generally, southerners think northerners are oiks; northerners think southerners are snobs. Southerners have variations in accent with layers of inbuilt snobbery which will quickly mark out the rich from the poor - and the U from the Non-U - hence, the fear of being mistaken for a cockney. Edith's north London accent would have sounded 'cockney' to George. As a southerner with excellent RP (Received Pronunciation), myself, I have no idea why it matters haha. click for examples and more info.
Pollice Verso by Jean-Leon Gerome 1872
Born in Exile - of which George said the hero Godwin Peak 'is myself... one phase of myself' (in a letter to Eduard Bertz, May 20th 1892) is the epitome of this torment of enforced social mobility at a time when there were few ways for a lower middle class boy to rise. Godwin is eventually crippled by his self-loathing and disgust at having to become someone else in order to win the limp tiny hand of Sidwell Warricombe, who didn't give a hoot about his class, but did care about his lying, scheming ways.

Is it possible to say how George became first the over-achieving scholar and then the bullying weak and vacillating creature he was post-Owens? Perhaps the trauma and shame of imprisonment discombobulated his mojo and turned him into a passive-aggressive with deep undercurrents of resentment and frustrated rage. People who don't feel powerful often bully those they believe to be powerless beneath them. Amongst what he saw as the 'inferiors' - such as working class people, servants, children, wives - he could be quite the martinet. Sadly, he seems to have lacked leadership qualities of charisma and dynamism which might have inspired others to willingly follow; generally, 'might was right' to our man, and this was exacerbated by his point of view that the deference of others was his birthright.

For example, take his holiday in Paris and Italy with his German Friend Plitt. George invited himself along and then spent the trip telling his Diary what a rubbish travel companion Plitt was turning out to be. He moaned about all sorts of trivial things - see Commonplaces 20 and 21 for more. George could not bring himself to say what he thought and so he had to stew in his own juices. Plitt seems to have been a much more authentic communicator, which George wrongly attributes to vulgarity and stupidity.

And, then there is his bullying treatment of Marianne aka Nell; when she failed to comply with his house arrest orders he locked her up. This was for his good, not hers. And when she became an invalid he dictated she must live apart in a separate dwelling when her epilepsy confounded him once too often. Not because she wanted to live alone or with totally inappropriate strangers, but because George wanted to have her out of the way. Of course, he no doubt dressed it up as 'wanting the best for her' - to her face.
Mr Gissing Meets Miss Underwood and Won't Take 'No' For an Answer. 
Edith was also a victim of his Darwinian need to dominate. I suspect in the late 1890s George carefully redacted the Diaries to reduce future censure when posterity read of his increasing unreasonable and obsessional rage at Edith's failure to come up to his snobby standards. With Gabrielle in France, when he was reviewing his Life's achievements, did he read the picky, spiteful, hate-fuelled entries and decide to edit out the worst of it? He claims he didn't make thorough entries because they would all be the same, but that's nonsensical as he was such a moaner, and needed a sympathetic listening board, and the Diary was the one friend on tap who wouldn't talk back. HG Wells had once told him not to be so hard on Edith and to treat her better; Marianne's friends had made a similar plea in response to his neglect of her. After George's death, a darker side to our man began to come into focus - more of that another time! No wonder George thought maybe he needed a better version of his life for posterity to absorb. Was Ryecroft supposed to balance the yin/yang thing and show the old bully was a softie inside? If so, it didn't work - well, not on me. And not on HG Wells.

Commonplace 238    George & the Curse of Henry Maitland's Flaming Trousers.

There is nothing in the world more shameful than establishing one's self on lies and fables: Goethe.

The saying 'liar, liar, pants on fire' is inspired by this from William Blake:
Deceiver, dissembler
Your trousers are alight
From what pole or gallows
Do they dangle in the night?

Am I being hard on George to think of him as one of nature's liars? In some of the most important events of his life, there you can find him, protecting his selfish interests with accomplished untruths, half-truths and expert dissembling, offering rationalisations that blame anyone/thing but himself for his miseries. Or, is it that so much of the legend is written by others, and made up of half truths and lies, false suppositions and make-believe-posing-as-fact, that it often makes whatever George says less believable? This is the curse of Henry Maitland's flaming trousers. (Maitland, you may recall, is the fake name given to hide George's identity in the Morley Roberts fake biography 'The Private Life of Henry Maitland', published in 1912.)
Dante and Virgil in Hell by William-Alphonse Bougeureau 1850 
(inspired by the eighth circle of Hell signifying falsifiers and counterfeiters). 
George's legendary, somewhat self-deluding, 'aristocratic' shamelessly grandiose belief in his own superiority allowed him to break the social codes when it suited him, and you don't need to go much further than the Owens College incident to find proof for this (or even to his sham 'marriage' to Gabrielle Fleury). One can imagine the shock he felt at finding himself judged against all the other scrotes in the prison for being nothing better than one of the proles for a change. Why is this series of crimes usually presented as an act of youthful nobility? Perhaps it is only apologists and biographers who are able to assign 'noble' motives to ignoble acts, because to see George as a common thief is too blue collar for white collar minds. (Do they regard all other light-fingered lads this way or is it just George?) Despite a lack of proof, blaming Marianne aka Nell for his decision to steal is the Lord Lucan old boys network approach to justifying crime. I like to think, if there was any 'heroism' in George, it was that he took responsibility for the things he did wrong - that would be brave and inspirational. Maybe he stole for the same reasons his Bellevue Gaol peers stole - to offset the drudgery of life; to impress others with wealth; to get the rounds in at the Dog Inn; for the sheer feck of it because sometimes, any sort of thrill is better than no thrill at all. Passing it off as the actions of a wannabe Robin Hood is farcical, and a touch of hypocrisy that tarnishes Gissing's legacy. Misogynists might blame Marianne - that's for their consciences to address. George's apologists now do his lying for him.

But he that sows lies in the end shall not lack of a harvest, and soon he may rest from toil indeed, while others reap and sow in his stead   J.R.R. TolkienThe Silmarillion

George was not a very good liar; you have to be a good judge of character to be a top notch fabulist. He probably assumed people believed whatever he told them; he manipulatively once said maybe he wasn't lovable - anyone with a smidgen of empathy would, of course, instantly reassure him that he was. He was manipulative in the way weak people are, and he never saw himself as anything but needing sympathy. Well, it's not rocket science to suggest everyone needs sympathy, especially when considering their faults and foibles, but George could never extend to others the sympathy he insisted from his acolytes. He was ruthless when it suited him, but he lacked the balls to state the truth that he could be cruel when he wanted to be. 

He usually judged others harshly, never succeeding in empathising with them, or allowing others to just be themselves, warts and all. Even when they had wealth and social status, if George thought they were intellectually inferior - and he seems to have thought everyone his intellectual inferior - it followed that they did not present him with a challenge. (George was never good with challenges.) He famously wrote to Eduard Bertz: 'It is my fate to be known by the first-class people and to associate with the second class - or even third and fourth. It will always be so.' (The Letters of GG to EB p102), George, ever lacking real fellow-feeling, forgets to reassure Eduard he is in the first category. His over-inflated sense of his own superiority (which is a carapace so thin it is almost transparent) must have made it hard to find anyone to value. This lead to the arrogance that allowed no contradiction - we know George tended to literally question the sanity of anyone who did not agree with him - both Marianne and Eduard were labelled thus when they strayed too close to God. 

George's intellect was, as Jim Morrison might say, the only card in the deck he had to play. I don't know if he found anyone he considered an equal so it might be a safe bet to say, George never really found a true friend - after all, we don't look down on our friends, do we?

In some ways, George's determination to keep himself apart from the commonplace for fear of contamination of all kinds never fully seems to have afforded him insight into his own inner workings especially what might be seen as that thing the British truly hate in the heart of man (yet do so well): hypocrisy. And he claimed that 'reasonableness' was his default mindset, but he rarely displayed this characteristic when he dealt with those dependents he wanted to get rid of - wives and children were summarily dispatched whenever they outstayed their usefulness. He abandoned his family to live with a woman in France - whom he would also have left if his health hadn't deteriorated and left him with no nurse other than poor Gabrielle.

The only vice that cannot be forgiven is hypocrisy. The repentance of a hypocrite is itself hypocrisy. William Hazlitt.

One example, taken from George at Work Extracts From My Reading p. 40: Despite, uninvited, asking Swinburne to assess his poems (1883) then sending him a presentation copy of the Unclassed (these examples also show George as the shameless social climber he was, ever ready to make use of strangers to get both sympathy and favour), and praising Swinburne to Algernon, he wrote in 1888 that he had gone off him, and wrote to Alg and Bertz to that effect, in unflinchingly critical words. Fair enough. However, in 1895 he was asked by the Idler magazine to say who should succeed Tennyson as poet laureate, and George wholeheartedly supported popular Swinburne. So, in private: one thing; in public: another. George subsequently references Swinburne in his short story The Honeymoon, one of the most odious of all George's perverse short stories, to denigrate Phyllis and her choice of honeymoon destination.

Lies were part of George's upbringing - if you want to appear better than your neighbours you have to emphasise the things that separate you from them. After all, so much of what is visible in the class system is visual and surface - suppressing one's true self is the basis of etiquette, is it not? And, if you can't buy what passes for class, because you are relatively poor, you have to direct your energies at what others of the class to which you aspire, value. After all, if no-one values the thing you are good at, you have to go off and find people who do value it - there's no sense in casting pearls before swine. For George and his siblings, that was academic learning. Instead of exhorting them to kindness or sweetness, or decency of spirit (that was Will's domain), he advises his brothers and sisters which languages to learn and which books to read. That they might end up being the only souls in Agbrigg who could read Heine in the original, and so might suffer even more from isolation from their neighbours, passed him by!
St Sidwell just about to be decapitated; this is from the minster at Wimborne 
It is not for nothing that one of George's most affecting protagonists is Born In Exile's Godwin Peak who is a liar of the first order. From the moment he realises his social background is a liability and discovers what he must do to offset his humble beginnings, Godwin sets off on a path of deception and hypocrisy that many take as a autobiographical sequence from George's real life: lower class boy on the make rejects origins to fool others into thinking he is middle class. But, don't we just know, you can take the boy out of the ghetto, you can't take the ghetto out of the boy. 

It is not a modern phenomenon to switch which social class you prefer to be in - many working class students from poor backgrounds have to do this when they go to university and begin to mix with people from other social backgrounds. Many feel compelled to abandon their roots and adopt new identities - George couldn't wait to; every day at Owens must have seemed like another step in the right direction - away from Wakefield. Godwin Peak does it by his intellectual capabilities, but is hampered by the very class system he wants to share. He comes up with a cunning plan to fast track his way to the eligible role of Mr Sidwell Warricombe, despite her mama being - to Godwin - dislikeable, commonplace and unworthy of being Sid's mother (he must have resisted the clichĂ© of thinking that the daughter is a clone of the mother and will turn out the same way). In fact, it is pre-Freud projection at work, for Godwin considers himself to be dislikeable, commonplace and unfit to be Sid's husband - unless he changes what he is. Perhaps Mrs Warricombe is a slight resemblance to George's own mother, albeit with added middle class pretensions? The three Warricombe boys are: Buckland, the eldest - a fierce radical rebel who contravenes social codes; the second, Maurice, mother's favourite, who in George's weirdly grandiose speak 'taught her to see the cogency of a syllogism' (which I am taking as being a comment on his innate diplomacy!); the third, Louis, had an 'indolent good nature'. Sounds like the Gissing boys, to me,  

Peak is guilty of  'bad faith' with himself, in the existential sense. His obsessive fixed idea about class equating to worthiness leads him up a blind alley, leaving him with nowhere to go but to lose his authenticity and become a professional hypocrite. In many Gissing characters, and in Gissing himself, it is a failing in imagination that leads to disaster.

If Godwin had challenged his own preconceptions, instead of reacting to things as if he did not have free choice - who would really care if he was related to a cafĂ© owner? Was it true that no 'decent' girl would marry a man with less than £400 pa? George, ever the alleged sceptic, rarely shone that light of reason on his own doings. And, so, poor dingbat Godwin becomes, at the end, another of George's poorly treated by their maker characters who does not deserve to die, but is too unimaginative to do anything else. If, at Owens, George had composed a mind map entitled 'how to make money the heroic/legal way like the oiks do', and realised he could get a Saturday job stacking shelves in a grocer's shop, it would be we, and not his peers, who would have been robbed!

"The Liar" by William Blake

Deceiver, dissembler
Your trousers are alight
From what pole or gallows
Shall they dangle in the night?

When I asked of your career
Why did you have to kick my rear
With that stinking lie of thine
Proclaiming that you owned a mine?

When you asked to borrow my stallion
To visit a nearby-moored galleon
How could I ever know that you
Intended only to turn him into glue?

What red devil of mendacity
Grips your soul with such tenacity?
Will one you cruelly shower with lies
Put a pistol ball between your eyes?

What infernal serpent
Has lent you his forked tongue?
From what pit of foul deceit
Are all these whoppers sprung?

Deceiver, dissembler
Your trousers are alight
From what pole or gallows
Do they dangle in the night?