Some artists grow in stature after their death, and some others go the other way. George Gissing is one of the heavyweight names of late Victorian literature, and I have to confess that I’d never heard of him before I began this project.
The Nether World is a grim look at the slums of London. The characters, their motivations and their fates are less important than the painting of a vividly glum scene. That’s fine, I’ve been very keen on some very depressing books through the years, but Gissing refuses to either empathise or offer lessons from this suffering – people are on downward spirals and even those trying to help are nothing more than misguided fools whose efforts will come to nothing. It’s one big shrug of a book – these things will just be like this, so why bother? But within sixty years these slums were cleared, so his Eeyore-ish pessimism was simply incorrect, useful only as an excuse to do nothing.
Here is an essay from someone who actually liked the book – it was a much more interesting read than the novel was.