Date of Award

Winter 1-7-2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Paul Schmidt

Second Advisor

Dr. LeeAnne Richardson

Third Advisor

Dr. Michael Galchinsky

Abstract

ABSTRACT George Gissing has experienced a fluctuating reputation among critics in the period of over one hundred years since his death in 1903. Curiously, during the last decade of his life, many critics put Gissing on a par with Thomas Hardy and George Meredith among writers living at that time. Early in his career, however, his reputation suffered from the notion that Gissing was simply a naturalist with a pessimistic, atheistic streak. To some extent, this appraisal has some merit. Gissing pronounced himself an unbeliever to family and to acquaintances such as Fredrick Harrison as early as 1880. Nonetheless, Gissing maintained an interest in religion throughout his life, a fact made plain by his use of religious material in his novels. Furthermore, he was far from merely dismissing religion, nor did he adopt a uniformly unsympathetic view of belief. My dissertation will demonstrate that, starting with his first published novel, Gissing made extensive use of religious subject matter in the form of imagery, symbolism, plot elements, and characterization. More significantly, he also examined the relationship between religion and capitalism. Often, one detects in Gissing’s work a sense of what I will call economic Calvinism, an idea that has received extensive explication by Max Weber and others. I will show that Gissing’s characters are often divided into class and economic lines, a fact not in itself particularly novel, but one which finds expression in Gissing in terms very evocative of the Christian division of humanity into categories of damned and saved. I will also reveal patterns in Gissing’s work that depict the ongoing dialogue between religious issues and other social concerns such as feminism, philanthropy, poverty, church affiliation, philosophy, and marriage. The dissertation covers selected novels from roughly the first half of Gissing’s career in an attempt to bring to light the pervasiveness of religious reference in a representative assortment of Gissing’s work. My paper will show that more concentrated attention to the use of religion in Gissing will contribute to a greater understanding of him as an artist. It will also suggest that more study in this area needs to be done.

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