The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.
§ 20. Structure and style
In structure, Gissing looks back to the age of the three-volume novel; he uses at times, but impatiently and not well, the old contrived plot, with melodramatic contretemps which results from hidden wills, renounced legacies, forced coincidence and the like; his more characteristic work takes the form of studies, rather than tales, of the fates of two or three groups, related by marriage, cousinship or occupation. Each section is dealt with in turn methodically and exhaustively; but, partly through the consequent breaks in the narration and partly through the occasional analytic stagnation, there is some loss of organic continuity; the form is impressed from without, and too little shaped by forces within, the narrative; the characters are hedged about by this absolute exclusion of vagrancy; poles apart from this method stands such a book as Dostöevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, where the tale affects us like a continuous swirling stream. Gissing’s dialogue is apt to be bookish, and, though admirably representative of character, it often fails to create illusion; there is an exception in his natural unforced pathos. In style, though he is rather consciously literary, he is one of the few novelists who add to the worth of words by the care with which they are used, and his best writing has a rare rhythmical grace and variety. He was an eager student of the rhythm of classical verse as well as of the prose of Landor and the poetry of Tennyson; in the later novels, his prose, always pure and finely chosen, breaks into arresting and felicitous phrase, more often of pungent than of imaginative quality.