‘The Prize Lodger’ by George Gissing

Gissing, George 1898

The Prize Lodger by George Gissing, 1898

The magic trick:

Presenting a picture of gender relations at the turn of the 20th century in middle-class England 

Typically the term dated is not a kind description to bestow upon a piece of art. In this case, I actually mean it as a compliment. This story couldn’t be anything but a portrait of 1890s Victorian England. Its themes do not translate.

So why read it? (honestly, I’m not sure it’s worth your time, but…) It gives us insight, if nothing else, into gender relations and middle-class married life of its time. Not by accident either. The story’s titular lodger is introduced with the phrase: “Representative of this class was Mr. Archibald Jordan…” This was always supposed to be a social snapshot. And that’s quite a trick on Gissing’s part.

The selection:

Mrs. Jordan had, of course, seen to it that her personal appearance harmonised with the new surroundings. She dressed herself and her young daughter with careful appropriateness. There was no display, no purchase of gewgaws — merely garments of good quality, such as became people in easy circumstances. She impressed upon her husband that this was nothing more than a return to the habits of her earlier life. Her first marriage had been a sad mistake; it had brought her down in the world. Now she felt restored to her natural position.

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