The Nether World (1889) is generally regarded as the finest of Gissing's early novels. A fast moving story of highly dramatic, sometimes violent scenes, it depicts life amongst the artisans, factory-girls, and slum-dwellers of Clerkenwell in the 1870s. But this is not just a novel of documentary realism. It is one man's mordant vision - shaped by bitter personal experience of poverty - of the quality of life endured by a variety of characters in the nether
world. With Zolaesque intensity and relentlessness, Gissing lays bare the economic forces which determine the aspirations and expectations of those born to a life of labour.
This is a tale of intrigue, as rapacious schemers try to wrest a fortune out of a mysterious old man who has returned to their midst, and of thwarted love. There is no sentimentality. This is a world in which the strong exercise power against their own kind, scheming and struggling for survival, a world from which, Gissing bleakly maintains, there can be no escape.
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