- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: BiblioLife (18 August 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0554362848
- ISBN-13: 978-0554362847
- Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 1.8 x 23.4 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
The House of Cobwebs and Other Stories Hardcover – Import, 18 Aug 2008
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The stories are about Gissing's usual themes: white collar poverty, obstacles to mobility, class differences, social ambitions, artists' troubles. A frequent trait of his people is that they will rather accept humiliation than fight for their rights or their truth. Some act differently but are usually not rewarded for their guts.
A frequent character is the fallen gentleman who suffers from loss of status. Another one is he or she who has potential and ambitions but lacks means.
There is a thematic overlap with Henry James' stories, but from different heights and perspectives in society's hierarchies. HJ's stories are more complicated, but GG has a more sympathetic view of social problems. GG will take sides, HJ is too snobbish for that. While HJ is forever the ironic master of the universe, GG's sense of humor frequently buries itself in indignation. It does however surface once in a while.
The stories are a good introduction to GG's world and work, but only a few of them are up to his best standard.
Many people portrayed here have some kind of obsession. A house, a social status, books, marrying the wrong woman, manipulating other people...
Everyone is addicted to something, most frequently to their reputation.
I will not write in detail about all 15, but just mention some of the more interesting ones.
The title story, 'The House of Cobwebs', is a variation on the theme of the writer with no money. He finds an old unused house and obtains approval to spend a summer in it, while finishing a novel. He makes friends with the equally poor landlord, who has just inherited the house from an uncle, but will have to give it up in a year as it is on an expiring leasehold. He has no money for the necessary renovation, and no interest anyway, as he will have to give up the house soon.
'A Scrupulous Father' has a determined spinsterish young woman fight her father's refusal to let her meet a young man who looks substandard to him.
I vote for this story as the best in the collection.
'A charming family' is one that manages to con the landlady into becoming the housemaid and that leaves in the end without paying any of the rent. This has Kafka's sense of humor.
'The daughter of the lodge' could serve as an antidote to the unreal fun of Downton Abbey. Gifted and career-minded daughter of servant family runs foul with the masters, the baronet's wife and daughter, until her aging parents get turned out of their gardening lodge in punishment. Only her self-humiliation saves the day. Power prevails.
If you were taken in by the charm of Downton Abbey, a little dose of reality might do you some good. Hence I recommend these stories.
Truly. This is true writing, true storytelling.
The House of Cobwebs and The Capitalist should
be adated by the BBC right away,
they would win awards, they are that good.
There are two published compilations of Gissing short stories, "Human Odds and Ends" and "The House of Cobwebs," together with various uncollected tales. "The House of Cobwebs" was posthumously published in 1906 and is probably the stronger of the two collections. For many years, the story collections were difficult of access. Fortunately, with the coming of digitalization, virtually all of Gissing's writings are accessible. They will reward reading. At certain times of my life, in certain sad moods, I have turned to Gissing; and he has spoken to me as few other writers.
"The House of Cobwebs" consists of fifteen stories, including the title story. The value of these stories consists in their characterizations and in their situations. Each story generally focuses on a single main character and develops the background and circumstances necessary to understand the person. After setting out the characters and their dilemmas, the stories frequently resolve in a way that seems anticlimactic. While the reader may be led to expect a dramatic resolution, Gissing's stories sometimes just come to a halt. The stories are well-written, thoughtful, and realistic, if undramatic. In "The House of Cobwebs" Gissing for the most part explores his pessimistic themes. But unlike most of his works, including the stories in the "Human Odds and Ends" volume, the characters in these stories are better off at the end, materially or emotionally, than they were at the beginning.
The title story is set in a deteriorating London rooming house which its proprietor, Spicer, has inherited and is about to lose because he only holds a lease for a term of years. He takes a lodger,Goldthorpe, a poor, young, aspiring novelist (based in part on Gissing himself) who is willing to accept shabby rooms in order to complete his first novel in peace. The two men gradually become friends with the landlord proud to share his quarters with a literary man. Goldthorpe finally gets his novel published to Spicer's great delight. The story ends with Spicer feeling a a sense of hope in his life even after a serious accident and the impending loss of his property.
Other good stories in the collection include "The Capitalist" and "Christopherson" both of which involve struggling writers or bibliophiles and the effects of their strong passion for books on those around them. The story "Humplebee" is one of Gissing's best. It tells of a poor young lad at school on a scholarship who saves a wealthy fellow-student from drowing. The student's father tries to reward Humplebee by offering him a place in his firm, a job for which Humplebee has neither interest nor aptitude. After several twists and turns and near disasters, the story comes out well for poor Humplebee.
In "Miss Rodney's Leisure", Gissing turns to the world of landladies and poor romminghouses and tells the story of how a strong-willed young woman makes a satisfactory life in shabby quarters and helps her landlady and her family as well. The story "Topham's Chance" tells of a young educated man who has hired himself out to a questionable character to prepare people for examinations of diverse types. Topham is able to seize an opportunity to achieve success and end his drudgery. A darker story in the collection is "A Lodger in Maze Pond" in which the protagonist, living in a rooming house, ruins his life by proposing to marry the servant in the house just as he inherits a large fortune. The story "The Salt of the Earth" is rare for Gissing, as he describes the life of a man, Thomas Bird, who perseveres in kindness and goodwill to the people he meets in spite of his poor,unrewarding life as a clerk. The final story, "The Pig and Whistle" is a bittersweet story of a romance in mid-life between two lonely people.
These stories will most interest readers who already know Gissing through "New Grub Street" , "The Odd Women" or through his other novels. The stories also will appeal to readers interested in late Victorian England and its similarities and differences from our own times. The stories have a character, however restrained, all their own.