Sunday, June 22, 2014

George Gissing's In the Year of Jubilee (1894): Mini-Lecture / Learning Object

Late Victorian writer George Gissing and his works are not well known, but they are emotionally gripping, psychologically realistic, and ultimately both destabilizing and reinforcing of how we come to understand the world around us vis-a-vis rapid cultural and technological change. To correct the fact that his works have slipped into invisibility, The Fringe Journal is launching a series of learning object mini-lectures.

In the Year of Jubilee (1894) is the first in this series. You may click the link, or the graphic to access the interactive learning object. The full text transcript appears below. You may access the full text of the book at Project Gutenberg. There is an audio recording of In the Year of Jubilee at

George Gissing: In the Year of Jubilee  (1894)

TEXT TRANSCRIPT:  In the Year of Jubilee (1894) by George Gissing
Mini-Lecture by Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.

In the Year of Jubilee (1895) is, as other novels by George Gissing, extremely sympathetic toward women. It takes place in the late Victorian world where there is more access and communication with far flung regions, and where the British Empire has enriched the nation.

However, Gissing's is also a complex word where one step outside the norms results in a loss of marriage prospects, a loss of inheritance, loss of social standing, and the potential for disease and literal starvation.
About "Jubilee"

Jubilee refers to the 50th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s reign, and also to the biblical concept of “Jubilee” a year in which property reverts to its proper owner.

Gissing’s novel starts with the Jubilee celebrations, which usher in disruptions.

The old order is turned upside down, and new enterprises are built upon false appearances, short cuts, and vanity.  They replace what came before.

Nancy Lord: Trapped in a Social Caste System and Gender
At the center of the narrative is Nancy Lord, the daughter of a successful piano dealer. She has been raised to a higher level than what might be expected, with the idea that education ushers in social mobility. Thus, she aims higher than previous generations may have dared to do, given that her father was in "trade," and not a gentleman (by Victorian standards).

Despite the fact that her father is in trade, Nancy's mother, who abandoned the family when Nancy was a toddler, was in fact, born of gentry. The mother, however, displays little innate nobility is a shallow woman who it seems will do anything to live in luxury.

Nancy’s mother rather hypocritically condemns the sisters, Fanny and Beatrice French, daughters of a wealthy builder, and their lives in a large home in a new suburb of London. 

Fraud and skill fakery are keys to success in this new world where mass production, advertising, distribution, and credit make it possible for women and men to achieve the appearance of the upward mobility as they do what they can to actually achieve higher places in society.

Jubilee: Restoration with Resignation

The restoration of money to rightful owners takes a long, convoluted path in the narrative of the novel, which includes attempts to hide Nancy’s marriage (and baby) in order to avoid losing her inheritance, and the ultimate unmasking of unsavory business practices on the part of spiteful, vindictive members of the sisters French.

At the same time, the energetic and entrepreneurial-spirited self-invented Luckworth Crewe, achieves wealth in the newly emerging business of advertising and public relations.

Apocalypse and the Jubilee

Jubilee is, at its heart, deeply apocalyptic, because it suggests a new order, or at least a return to natural distribution and order. Apocalypse is a theme that is a theme that occurs throughout Gissing’s work. Change refers the destruction of the old and a replacement of the new.

The purpose is to either rid oneself of old inequities or to create a vibrant world of technology (trains, telegraph, newspapers, gas lights).

At the same time, however, the world to be replaced already contains the consequences of change, including poisonous, lung-searing fog, dark, crowded urban landscapes, and hunger, both physical and psychological.

Women and Education: New Access, but to what end?

Gissing rails against the useless schooling that is bandied about as women’s “education” and the socially-encouraged destructive in-fighting, competition, dependence on others, enslavement in marriage, and lack of self-determination.

Gissing also suggests that when a friend of Nancy who works as a governess, Jessica suffers a nervous breakdown as she tried to pass an exam in order to matriculate at London University.

As Gissing depicts the situation, Jessica does not collapse because she is intellectually incapable, but because it is too difficult to work full-time as a governess and try to study all night (instead of eating and sleeping).

Further, Jessica must combat the ridicule and negativity of the men who scoff at her goals.


George Gissing’s late Victorian naturalistic novel, In the Year of Jubilee (1894) concerns itself with both people and property, and how both are both lost and gained in both material and metaphorical senses. 

Using people and property as a point of departure, the novel also addresses change in society: the changing roles of women, the impact of technological and commercial innovations, and about education’s form and impact in late Victorian times.