On BookRiot, Hannah Engler delves 125 years into the past to find an uncannily prescient publishing satire. The book in question is New Grub Street, by George Gissing, which follows a pair of protagonists who represent two differing schools of thought in the publishing world then—and, oddly enough, also now.
New Grub Street, which was published in 1891, is a novel about novels – specifically, the rapidly expanding literary scene in London at the time. The two protagonists are Jasper Milvain, a cynic who will write anything so long as it makes him money, and Edwin Reardon, a “true artist,” whose life falls apart in his struggle to produce a work of genius. The book is funny, and satirical in more than one way, but what struck me the most is how applicable many of its themes seemed to today’s writing world.
Engler discusses how this applies to writing for her campus feminist magazine, with its 800+-word think pieces that languish compared to more popular listicles, but I think an even more apt comparison is to the current state of e-book publishing. You only have to look at all the self-published books that fill up Amazon’s listings, and listen to the traditional-publishing partisans bemoaning the avalanche of slush, to see how those two protagonists’ points of view continue to be represented to this day.
New Grub Street is, of course, available via Project Gutenberg, or in annotated form from Amazon. We’ve mentioned apt observations from George Gissing before, and noticed New Grub Street ourselves all the way back in 2003.