George Gissing, born in 1857, believed all his life that human beings' noble tendencies, exemplified by art and literature, were inevitably subverted by the mercenary mass culture of the late 19th century. His own high aspirations were dragged down by the circumstances of his life, particularly his early marriage to an alcoholic prostitute named Nell, whom he hoped to reform but who died in a lodging house in 1888; and his subsequent, almost equally unhappy, marriage to a shrewish working-class girl of little education. As Gissing's reputation and prosperity as a novelist grew, his personal life deteriorated. In 1898 he separated from his wife, traveled to Italy, and began a liaison with a Frenchwoman named Gabrielle Fleury, who became his companion during his declining years. Gissing died, of a lung ailment, in the village of St. Jean Pied-de-Port, near the Spanish border--his death possibly hastened by his friend H. G. Wells, who arrived on the scene, dismissed the nurse's orders, and forced Gissing to eat to keep his strength up.
"The novel develops from its sociological beginnings into a startlingly sadistic account of obsessive jealousy and sexual power-play....Gissing's barely concealed disgust for both odd and coupled women makes it hard to read this work as a positive contribution to the feminist cause. Nevertheless, his grindingly dreary tone is perversely buoyant..."