“Neither a borrower nor a lender be”

Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3

William Shakespeare

Well, I have finished ‘Will Warburton’ George Gissing and enjoyed it probably more than ‘The Odd Women’, although I feel that the latter was more unique in its plotline and focus; both books deal with social issues, ‘Will Warburton’ with class divide, ‘The Odd Women’ with the stigma around spinsters in the 19th century. However, in my experience (and obviously I’m not as widely read as I’d like to be), there are a lot more books confronting class divide than spinsterdom – just look at Dickens and Hardy- and so ‘The Odd Women’ is more interesting in that sense.

Saying this, I thought ‘Will Warburton’ was a great read, well worth a try, since the language is lovely yet very accessible and the plotline moves along reasonably swiftly so that you’re kept interested all the time. The novel is about Will Warburton (who else you may ask? Remember that in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the titular character is not the main protagonist *Shakespeare nerd alert*), wealthy man of leisure who forfeits not only his own money, but also all of his mother and sister’s money, on a scheme his close friend and b usiness partner, Godfrey Sherwood, convinces him is a good idea. But after he loses all he has, he is forced to resort to desperate measures; he becomes a grocer. It is then that he finds out who his true friends are etc etc. As I’ve said, the main point behind it is not that unique today, although (need to do some more research around this) I’m guessing that it would have been a much greater and perhaps more radical point at the time of its publishing. This was Gissing’s last novel before he died, and (as I think I’ve mentioned before in “My library was dukedom enough…”) he had a very interesting life himself, though, it seems, not a very happy one. I guess if you wanted to read a bit more into this book, you could say that the reason it has such a satisfying ending (*Spoiler alert* there is actually a happy and successful romance!) , which contrasts deeply with ‘The Odd Women’, is because he was nearing the end of his life and had maybe become a bit more sentimental or even just wanted something in his life truly resolved.

I absolutely loved the character of Bertha Cross, a fact which, to anybody who knows me well, will come as a bit of a surprise since I’m afraid I often become very impatient with heroines. However, Bertha was humourous, witty, observant and reliable, and I really was rooting for her from almost the moment she was introduced. Will Warburton was also very likeable and quite relatable, although his tolerance for Sherwood seemed incredible at times. In fact, the characterisation in the book overall was very good; every character was utterly believable, many of them funny in some way, yet they weren’t the over-exaggerated characters such as the Aged P in ‘Great Expectations’ Dickens or Joseph Sedley in ‘Vanity Fair’ William Thackeray; I especially liked Mrs Cross’ petulance with her serving maids and her determination to break them at all costs. At the heart of what I am trying to put across is that none of his characters are totally good or totally bad, but a very human mixture of the two.

Overall, it seems extraordinary that such a humourous, intelligent, enjoyable book has been so overlooked. Although a few of Gissing’s other books, especially ‘New Grub Street’ are reasonably well-known, many have never heard of ‘Will Warburton’, despite of the fact that it has a much lighter and more amusing tone and actually has a tone of hope at the end, which is unheard of in most of his other novels. Of course, if you prefer books with a more pessimistic, depressing tone, then try his other, earlier works, which are a little less uplifting. Thanks to Mr Dodd for giving me this book, it really was well worth reading.

Hope you’re all having a lovely summer; I can’t wait for the Olympic Opening Ceremony tonight. What British book and film characters would you most like to see represented there? Personally, I think Harry Potter is an obvious choice, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes and Watson, all the Roald Dahl characters… Comment with your suggestions!

P.s. Whilst doing some background research on ‘Will Warburton’ I found out that a Bishop William Warburton (1698-1779) is well-known for

having had a keen interest in Shakespeare, and in fact brought out his own edition of Shakespeare’s work, an edition which was and is not thought very highly of and gained plenty of criticism at the time. In fact J. Parker Norris said “Warburton’s arrogance is apparent in many of his notes, and he evidently considered himself superior to Shakespeare, whose text he did not hesitate to alter whenever it did not suit him.” However, my favourite critique has to be this quote by Dr Johnson: “His notes exhibit sometimes perverse interpretations, and sometimes improbable conjectures; he at one time gives the authour more profundity of meaning than the sentence admits, and at another discovers absurdities, where the sense is plain to every other reader.”


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