By Vivian Gornick

Gornick on V. S. Naipaul, James Baldwin, George Gissing, Randall Jarrell, H. G. Wells, Loren Eiseley, Allen Ginsberg, Hayden Carruth, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth and the intimate courting among emotional harm and nice literature.

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Between the ardor of Rhoda’s rhetoric and the dictates of flesh-and-blood reality lies a no-man’s-land of untested conviction. ” How chastening to experience the uncontrollable force of feeling that steadily undermines these defiant simplicities. As Rhoda moves inexorably toward the moment when she fails herself, she becomes a walking embodiment of the gap between theory and practice: the place in which so many of us have found ourselves, time and again. Although she and Barfoot are intellectually agreed that formal marriage is degrading to the spirit, when he suggests that they live together in a union free of legal connection, Rhoda, to her own great surprise, shrinks from the potential fallout of such a move.

I first came to Gissing’s work twentyfive years ago when a friend urged on me The Odd Women. I re-read the book every six  months for years. Great books about women in modern times had been written by men who were Gissing’s contemporaries—within twenty years there had been Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady, George Meredith’s Diana of the Crossways—but, penetrating as these novels were, Gissing’s was the one that spoke most directly to me. I could see and hear the characters as if they were women and men of my own acquaintance.

This was written in the summer of 1935. In November of that same year Wells wrote, The fact remains that when all is said and done, she is the woman I really love. I love her voice, her presence, her strength and her weaknesses. I am glad whenever she comes to me. She is the thing I like best in life . . my nearest intimate . . the dearest thing in my affections. And so she will remain to the end. Which she did. When I first read Experiment in Autobiography, I loved Wells for the extraordinary directness of his voice (I felt him as a friend speaking openly and without reserve right at me), and I envied him, that he could have lived almost an entire life within the embrace of an unaltered belief in the coming of the world state, while I have had to wander in the wilderness of seeing all such hopes repeatedly smashed underfoot.

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