A new exhibition is in preparation for 2020
Exhibition at the Gissing Centre 2019: ‘George Gissing – Fact into Fiction’
‘George Gissing – Fact into Fiction’ is the title of the 2019 exhibition at the Gissing Centre from 4 May until 28 September 2019. The novelist George Gissing spent most of his brief life away from his home town, but he returned from time to time to visit his family. Much of his fiction is strongly autobiographical and it is therefore not surprising he used Wakefield in his work.
Using a selection of pictures, maps and texts, the exhibition examines how Gissing transformed Wakefield into fiction, particularly in his novel ‘A Life’s Morning’ (1888). The central character in this novel is Emily Hood who grows up in the grimy Yorkshire industrial town of Dunfield where her father works as a clerk in Dagworthy’s textile mill. An intelligent young woman, she is taken under the wing of the wealthy Baxendale family who live in the select district of St Luke’s and with their help she leaves Dunfield to work as a governess. Returning to visit her parents’ home in the suburb of Banbrigg, she walks with her father on the Heath and later she meets her lover at the ruins of Pendal Castle. Unfortunately, Emily also attracts the attention of the recently widowed Dagworthy, the owner of a mansion near the Heath. Dagworthy’s infatuation with Emily eventually leads to a tragedy.
As the exhibition shows, all of the places mentioned by Gissing have their Wakefield equivalents. St Luke’s is St John’s, Banbrigg is Agbrigg, Pendal Castle is Sandal Castle and the Heath is Heath Common. As for the characters, the Dunfield MP, Mr Baxendale, is modelled on the Wakefield MP, Robert Bownas Mackie, who was a friend of Gissing’s father.
Gissing’s Dunfield is not an attractive town, but this did not deter the ‘Wakefield Free Press’ from giving ‘A Life’s Morning’ a favourable review. The paper noted that the serialisation of the novel had attracted considerable attention in London and praised Gissing’s style and characterisation, but it also commented on Gissing’s pessimistic outlook, a feature of much of his work.
More information about: George Gissing’s Books and Novellas