George Gissing, Greece and the Mediterranean Passion

Maria Teresa Chialant


Greece is one of the principal countries inspiring the ‘Mediterranean Passion’ in 19th- and 20th-century English writers and artists. As part of the classical world, it was, together with Italy, a polisemic signifier, the container of a series of meanings and values that contributed to form the collective imaginary of the time. After being associated, in the Romantic period, to freedom and independence, art and beauty, and the perfection of human form and mind, Greece became, in the second half of the 19th century, one of the terms in a series of polarities, among which Arnold’s Hebraism / Hellenism. Against this cultural background, George Gissing conceived his short novel Sleeping Fires (1895), whose plot unfolds between England and Greece, and whose story can be read as an argument against asceticism and an appeal for clarity. It is my aim to demonstrate how this novel consistently draws upon the writer’s Greek experiences as reported in his diary. Both texts show Gissing’s love for ancient Greece, with a nostalgia for the past and a dissatisfaction with modernity; a strong attraction to the country’s geography, which the author maps with fondness and accuracy; and a caring attention for its inhabitants, whom he approaches with an ethnographer’s participant observation. A similar approach is also apparent in Gissing’s travel book By the Ionian Sea (1901), in which the writer expresses his interest in those regions of contemporary Southern Italy that still preserve the vestiges of Magna Græcia.


Gissing; Greece; narrative space; landscape; travel writing

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