“No delicacies of tone”: bells and identity in Gissing’s London

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In this chapter for Christine Huguet’s book Writing Otherness: The Pathways of George Gissing’s Imagination, I examine how bells define ‘acoustic space’, and how soundscape contributes to cultural identity, in Thyrza, New Grub Street, The Nether World, and The Unclassed. In these, the overbearing noise of pealing or tolling bells seems to contribute a particular kind of sub-narrative at significant points. The noise clearly had unpleasant associations for Gissing.
Bells have long defined geographical and cultural identity; the ‘cockney’ is a person born, not within a specific set of streets, but within the sound of the Bow bells. Bells also provide a narrative of unspoken power dynamics, lying on the threshold between music and noise. Tolling becomes a ‘monologue of power’, to use Attali’s phrase; a sound so loud that it serves to silence everything else by deafening and censoring all other human noises. Bells also signify ‘crossing over’ from one place or state to another, particularly in connection with the processes of organised religion. In that regard, they have always been strongly associated with transformatory states. This may be particularly significant in connection with Gilbert Grail in Thyrza, the principal subject of exploration here.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWriting Otherness
Subtitle of host publicationThe Pathways of George Gissing’s Imagination
EditorsChristine Huguet
Place of PublicationGroningen
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9789059760141
ISBN (Print)9789059760110, 9789059760127, 9789059760134
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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