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By the Ionian Sea: Notes of a Ramble in Southern Italy.

By the Ionian Sea: Notes of a Ramble in Southern Italy by George Gissing First published in 1901. Most recent edition published by Signal, pb, pp159, 12.99 [pounds sterling]

Italy was George Gissing's "land of romance". Setting out from Naples in 1897, he wanted to indulge his "imaginative delight"for the world of the ancient Romans and Greeks. Gissing had a keen interest in social justice--he's best known as the author of novels such as New Grub Street, which realistically portrayed poverty in Victorian Britain--and chose to shun the Rome-Florence-Venice circuit, preferring to gain some experience of rural life while exploring the ruins of the classical past in the far south.

Gissing's'notes of a ramble' are refreshing because he's an unconventional classicist. A poor student with great potential, he won a scholarship to study classics at university in Manchester but, after four years, was caught stealing--the money was for the support of a young prostitute with whom he was infatuated--and was forced to leave.

By the Ionian Sea is the product of both Gissing's passion for the classical world and his fascination with the human condition. He provides both a thoughtful interpretation of Cassiodorus and other authors and a poetic account of peasant life in rural Italy at the end of the 19th century. For modern readers, this is a chance to step back 100 years and see how Italy's remote south appeared to a thoughtful late-Victorian observer. Gissing paints a captivating picture of the highs and lows of his journey, employing vivid detail and colourful anecdotes.

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Author:Lotinga, Jacob
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2004
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