Victorian Short Stories: Troubled Marriages HTML version

The Prize Lodger
By George Gissing
(Human Odds and Ends/Stories and Sketches, London: Lawrence and Bullen Ltd, 1898)
The ordinary West-End Londoner--who is a citizen of no city at all, but dwells amid a
mere conglomerate of houses at a certain distance from Charing Cross--has known a
fleeting surprise when, by rare chance, his eye fell upon the name of some such
newspaper as the Battersea Times, the Camberwell Mercury, or the Islington Gazette. To
him, these and the like districts are nothing more than compass points of the huge
metropolis. He may be in practice acquainted with them; if historically inclined, he may
think of them as old-time villages swallowed up by insatiable London; but he has never
grasped the fact that in Battersea, Camberwell, Islington, there are people living who
name these places as their home; who are born, subsist, and die there as though in a
distinct town, and practically without consciousness of its obliteration in the map of a
world capital.
The stable element of this population consists of more or less old-fashioned people.
Round about them is the ceaseless coming and going of nomads who keep abreast with
the time, who take their lodgings by the week, their houses by the month; who camp
indifferently in regions old and new, learning their geography in train and tram-car.
Abiding parishioners are wont to be either very poor or established in a moderate
prosperity; they lack enterprise, either for good or ill: if comfortably off, they owe it, as a
rule, to some predecessor's exertion. And for the most part, though little enough endowed
with the civic spirit, they abundantly pride themselves on their local permanence.
Representative of this class was Mr. Archibald Jordan, a native of Islington, and, at the
age of five-and-forty, still faithful to the streets which he had trodden as a child. His
father started a small grocery business in Upper Street; Archibald succeeded to the shop,
advanced soberly, and at length admitted a partner, by whose capital and energy the
business was much increased. After his thirtieth year Mr. Jordan ceased to stand behind
the counter. Of no very active disposition, and but moderately set on gain, he found it
pleasant to spend a few hours daily over the books and the correspondence, and for the
rest of his time to enjoy a gossipy leisure, straying among the acquaintances of a lifetime,
or making new in the decorous bar-parlours, billiard-rooms, and other such retreats which
allured his bachelor liberty. His dress and bearing were unpretentious, but impressively
respectable; he never allowed his garments (made by an Islington tailor, an old
schoolfellow) to exhibit the least sign of wear, but fashion affected their style as little as
possible. Of middle height, and tending to portliness, he walked at an unvarying pace, as
a man who had never known undignified hurry; in his familiar thoroughfares he glanced
about him with a good-humoured air of proprietorship, or with a look of thoughtful
criticism for any changes that might be going forward. No one had ever spoken
flatteringly of his visage; he knew himself a very homely-featured man, and accepted the
fact, as something that had neither favoured nor hindered him in life. But it was his