by George Gissing
In 1897 the Victorian novelist George Gissing undertook a brief but eventful journey in southern Italy. His itinerary took him from Naples to Reggio di Calabria, via Paola, Cosenza, Crotone, and Squillace, through the area once known as Magna Graecia. Meditating on the vestiges of Greco-Roman civilization, Gissing visited tombs, temples, museums, and cathedrals in search of the imprint of antiquity and “that old world which was the imaginative delight of my boyhood.” The result was By the Ionian Sea, first published in 1901. By turns lyrical and melancholy, Gissing’s masterpiece of travel writing alternates between light and dark, life and death, Paganism and Christianity. Looking at Italy in both its classical and contemporary dimensions, By the Ionian Sea celebrates Calabria’s rich cultural past and beautiful landscapes while providing a candid account of hardship and poverty in southern Italy. George Gissing was an English novelist who wrote 23 novels between 1880 and 1903. Between 1891 and 1897 (his so-called middle period) he produced his best works, which include New Grub Street, Born in Exile, The Odd Women, In the Year of Jubilee, and The Whirlpool. By some critics he is counted alongside George Meredith and Thomas Hardy as one of the best three novelists of his day.