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Books Unbound – Safe as Houses, Part One: ‘The House of Cobwebs’ by George Gissing

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A struggling writer finds unexpected kindness and friendship from his poor landlord in this short story by George Gissing, whom George Orwell ranked among the best English novelists. Heather Perry reads.

Gissing (1857–1903) neither sought nor enjoyed popularity, and is little known today, although his novel New Grub Street ranks on the Guardian’s list of top 100 novels written in English. “The House of Cobwebs” is timely for American readers in its depiction of inequality in property law that leaves independent home ownership out of reach for many. While Orwell called Gissing the “chronicler of vulgarity, squalor and failure,” this story is a touching account of finding acceptance and peace amid disintegration.

Special music comes from the album First Recording by New Music North, a non-profit organization in Ontario run by volunteers to promote contemporary concert music. “Home Sweet Home” and “Annie Laurie” are performed on concertina by Gary Coover. Theme music by The Impossible Shapes.

“Safe as Houses” is produced, written and edited by Cynthia Wolfe, with production assistance from Heather Perry, Sarah Torbeck (host), and Doug Storm (announcer). Executive producer is Joe Crawford.

Image credit: A picturesque English cobweb from Oxfordshire, detail from a photograph by Simon Q, via Wikimedia Commons (C.C. by 2.0 license)

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