Maurice Hilliard is a young man who is given some money long owed to his late father and with this unexpected windfall, he determines to spend a year, or as long as the money holds out, truly living his life. He quits his job, bids farewell to his friend, and strikes out to do just this. But after determining that he is as aimless in Paris as he was in England, he decides to search out a young woman with whose portrait he'd become enamoured at his former landlady's home. Once he tracks down Eve, he pushes to know her and her friend Patty, becoming a major player in their lives. He falls for the sometimes unapproachable Eve, taking on a sort of benefactor's role in her life. Eve has known real penurious hardship and so she allows Maurice to buy his way into her life, all the while knowing that Maurice's windfall is temporary. She cannot see her way to living a life on the edge of poverty again and so she continues to hold herself slightly aloof from Maurice.
Gissing, a Victorian author, has drawn a realistic and challenging portrait of a man who is in love with a woman who cannot force herself to love him, feeling gratitude but nothing deeper. Although this is a short book, his descriptions of dreary, dingy, industrial age London, Paris, and Birmingham is instructive. He has captured the reality and result of grinding poverty on the soul and the limited prospects available to the lower class of the time. Only Maurice and Eve are completed characters and neither is totally likeable, both grasping and desperate in their own ways. I was disappointed in the ending of the book. The tone changed very drastically and the characters seemed so changed without the reader seeing that change that the conclusion just felt off. It almost seemed as if at the last minute Gissing felt as if his intended ending was too depressing to foist on the serial reading public and so whitewashed things. Other than that caveat though, I enjoyed this and would recommend it to other readers who enjoy the realism so often found in Victorian fiction.