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By the Ionian Sea
Notes of a Ramble in Southern Italy
George Robert Gissing; Introduction and notes by Pierre Coustillas

5 1/4" x 8" • 256 pages • b&w illustrations, maps
ISBN 9781566564946 • paperback • $15.00

"The names of Greece and Italy draw me as no others; they make me young again. The world of the Greeks and Romans is my land of romance."

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.

In Cosenza Gissing pondered on the supposed grave of Alaric, King of the Visigoths. In the ancient city Crotone he explored the influence of Pythagoras and Milo, philosopher and Olympian. In Reggio, soon to be devastated by an earthquake, he sought out the presence of St. Paul in the cathedral’s inscription.

Gissing’s journey by boat, train, and carriage revealed not just the ruined glories of a classical past, but also the hardships of life in turn-of-the-century rural Italy. Meeting poverty-stricken peasants and corrupt local officials, he endured discomfort, danger, and illness in a remote and little visited corner of Europe. Yet throughout he appreciated the warmth and generosity shown to him by local people, curious about this solitary stranger with a seemingly tragic background.

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.

More than a century after its first publication, this is the first critical edition of the book in English.



George Robert Gissing (1857-1903) was the author of 22 novels, including the partly autobiographical New Grub Street (1891). Specializing in realistic portrayals of poverty in Victorian Britain, he experienced an intensely unhappy private life and was largely unrecognized until after his premature death. Pierre Coustillas is Professor Emeritus at the University of Lille and an authority on Victorian literature.

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