Beacon’s River is a tale of ambition and human suffering in the mind and heart of a young man struggling for success as a novelist. Based on the life and career of nineteenth-century novelist George Gissing, the book is about a man wrestling with destiny as he dreams of making his mark in the world. Soon after his father dies, Andrew Beacon goes away to a Quaker boarding school with two younger brothers. An exemplary but lonely student, he wins a scholarship to a college known to be a stepping stone to Oxford or Cambridge. At eighteen, on the brink of realizing his dream, he meets a woman of the streets who changes the course of his life. After serving a month in prison, he leaves England to start over in America but returns a year later. Living in poverty with a drunken wife, he writes his first novels. When she dies at twenty-nine, he marries a woman whose violence drives him vixen-haunted from home. Badgered by loneliness and hardship but losing himself in his work, in time he finds the woman meant for him. The love they cherish before he dies completes the pattern of a life that runs like a tumultuous river from mountain to sea.
With that odd little laugh he would come to know well, she laced her tapered fingers in his and pulled him toward the bed. Quickly she removed his clothes and put his quivering hands on her body. He had never touched a woman’s flesh before, and her skin was smooth like velvet and warm. For the first time in his life he kissed a pretty girl, embraced her, had coitus with her, and fell madly in love with her. He did not feel, as in the novels he had read, wave upon wave of passion. Nor did he feel, when the copulation was over, an insatiable desire to repeat the act and be with the girl forever. All the same, he knew the attraction was real and strong and more than a passing fancy. That evening Muriel Porter gratified the sexual hunger which had plagued him without mercy for years, often interfering with his studies, and he loved her.
James Haydock was born in South Carolina, educated in North Carolina, and now lives in Wisconsin. In a career spanning thirty years, he taught English and American literature in university classes and wrote about the Victorians. His recent publications are Portraits in Charcoal: George Gissing’s Women (biography and criticism), Stormbirds (historical fiction), Victorian Sages (Victorian prose and thought), and On a Darkling Plain (Victorian poetry and thought). Beacon’s River (biographical fiction) is Haydock’s second novel.