Gissing's Grave in St. Jean de Luz

Roger Monk

"I was on holiday in the Biarritz region of France, some years ago, not far from St-Jean-de-Luz.

For some years I had been reading everything I could find on George Gissing, whether novels or biographical material. The more I read, the more I became fascinated by the man and his work.

Anyway, here I was, in St-Jean-de-Luz. I knew that GG actually died in St Jean Pied de Port, in the Pyrenees (not, as Peter Morton says, on the Bay of Biscay), at a distance of some 34 miles from St-Jean-de-Luz. A few days earlier I had also made a trip to St Jean Pied de Port, and imagined myself experiencing the town through GG's eyes, but, of course, in high summer, not the cold of December 1903.

When I returned to St-Jean-de-Luz, I imagined it would be an easy task to locate the cemetery where GG was buried. I expected the local tourist office to be able to inform me immediately where to go.

I could not have been more wrong. GG is, of course, not very well known to English people; on the other hand, he is not known at all to the St-Jean-de-Luz tourist office!

I had read in John Halperin's "Gissing - A Life in Books" that GG was buried in the "English Cemetery". When I mentioned this fact to the very helpful young lady at the tourist office, after some thought she said that there was no "English Cemetery", but she thought there was a cemetery where "some foreigners" were buried and gave me directions.

The cemetery indicated is on a quiet road just off the main Boulevard Victor Hugo, on Rue Duconte. Having obtained entry to the cemetery, I inquired whether there was any guide to the plots - again, no, but I was informed that the earlier graves were in a part of the cemetery quite nearby.

Within a few minutes I suddenly came across a rectangular grave, covered with pebblestones, with a simple column topped by a Celtic looking cross. The only words carved into the stone were: "GEORGE GISSING", and underneath "22 NOV 1857 - 28 DEC 1903".

After the full significance and effect of this sudden discovery had passed, I took a few photographs, including one which embraced the view of the distant Pyrenees, where GG had died.

On leaving the cemetery, even though it was a very hot summer's day, I could almost imagine the funeral party, including Gabrielle Fleury, GG's love, gathering outside the walls of the cemetery afterwards, consoling each other's grief.

At the time, and possibly even more so now, I felt myself very privileged to have experience this sight with my own eyes.

As a postscript to this, on my way back to the town afterwards, I wondered if I could also locate the Anglican church where the funeral service must have been held. This proved extremely easy to find, although it is no longer a church but some kind of commercial premises - a carpet shop, I think!"

Roger Monk

Gissing's Grave in St. Jean de Luz

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