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Gissing

Gissing lies hidden in the depths of South Norfolk's farmland - five miles north-east of Diss. It is a tiny community with a school, a pub (The Crown) and a dozen-or so houses which huddle around the beautiful St Mary's Church. The name 'Gissing' derives from the place (ingas) of Gyssa's people.

St. Mary's Church, Gissing

St. Mary's Church, Gissing

During the 1960s the novelist Lindsay Clarke (1939- ) lived in the village and it provided the inspiration for his second novel The Chymical Wedding (1989). His protagonist, a young poet named Alex Darken, arrives in the village (fictionalised as Munding) and begins to unearth details about his Norfolk ancestors - in particular one Louisa Agnew. The character of Louisa was probably based on that of Mary Anne Atwood (1817-1910) who was a writer on hermeticism and spiritual alchemy.

Lindsay Clarke

Darken also becomes involved with an alcoholic poet called Edward Nesbit - who was almost certainly based on George Barker (see Itteringham). Clarke was a tutor to Raffaella Barker while she was studying for her 'A' Levels - so was very familiar with the family.

The Chymical Wedding - which won the 1989 Whitbread Prize for Fiction - features parallel stories: one set in the present and one in the past. The historical narrative involves alchemy and the quest for self-discovery - hence the antiquated spelling of the word 'chymical' in the title.

St. Mary's - which is a delightful round-towered church - is also a familiar landmark in the novel and Clarke describes it as follows: 'There has always been something reclusive in the way Munding St Mary's clasps the Norfolk light....'

Clarke now lives in Somerset and teaches creative writing at Cardiff University.
 

 

 

 

 

 

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