Within a novella-sized frame of nested and opinionated narrators, unremarkable people muddle themselves into a believably mundane mess. If we squint past cultural boundaries, Gascoigne’s ‘Discourse’ might look a wee bit like Dante’s La Vita Nuova or the loosely-linked annotations of The Tales of Ise. In its own time and place, it must’ve mutated giant-ant-style from the teasing title pages and prefaces of allegedly unauthorized publications. For present-day readers it’s most striking as a fluky anticipation of literary realism — a roman à clef or curdled Bildungsroman, perhaps.
First published in 1573 as part of Gascoigne’s failed attempt to establish himself as an ideal soldier-poet-courtier, A Hundreth sundry Flowres bounde up in one small Poesie. A reading edition is online here