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A novel of social realism, The Odd Women reflects the major sexual and cultural issues of the late nineteenth century. Unlike the "New Woman" novels of the era which challenged the idea that the unmarried woman was superfluous, Gissing satirizes that image and portrays women as "odd" and marginal in relation to an ideal. Set in a grimy, fog-ridden London, Gissing's "odd" w A novel of social realism, The Odd Women reflects the major sexual and cultural issues of the late nineteenth century. Unlike the "New Woman" novels of the era which challenged the idea that the unmarried woman was superfluous, Gissing satirizes that image and portrays women as "odd" and marginal in relation to an ideal. Set in a grimy, fog-ridden London, Gissing's "odd" women range from the idealistic, financially self-sufficient Mary Barfoot to the Madden sisters who struggle to subsist in low paying jobs and little chance for joy. With narrative detachment, Gissing portrays contemporary society's blatant ambivalence towards its own period of transition. Judged by contemporary critics to be as provocative as Zola and Ibsen, Gissing produced an "intensely modern" work as the issues it raises remain the subject of contemporary debate.


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A novel of social realism, The Odd Women reflects the major sexual and cultural issues of the late nineteenth century. Unlike the "New Woman" novels of the era which challenged the idea that the unmarried woman was superfluous, Gissing satirizes that image and portrays women as "odd" and marginal in relation to an ideal. Set in a grimy, fog-ridden London, Gissing's "odd" w A novel of social realism, The Odd Women reflects the major sexual and cultural issues of the late nineteenth century. Unlike the "New Woman" novels of the era which challenged the idea that the unmarried woman was superfluous, Gissing satirizes that image and portrays women as "odd" and marginal in relation to an ideal. Set in a grimy, fog-ridden London, Gissing's "odd" women range from the idealistic, financially self-sufficient Mary Barfoot to the Madden sisters who struggle to subsist in low paying jobs and little chance for joy. With narrative detachment, Gissing portrays contemporary society's blatant ambivalence towards its own period of transition. Judged by contemporary critics to be as provocative as Zola and Ibsen, Gissing produced an "intensely modern" work as the issues it raises remain the subject of contemporary debate.

30 review for The Odd Women

  1. 5 out of 5

    Katie Lumsden

    Possibly my favourite Gissing so far. A brilliant, engaging novel with fascinating and feminist themes, one of the most interesting Victorian books I've read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ines

    Love this book!!I have read it with an exasperating slowness, but I was able to enjoy it as I haven't been to do for a long time with the books of these last months. They are those women who, by fate or economic condition, are unable to reach marriage, thus remaining forced to enter the working world, often accepting humble jobs on the verge of slavery. The life of these London women of the late nineteenth century is revealed with a drama without discounts, these female creatures whose fate is g Love this book!!I have read it with an exasperating slowness, but I was able to enjoy it as I haven't been to do for a long time with the books of these last months. They are those women who, by fate or economic condition, are unable to reach marriage, thus remaining forced to enter the working world, often accepting humble jobs on the verge of slavery. The life of these London women of the late nineteenth century is revealed with a drama without discounts, these female creatures whose fate is giving only social denial and impossibility of emotional fulfillment. Everything revolves around the daily survival of these young girls, whose life and meaning become merely the goal of economic accommodation. The Madden sisters (Monica, Virginia and Alice) will find themselves living this female emancipation; their friend Rhoda and cousin Everald, the only ones who dare to raise their heads and fight for a proud individualism, self-love and social commitment. The finale unfortunately leaves a sense of fake fulfillment, but of full hope for future generations. Capolavoro!!!!L'ho letto con una lentezza esasperante, ma sono riuscita a gustarmelo come non mi capitava da molto con i libri di questi ultimi mesi.chi sono le donne di troppo? Sono quelle donne che per destino o condizione economica non riescono ad arrivare al matrimonio, rimanendo quindi costrette ad affacciarsi nel mondo lavorativo accettando spesso impieghi umili al limite della schiavitù. La vita di queste donne londinesi della fine dell' ottocento viene svelata con una drammaticità senza sconti, queste creature femminili il cui destino sta dando unicamente negazioni sociali e impossibilità di appagamento emotivo. Tutto ruota attorno alla sopravvivenza quotidiana di queste fanciulle, la cui vita e significato diventano unicamente il traguardo di una sistemazione economica. Le sorelle Madden ( Monica, Virginia e Alice) si ritroveranno a vivere questa emancipazione femminile; l' amica Rhoda e il cugino Everald, gli unici che osano con coraggio alzare la testa e lottare per un fiero individualismo, amore di se ed impegno sociale. Il finale lascia purtroppo un senso di finto appagamento, ma di piena speranza per le generazioni future.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    What do you do, if the only socially acceptable career is marriage - and no one marries you? In late nineteenth century England, millions of women were condemned to live a life of shabby-genteel desperation because there simply weren't enough men to have for husbands and virtually no actual employment was possible. This is the horribly narrow, lonely fate endured by one woman here - but it's far better than the fates of two of her siblings: alcoholism, and marriage to a well-meaning but unendura What do you do, if the only socially acceptable career is marriage - and no one marries you? In late nineteenth century England, millions of women were condemned to live a life of shabby-genteel desperation because there simply weren't enough men to have for husbands and virtually no actual employment was possible. This is the horribly narrow, lonely fate endured by one woman here - but it's far better than the fates of two of her siblings: alcoholism, and marriage to a well-meaning but unendurable ogre. It's an alien world, with its strained proprieties and cock-eyed values - yet Gissing's treatment of it is so good (honest, fresh, angry, insightful way ahead of its time, and yet scarcely ever didactic) that many, many pages seem to describe scenes, and emotions, that are wholly modern. And on top of all this we get Rhoda Nunn, a magnificently complex, brave, fraught proto-feminist, trying almost single-handedly to reinvent her entire gender. I expected this to be a book of some historical interest. What I got was a gripping read. A brief note on the almost indescribably horrible Penguin edition I read (pictured here): what went wrong? I have not identified the typeface, but it looks like a form of semi-bold Palatino that someone has attacked with high-grit sandpaper before proceeding to use with twice the recommended amount of ink on poor-quality paper. Plus there is a persistent UNDER-printing near the bottom of every third or fourth page. Someone was asleep at the wheel on this one.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    An excellent feminist novel written in the midst of the Victorian age, in 1893. The title refers to unmarried women who were considered "odd" in those times. What I like most about this novel is the humor and wit with which Gissing presents her characters and themes which in another writer's hands could be depressing. We have reformers who want to change the role of women by discouraging marriage and encouraging independence. These reformers offer job training and education. We have women who at An excellent feminist novel written in the midst of the Victorian age, in 1893. The title refers to unmarried women who were considered "odd" in those times. What I like most about this novel is the humor and wit with which Gissing presents her characters and themes which in another writer's hands could be depressing. We have reformers who want to change the role of women by discouraging marriage and encouraging independence. These reformers offer job training and education. We have women who attempt reform and succeed and some who fail. Failure means falling in love and/or marrying in order to stop working and to be cared for financially. These stories and characters are all well described. Most of the women feel tested and under great strain not to fail or to hide their failure and weakness when they succumb to love and/or marriage. Throughout the novel some of the women, true to Victorian form are often sick, weak, and fainting and dying from emotional turmoil, anxiety and grief. Then we have the weather which is a character in itself: the London fog, rain and cold through which our characters must constantly navigate and which affects each character differently. Gissing also gives us 2 very interesting men supposedly representing opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of a man or husband's expectations of a woman/wife in Victorian times. These men are also fine character studies. One believes he owns his wife and her thoughts but his real problem is that he is insanely jealous and afraid his wife will leave him. Then we have a man who wants his women to be independent, but in truth, he wants this independent woman to stand up to him and his attempts at domination: this is his test of whether she is worthy of marriage. Does any of this sound familiar? Yes, some things have changed but I was smiling throughout at how much men and women's desires have stayed the same. A very entertaining, interesting, insightful and atmospheric novel.

  5. 5 out of 5

    MJ Nicholls

    A riveting novel exploring the nascent rumblings of female emancipation, with a cast of strong and memorable characters serving up a long and thoughtful series of ruminations on the problems of Victorian marriage and divorce laws, and the basic humbuggering that befell women who liked to think things and not sew quilts for eight hours a day. The two main narrative threads concern an emancipated woman conflicted by the attentions of a man who is attracted to emancipated women (with dreams of domi A riveting novel exploring the nascent rumblings of female emancipation, with a cast of strong and memorable characters serving up a long and thoughtful series of ruminations on the problems of Victorian marriage and divorce laws, and the basic humbuggering that befell women who liked to think things and not sew quilts for eight hours a day. The two main narrative threads concern an emancipated woman conflicted by the attentions of a man who is attracted to emancipated women (with dreams of dominating one), and a man who marries a seeming doormat who turns out to like thinking and refuses to bend to her master’s wishes. A plethora of mild-mannered cacophonies ensue in one of Gissing’s finest and less despairing productions.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    The Odd Women is my first George Gissing and I was happily surprised by this very feminist novel. Named for the unpaired, "marginal" women in Victorian England, Gissing is full of surprises. The novel questions the role of women's work, relationships, marriage and position in society. Plus, it is a wonderfully told story! I was engaged and thinking and on my toes until the very last page.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

    ”So many odd women—no making a pair with them.” Before I read this book, I thought of only one meaning of the word “odd”: strange, unusual. The sentence above from Chapter IV brought to focus another meaning. If there are “half a million more women than men” in England and their main purpose is to be married off, what is there to do with the left-overs?—the so-called woman question. Rhoda Dunn is determined to train the many women who are fit for it. She wishes the workforce of females, thos ”So many odd women—no making a pair with them.” Before I read this book, I thought of only one meaning of the word “odd”: strange, unusual. The sentence above from Chapter IV brought to focus another meaning. If there are “half a million more women than men” in England and their main purpose is to be married off, what is there to do with the left-overs?—the so-called woman question. Rhoda Dunn is determined to train the many women who are fit for it. She wishes the workforce of females, those barely surviving on low wages in menial jobs, instead of “creeping to their garrets and hospitals” to die were instead dying “of hunger in the streets” for the “crowd to stare at,” though she admits the crowd “might only congratulate each other that a few of the superfluous females had been struck off.” With this novel’s irony and humor, I thought of George Meredith’s The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1859), a novel satirizing the ridiculousness of social mores. In the tense relationship between Rhoda and Everard, as well as with a young woman’s marriage to an older man, I was reminded of Constance Fenimore Woolson’s East Angels (1886). I’d read Gissing’s New Grub Street (1891) years ago and, though it is relentlessly depressing a la Émile Zola, I loved it. This Gissing of two years later is not depressing, though sad things do happen. The novel references the occupations deemed fit for a woman because they are the ones men hold in contempt. It mentions the use of religion by “most men” as an “instrument for directing the female conscience.” Much of it feels relevant still.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship

    This is an astonishing book: a subversive, feminist take on marriage and women’s roles in society, written by a man in the 1890s. I suspect that’s not a coincidence, that a woman couldn’t have gotten away with this book and its criticism of Victorian marriage and Victorian men. And to round out the praise, it is also an excellent story, with fascinating and believable characters, that had me turning the pages as quickly as any contemporary novel. Late 19th century England had a marriage market i This is an astonishing book: a subversive, feminist take on marriage and women’s roles in society, written by a man in the 1890s. I suspect that’s not a coincidence, that a woman couldn’t have gotten away with this book and its criticism of Victorian marriage and Victorian men. And to round out the praise, it is also an excellent story, with fascinating and believable characters, that had me turning the pages as quickly as any contemporary novel. Late 19th century England had a marriage market in crisis – the country had many more women than men (presumably due to colonization), yet there was no provision for the “odd women out”; in society’s eyes a woman’s life was worthless if she failed to marry. The problem is considered so severe that a male character in this book urges marriage on his friend as a charitable duty, to save some poor woman from spinsterhood. This is the backdrop to a story primarily about two women, though not the two you’ll see in the blurb or the first chapters. Alice and Virginia Madden are our prototypical Victorian spinsters, who after their father’s death are forced to make their living as a governess and a companion respectively: work they find unfulfilling and precarious. They mope quietly in the background of this novel, too plain to hope for husbands and too timid to break out of their roles, serving as the example its other women react against. Anyway, on to our real protagonists. First, Rhoda Nunn, now one of my favorite literary heroines. Like her friends Alice and Virginia, Rhoda is not pretty and was forced to make her living at a young age; unlike them, she is independent, bold and uncompromising, and went about learning the skills she needed to find work with dignity. When the story opens she and her friend Mary Barfoot are running a typing school for young women, enabling them to make a decent living. Rhoda and Mary are active feminists and represent different sides of the movement, Rhoda the militant who dislikes the idea of marriage, Mary the gentler side whose goal is helping others. Of course Rhoda’s world is shaken when she starts to fall for Mary’s cousin, the charming Everard. Our other heroine is Monica, the youngest and prettiest of the Madden sisters. Monica is briefly a student at the typing school, and picks up some feminist ideas without quite realizing it, but at heart she is a conventional woman afraid of becoming an “old maid.” So when a wealthy older man begins to stalk her, she marries him in spite of her misgivings, and her story is one of trying to negotiate the boundaries of a Victorian marriage, in which her husband expects to rule her in all things. As you can see from the above, while this book has the drawing-room conversations and reticence about sex you’d expect from a Victorian novel, otherwise it’s unlike anything I’ve read from the 19th century. It engages frankly with issues of class and gender, and I loved reading about the early feminist movement. First-wave feminism is known for being exclusive, and we see the characters thinking and arguing about that: should they include poor women? What about “fallen” women? (Women of color do not come up, and the book is much less progressive when it comes to race. The n-word pops up twice – jarringly, in contexts not meant to be offensive.) Exclusivity wins out in the end, but it’s important to see that it isn’t without debate; at any rate I can hardly blame these women for it, given where they started and how much we owe to women like them. But it is also simply an excellent story, well-written and very readable, with an engaging plot that grabbed my attention and didn’t let go. This is not a story you’ve read before; there’s genuine suspense regarding the outcome. The characters are realistic, three-dimensional people, all of them with strengths and flaws, and it’s a great strength of Gissing’s writing that different readers can come to wildly different conclusions about them. You don’t have to be especially interested in feminism to enjoy this book, though if you are it’s a real treat. I do have a couple of reservations, for which it gets 4.5 stars rather than 5. One, the will-they-or-won’t-they between Rhoda and Everard in the middle of the book is drawn out a bit too long. And two, there’s a bit too much unnecessary female jealousy, some of it bizarrely retconned into an otherwise beautiful scene. However, I forgive all of this in light of the end; this book can’t be intelligently discussed without talking about the ending, so my interpretation is included below. But I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to know before reading the book, so be warned. MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW So, this is basically the most feminist ending ever. First off, Rhoda rejects Everard in favor of devoting herself to her work. Name me one other novel, please, whose heroine chooses herself over an acceptable man! Some critics have seen this as pride getting the better of her, and causing her to lose out on romantic love and motherhood. But every choice in life means giving up the alternative, and given Rhoda’s immediate regrets when she initially agreed to the marriage, this seems to be the choice that will bring her the most happiness. And I doubt this couple would have worked out anyway; sparring might make exciting courtship but the endless power struggle would have lost its luster. And the way Everard thinks about marriage, in terms of conquest and domination, is in no way attractive; when he says he wants a strong woman, he means the submission of a worthy opponent. He doesn't care about Rhoda herself nearly as much as the excitement of the chase. I admit to getting a little caught up in the romance myself, but on reflection the misunderstanding really was fortunate for them both. And Monica. A lot of reviewers have interpreted her death as a punishment for considering adultery, and yes, the "unfaithful" woman's death is a common trope in Victorian novels. However, this is not a moralistic novel, and Monica never actually cheats, so it’s hard to see why Gissing would have felt the need to punish her. And look at the simple cause-and-effect: Monica dies giving birth to the child she conceived with her husband, not in any way related to her potential affair. Had she rejected Widdowson, she would have lived. That’s right: marriage killed Monica, not immorality. I told you this book was subversive.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    This is a Victorian novel, written by a realist--George Gissing. It is a forerunner to books of feminism. It depicts the situation of women of slender means. For most women there were few other alternatives than marriage. With no dowry or a small one, then you better be pretty! We are told that in Victorian England there were one million more women than men, meaning that after you pair men and women up into couples, one million women are left over. What is to be done with these “odd” women? Are This is a Victorian novel, written by a realist--George Gissing. It is a forerunner to books of feminism. It depicts the situation of women of slender means. For most women there were few other alternatives than marriage. With no dowry or a small one, then you better be pretty! We are told that in Victorian England there were one million more women than men, meaning that after you pair men and women up into couples, one million women are left over. What is to be done with these “odd” women? Are they to be viewed as a resource or as a drain to society? These are the women referred to in the title. It is these women the author writes about, as well as one woman who has good looks and is lucky enough to marry. The question posed is if she is in fact lucky. Marriage is not drawn in pretty pink colors. I appreciate the realism with which the author draws the characters’ lives. The outlook is for the most part grim. If you are looking for a happy book you’d better look elsewhere. The characters have varying dispositions. By the book’s end, you know each one well. There is one woman and one man--these two are SO stubborn! They are attracted to each other, but could a relationship between them ever work? There is a man who is obsessively jealous; he is also a total control freak! There are those who strictly follow their principles and those a bit more flexible. We see how the characters’ lives are drawn together and what happens to each.. The writing is intelligible, but old fashioned and terribly wordy. What is said over several sentences, sometimes whole paragraphs, could be said much more succinctly, using just a few words. I find this tiresome. To figure out what is said you must wade through a million words. Nor is the writing pretty. I cannot give the book more than three stars because I find the writing longwinded. And the book is too long. Jane Sappy narrates the audiobook. Her narration I have given two stars. One hears every word said, but her reading is flat with rarely any fluctuation in tone. Droning on and on, it is easy to fall asleep. Then one must rewind, which is a nuisance. ******************** *The Odd Women 3 stars *New Grub Street 2 stars *Eve's Ransom TBR *The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft TBR

  10. 5 out of 5

    Everyman

    In his day, in the late Victorian age, Gissing was one of the most popular novelists. But he is not well known today, his contemporaries Trollope, Hardy, and James having aged much better than Gissing has. Indeed, neither the Oxford Anthology of English Literature - Victorian Prose and Poetry nor the Norton Anthology of English Literature has an entry for his writing, and the Oxford Anthology doesn't even mention him in its "Suggestions for Further Reading." The Teaching Company course on "The E In his day, in the late Victorian age, Gissing was one of the most popular novelists. But he is not well known today, his contemporaries Trollope, Hardy, and James having aged much better than Gissing has. Indeed, neither the Oxford Anthology of English Literature - Victorian Prose and Poetry nor the Norton Anthology of English Literature has an entry for his writing, and the Oxford Anthology doesn't even mention him in its "Suggestions for Further Reading." The Teaching Company course on "The English Novel" has no discussion of him. His contemporary obscurity is a shame, because while he may not be a first rank writer, some of his novels and most of his short stories are certainly worth reading. The Odd Women is one of his better known novels, though in my view not as strong as either New Grub Street or The Nether World. The odd women of the title, I should note up front, are not called odd because they are unusual, but are odd because at the time England had considerably more women of marital age than men, so there were many women who were "odd man out," or more accurately "odd woman out." The novel follows about a decade in the lives of five women, three of them sisters, for whom marriage is unlikely and, in several cases, unwanted (or so at least the characters argue; the reader is entitled to believe or disbelieve them). The novel is mildly didactic, with extended conversations discussing a variety of views toward marriage and feminine liberation in the late Victorian age. These views are more enjoyably offered than they would be in a more academic document, and offer some interesting thoughts on the role of marriage and women in the transition period of the later industrial age. The weakness of the novel, in my view, is that several of the main characters are rather flat, with their characters not well developed. They aren't quite stereotypical, but they seem to represent "types" Gissing uses to put forth his views rather than actual people. The novel's strength is the extended conversations, which are thought-provoking and often amusing. Indeed, Gissing has a subtle and wry sense of humor which he slips in almost casually rather than flaunting. Without spoiling the ending, or endings since there are several intertwined stories, I can say that this is not the traditional English comedic novel with everybody coming out happily in the end. It isn't quite Hardy, but it is closer to him than to Austen. This is not a great novel, but it is a good novel, easy to read and quite sufficiently enjoyable when a reader wants a bit of a break from Bleak House, and War and Peace, and other "most serious" novels.

  11. 5 out of 5

    E. G.

    Introduction --The Odd Women Selected Bibliography

  12. 4 out of 5

    MichelleCH

    A definite winner in my eyes. There are some books that just make you think and this is one of them. Taking the idea of 'odd women' and turning it into a novel is just brillant. Odd women are those women who are left after all other eligible men and women have been paired in marriage. These women are not outcasts per se but definitely live a much different life than those who have a husband. Some of the women in this novel embrace the distinction while others are so afraid of becoming one that th A definite winner in my eyes. There are some books that just make you think and this is one of them. Taking the idea of 'odd women' and turning it into a novel is just brillant. Odd women are those women who are left after all other eligible men and women have been paired in marriage. These women are not outcasts per se but definitely live a much different life than those who have a husband. Some of the women in this novel embrace the distinction while others are so afraid of becoming one that they make poor choices which resonate over their lifetime. One example is that of Monica Madden, alone in the world, she must support herself as a shop-girl. This profession is harsh and with a limitless supply of desparate workers; there is little to advance any worker's condition for the better. As soon as one worker is depleted there are many others ready to fill a position. When an opportunity to marry a man of distinction and means presents itself, Monica is so afraid of losing this singular opportunity that she makes a decision in haste. This decision later becomes a central point in the story and leads to numerous bad decisions and complications. At the same time, there are other women in the novel who embrace their freedom and control; these are odd women who have found a purpose. The pioneers who create the tide of liberation for women. Rhoda Nunn, a peer and friend to Monica, is a perfect example of the type of woman that laid a path for future women to benefit from. Although she presents as a judgemental character at times, Rhoda is able to stand strong in her beliefs and desires and not become, as so many others do, beholden to any one man. I loved this novel and there is much too much to describe. I can see a book club embracing this for a wonderful discussion. So many themes to explore: love, class, economic oppression, capitalism, feminism, desire, morals, just to name a few. Thank you again Sera for introducing me to this gem!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth (Alaska)

    Writing this review will be a struggle; not because I didn't like the book, but because why I liked it is not so easy to explain without saying more than I usually do about the heart of the matter. So many odd women--no making a pair with them. The pessimists call them useless, lost, futile lives. I, naturally--being one of them myself--take another view. I look upon them as a great reserve. When one woman vanishes in matrimony, the reserve offers a substitute for the world's work. Ok, so that exp Writing this review will be a struggle; not because I didn't like the book, but because why I liked it is not so easy to explain without saying more than I usually do about the heart of the matter. So many odd women--no making a pair with them. The pessimists call them useless, lost, futile lives. I, naturally--being one of them myself--take another view. I look upon them as a great reserve. When one woman vanishes in matrimony, the reserve offers a substitute for the world's work. Ok, so that explains the title. This speech is given by a woman who is part of the emancipation movement of the 1890s. I must have lived under a rock, but I honestly didn't know, and was more than mildly surprised, that this very strong feminist novel was published at that time. I can only imagine the reception it must have received. Not only did Gissing address the right of women to work in other than teaching or domestic service, but it addressed the desire for a wife to be intellectual partner with her husbands. Don't let me mislead you. Yes, this was all I've said in the preceding paragraph, but there was a rather good story as well, with interesting and well-developed characters. The prose is excellent, perhaps much better than other Victorian literature. Gissing is on both the 1001 Books list and on Bloom's Western Canon list, but for his New Grub Street, which I hope to find room for before too much time passes.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Miranda

    George Gissing’s The Odd Women was written in 1893 and is set during the Victorian period in England. This was my first time reading any of Gissing’s work, but I was pleasantly surprised. I was not expecting a male writer during this time to exhibit feminist ideology. The author takes inspiration from “odd women,” or the women who were left over as other men and women married, especially considering that women greatly outnumbered men during this time. However, some of these women simply made thi George Gissing’s The Odd Women was written in 1893 and is set during the Victorian period in England. This was my first time reading any of Gissing’s work, but I was pleasantly surprised. I was not expecting a male writer during this time to exhibit feminist ideology. The author takes inspiration from “odd women,” or the women who were left over as other men and women married, especially considering that women greatly outnumbered men during this time. However, some of these women simply made this choice of not marrying for themselves. The Odd Women follows a variety of women who must navigate the expectations society sets for them. Most notably, this includes Alice Madden, Virginia Madden, Monica Madden, Mary Barfoot, and Rhoda Nunn. Gissing uses these characters to explore ideas about marriage and morals while testing the traditional ideas about women’s roles in society. Many believed that women must marry and have nothing else going for them. However, some of these women are “odd women” and use this role to advocate for female emancipation through job training and education. It is interesting to see how Gissing contrasts these main female characters with their different opinions about life and marriage. Readers follow them through many trials and tribulations among themselves and with men, but I personally was rooting for them all in the end. Gissing’s The Odd Women is not only enjoyable and entertaining but insightful as well. I learned a lot more about “odd women” and feminist views during this time. I appreciated how well-written the novel was as well. However, some parts seemed to drag on and some characters were definitely more likable than others. I was also expecting a bit more out of the ending. Regardless, The Odd Women was a fun and interesting read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Cooke (Bookish Shenanigans)

    My favourite Gissing novel so far. A completely fascinating examination of marriage and the 'New Woman'.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Issicratea

    I think I’m beginning to like Gissing. I read New Grub Street a few months ago and my jury remained slightly out, but The Odd Women won me over. Thematically, this novel is very interesting indeed. The “odd women” of the title are those surplus to requirements in late-Victorian Britian: women of the genteel, but unmoneyed classes who do not find a husband, and find themselves socially invisible, financially straitened, and deprived of any means to fight their way out of their corner. Fear of thi I think I’m beginning to like Gissing. I read New Grub Street a few months ago and my jury remained slightly out, but The Odd Women won me over. Thematically, this novel is very interesting indeed. The “odd women” of the title are those surplus to requirements in late-Victorian Britian: women of the genteel, but unmoneyed classes who do not find a husband, and find themselves socially invisible, financially straitened, and deprived of any means to fight their way out of their corner. Fear of this fate, as Gissing illustrates, can drive women into the equal and opposite fate of a desperation marriage, which condemns both them and their husbands to a form of living hell. Two of the main characters in this novel are on a conscious mission to address this social problem by providing business training—essentially, typing and bookkeeping—to prospective “odd women,” in order to give them a means of maintaining their independence. These two, the reticent Mary Barfoot and the more exuberant Rhoda Nunn, were the freshest characters in the novel for me. They take rather a while to surface, but, once they did, my interest was piqued. One reason why The Odd Women worked for me a little better than New Grub Street is that its gloom and misery is slightly less unremitting. In addition to the dreary, precarious lives and feeble twitches of rebellion in which Gissing seems to specialize, we have some more colorful elements here. I was especially struck by the sparky, unpredictable, sexually charged relationship that develops between Rhoda and Everard Barfoot, Mary’s faintly bounderish cousin. This stole the show for me and made me revise my opinion of Gissing’s subtlety and imaginative range. I still have a few reservations about Gissing. He’s not the most elegant of writers; there’s a workmanlike quality to his prose, and a degree of clumpiness to his plotting at points. But he has certainly got something—perhaps as simple as an ability to home in unfailingly on what is most new and live and raw in his society. This gives his novels a disconcertingly modern air at times, rather like the sensation of seeing color photographs from the early 1900s, which jolt you into seeing the past in a different way.

  17. 4 out of 5

    El

    I sort of fell out of the world for about a month, didn't I? I am back and trying to get caught up on some reviews. It's been a busy time and also summer and summer makes me feel like the saddest pile of shit you've ever met, so bear with me. It happens every year, though this year may be the worst so far. The Odd Women is a delightful story about the Madden sisters and their friendship with Rhoda, an intelligent woman, rare for their environment and society. Rhoda, of course, opens up their eyes I sort of fell out of the world for about a month, didn't I? I am back and trying to get caught up on some reviews. It's been a busy time and also summer and summer makes me feel like the saddest pile of shit you've ever met, so bear with me. It happens every year, though this year may be the worst so far. The Odd Women is a delightful story about the Madden sisters and their friendship with Rhoda, an intelligent woman, rare for their environment and society. Rhoda, of course, opens up their eyes and their minds and that is, of course, terrifying for many people because that's not the way women are! These women are odd, what with their fancy-shmancy views on eating meat and deciding not to get married and living out of wedlock and shit. Odd, odd women. Sheesh. This was my first experience with George Gissing's writing, but it won't be the last. I'm glad I started with this book, though, because it embodies many of my own views and reading about these women going through things that were uncommon for the 19th century (or at least frowned upon) made me infinitely happy. Parts of the story (or the writing) reminded me of Fortunata and Jacinta: Two Stories of Married Women which I also loved. It's possible Gissing had read that before writing The Odd Women since Galdos published his book about ten years prior. Just a thought. I highly recommend this book to anyone who thinks late 19th-century literature was stuffy, and never focused on the rights of women, or portrayed women as just lapdogs. These characters are not lapdogs - they have feelings and beliefs and while some may make poor choices, their decisions for those choices are well-discussed in a complete and well-rounded manner.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ali

    `there are half a million more women than men in this unhappy country of ours . . . So many odd women - no making a pair with them.' The Odd Women explores the idea of all the “Odd Women” of Victorian England, those women left over after all the more marriageable people have been paired off. Some of the characters – particularly Rhoda Nunn and Mary Barfoot embrace their status as single independent women and in them Gissing rather satirises the “New Women” of the 1890’s. As the novel opens in 187 `there are half a million more women than men in this unhappy country of ours . . . So many odd women - no making a pair with them.' The Odd Women explores the idea of all the “Odd Women” of Victorian England, those women left over after all the more marriageable people have been paired off. Some of the characters – particularly Rhoda Nunn and Mary Barfoot embrace their status as single independent women and in them Gissing rather satirises the “New Women” of the 1890’s. As the novel opens in 1872 the Madden sisters are living in their Somerset home with their widowed father, their lives are quiet and seemingly idyllic. Although not hugely wealthy their father is comfortable and will be able to provide well for his daughters, although his projected fifteen more years of work is cut tragically short by his sudden death. His daughters are left to fend for themselves in the world. Fifteen years later and their fortunes are very different, the two elder sisters Alice and Virginia are in London, living in grim lodgings, in between positions as a governess and companion, their lives are hard. They are afraid to use the capital they inherited from their father, and so instead continue to live on just a few shillings a week. Their younger sister Monica is a shop girl, enduring dreadfully long hours, while living above the shop with the other shop girls. Alice and Virginia are thrown together with the bluestocking reactionary Rhoda Nunn, who they knew in their girlhood, and Mary Barfoot, who run a small establishment training young women in typing and shorthand, sending them out into the world as “New Women” who will be able to support themselves as office clerks. Rhoda professes to be vehemently against marriage – despising the weak women who settle for married life, and having no compassion at all for a poor young woman who strays from the moral path of Victorian society. Monica is all set to become one Rhoda and Mary’s pupils, but Monica is less keen on the idea of supporting herself as those around her may suppose. Monica is terribly afraid of her sisters’ fate – and this fear leads her to make a hasty marriage. Practically stalked by a much older man – but one who has a bit of money and his own home – Monica thinks she is saving herself from a far worse fate than marrying a man she doesn’t really love. “Never had it occurred to Widdowson that a wife remains an individual, with rights and obligations independent of her wifely condition. Everything he said presupposed his own supremacy, he took fro granted that it was his to direct, hers to be guided” Edmund Widdowson’s love of Monica is jealous, obsessive and suffocating, and Monica is soon regretting her hasty marriage. Her dissatisfaction is increased when she and her husband meet young Mr Bevis and his mother and sisters while on holiday. They continue their acquaintance when home in London. When Mary Barfoot’s disgraced cousin Everard arrives on the scene – he is immediately drawn to Rhoda, initially he is interested to see if he can turn her head, her apparent dislike of romance and marriage represents a challenge to Everard. In The Odd women Gissing takes as his themes: marriage, morals, and women’s roles in Victorian society and the beginnings of the early feminist movement. It is an enormously readable and engaging novel, although Gissing’s world is not a cosy one. Many of the characters are flawed, angry or cynical – but they are fully rounded and wholly believable. Gissing writes about poverty, disillusion, alcoholism, obsession and Victorian society in grimy foggy London streets, yet he makes it palatable and gripping. It is many years since I read any George Gissing novels – I think I read three or four way back when – and I am now wondering why I left it so long to re-visit his work.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    This is the first piece of literature that I've read by George Gissing. In fact, I had never heard of Gissing until a book was recommended by a Victorian group. After reading The Odd Women I will definitely seek out more of his works. The setting is turn of the 19th century England. There are more women than men during this period and those women who do not possess the qualities (social class, money, looks) to attract a husband are labeled Odd Women. Two feminist women really really feminist for This is the first piece of literature that I've read by George Gissing. In fact, I had never heard of Gissing until a book was recommended by a Victorian group. After reading The Odd Women I will definitely seek out more of his works. The setting is turn of the 19th century England. There are more women than men during this period and those women who do not possess the qualities (social class, money, looks) to attract a husband are labeled Odd Women. Two feminist women really really feminist for the times, open a clerical school for these "lowly women" so that they may come out of the sweatshops. The hope is that maybe they will never even consider marriage. According to one of these women, "Who needs it?" Gissing takes the reader into the lives of these women and men where things turn out very differently from the characters' initial beliefs. Great social commentary of the times.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kristina

    This novel was surprisingly good. I was expecting something more like a polemic, something in which the Issues were more important than the story. But what I got instead was surprisingly readable, well-written, and even quite suspenseful. (Okay, not in a thriller kind of way, but in a Victorian marriage plot kind of way.) Unlike an Issue novel like Ruth (oh, Elizabeth Gaskell, I like you, but that novel has some problems!), where the protagonist is primarily a bland vehicle for making a point, Th This novel was surprisingly good. I was expecting something more like a polemic, something in which the Issues were more important than the story. But what I got instead was surprisingly readable, well-written, and even quite suspenseful. (Okay, not in a thriller kind of way, but in a Victorian marriage plot kind of way.) Unlike an Issue novel like Ruth (oh, Elizabeth Gaskell, I like you, but that novel has some problems!), where the protagonist is primarily a bland vehicle for making a point, The Odd Women has interesting, flawed, complex characters who sometimes make poor choices. It also has some characters that verge on being one-dimensional -- such as Mr. Widdowson -- but even he has moments in which you sympathize with him. Almost all of the characters appear as though they'll be one-dimensional, but then they surprise you -- particularly the two main female characters, Rhoda and Monica. Although each one is designed to demonstrate a "type" of unmarried woman -- one with an intellectual disdain for the institution and the other who sees it as her only real option for an easy life -- Gissing takes both of them in unexpected directions. In the process, he makes one of the strongest cases for female equality that I've read in a Victorian novel, openly criticizing Ruskin's idea of separate spheres and arguing for female education and intellectual development as well as personal freedom and employment opportunities. He may not have all the answers or be able to envision a strong alternative to marriage, but Gissing never -- not even in the ending, where critics often complain Victorian novels become conservative -- backs away from his conviction that without true, mutual understanding and belief in equality, love cannot exist.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    Very well-written book depicting the difficulties of being an unmarried woman during the late years of the Victorian age. Marriage is given short shrift in this novel, as even women who had made "good marriages" admitted to being happier as widows. The seriousness of the subject matter and the unhappiness of the characters is mitigated by the author's humor.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    My first Gissing, and one that came highly recommended, did not disappoint. I was thoroughly intrigued by the vast array of women characters Gissing explored in this novel. Especially how each had a separate experience of marriage, yet they all suffered under the illusion of 'women's purpose'. It illustrated early forms of feminism and female suffrage, which was endlessly intriguing to glimpse at how late Victorian women were asserting their place in the workforce and their questioning of establ My first Gissing, and one that came highly recommended, did not disappoint. I was thoroughly intrigued by the vast array of women characters Gissing explored in this novel. Especially how each had a separate experience of marriage, yet they all suffered under the illusion of 'women's purpose'. It illustrated early forms of feminism and female suffrage, which was endlessly intriguing to glimpse at how late Victorian women were asserting their place in the workforce and their questioning of established social expectations.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kailey (BooksforMKs)

    The Madden sisters are growing older, poor and unmarried, and ignored by society. Their younger sister, Monica, is still young and pretty, and they hope that she will marry well. She meets a Mr. Widdowson and contemplates marriage with him as a way to escape the horrors of being a spinster like her sisters. Rhoda Nunn is another single lady who finds herself in the middle of a flirtation with an intellectual man, all while passionately avowing the most extreme feminist ideals and criticizing the The Madden sisters are growing older, poor and unmarried, and ignored by society. Their younger sister, Monica, is still young and pretty, and they hope that she will marry well. She meets a Mr. Widdowson and contemplates marriage with him as a way to escape the horrors of being a spinster like her sisters. Rhoda Nunn is another single lady who finds herself in the middle of a flirtation with an intellectual man, all while passionately avowing the most extreme feminist ideals and criticizing the institution of marriage. I loved so many things about this book! The writing is incredible, and really pulls you into the story. The plot kept me wondering, and every emotional scene was glorious. It's all about deception, ambition, betrayal, addiction, love, manipulation, jealousy, and pride. It's not a happy book, but a very interesting and engaging read. There are some really wonderful details in the writing that give the story so much depth. For instance, in the beginning the Madden sisters declare that they are vegetarian and eat very little, but it's when their meager meal is described that the reader begins to truly see that the sisters are pretending to be vegetarian because they are so poor and unable to buy meat or rich foods. It's the details that tug on your heart and bring that emotional element into every chapter. The writing also does a wonderful job of hinting at a hidden meaning or a bigger purpose behind those details. A person stops at a pub and orders a drink, and it's the way they furtively look around and nervously toss it back that alerts the reader that they might just be trying to hide their alcoholism. I love the way the writing shows these little glimpses to the reader and lets you draw your own conclusions, and then later in the story those hints are confirmed. The characters are incredibly deep, and they feel very real. They are flawed, and they make terrible decisions, and their emotions are wild and unruly. Every single character relationship is horribly manipulative. I started noticing this pattern in a few of the relationships where very manipulative characters are fighting for control of the relationship, but really ALL the relationships are manipulative on some level. This made me feel sorry for the author, who apparently never had a good relationship that wasn't completely dysfunctional. The characters are constantly analyzing every little word or gesture or glance or facial expression from other characters, in an attempt to manipulate the situation and gain mastery over the other person. It got on my nerves after a while. I appreciated all those little insights into the characters reactions to each situation, but why can't any of the characters just let another character be? Just let them be free to express themselves without scrutinizing everything about them, so you can use it against them later. The dynamic of each character relationship is determined by two things: mental fitness and emotional understanding. The relationship between Monica and her spinster sisters is strained because they don't understand her emotionally or mentally. The relationship between Rhoda and her gentleman, Everard, is based on their mutual mental fitness, and they have a lot of fun sparring with intellectual swords. Monica is completely misunderstood by her beau, Widdowson, and they are utterly unfit as companions, both emotionally and mentally. The only two people in a major relationship in the entire book who ARE suited to each other in both respects are Rhoda and her friend Mary. Their friendship goes through some storms but ultimately it is their mutual respect and understanding that keeps their friendship strong and resilient. I loved their dynamic! Every main character is selfish and proud, so no wonder they are all miserable for most of the book. But many of them are also loyal, courageous, empathetic, and good-hearted. It is mostly their own insecurities and anxieties that make them so fiercely proud, and it is their losses and struggles that make them grasp selfishly for what they want out of life. It makes them feel like real people, so while I didn't exactly like any of the characters, I found them supremely interesting and compelling. Rhoda and Everard both think that love is a game, a contest to be won, and they are always trying to subdue and conquer, even to the point of hoping that the other person is suffering emotional distress so that they can gain the upper hand. They hold up these impossible standards to each other, and basically dare the other person to live on that pedestal. Monica and Widdowson are the perfect counterpoint to Rhoda and Everard. Widdowson sees women as children who need a teacher to guide them and rule over them. He thinks that he can solve Monica's unrest by giving her needlework to do. He is incredibly insecure and afraid of appearing incompetent or weak, so he MUST imagine that she is incompetent and weak to make himself feel better about his own flaws. Monica also has expectations from Widdowson that he must fulfill her male ideal of a strong and courageous man who knows what to do. She sets him up to be embarrassed and feel helpless when he can't perform perfectly in every situation that arises. Ultimately, this is a book about contradictory ideals: the ideal woman of sweetness and femininity, the ideal man of courage and decision, the ideal behavior that is expected of each person, the ideal romance, the ideal marriage, an ideal society where women and men have equal rights. Every character has their idea of how the world "should be", and then they are disillusioned with others, and disappointed in themselves when no one can live up to those expectations. They are devastated to realize that they are only human after all, and must muddle through with the rest of the masses. The only ideal that really holds up by the end of the book is Rhoda's ideal of women's equal rights, although she has lightened her heavy militant ideas through her character arc. I really loved her character development! For me, that makes her the main focus of the entire book. She has suffered emotionally and has been forced to reexamine her concepts of what freedom for women truly means. Through that suffering her harsh personality is softened. In the beginning she shuts out any compassion for weaker women who have "failed" her ideal of the emancipated female, but by the end of the book, she shows compassion for others. She still believes in that emancipated feminist ideal, but it is tempered with pity and a greater understanding of a woman's scope in life. There is one scene in particular where Rhoda has just been through the worst of her emotional distress and suffering. She has finally pulled herself out of terrible depression, and another character comes to her and confides that they "don't think they will live", hinting at suicidal thoughts. Rhoda gives a beautifully encouraging speech to that character, urging them to make their life useful, have hope for the future, and find happiness in their connections with their loved ones, but all the while, you can tell that she is also giving that speech to herself. She is coming full circle to find all those things for herself, and it makes her so glad to be able to help someone else find it too. Rhoda's noble ideals give her a contented (if not exactly happy) ending, and she is full of energy and hope. She has a virtuous purpose to give her life meaning. I loved so many things about her character and her story! One of my favorite scenes in the entire book was when two of the characters go hiking on Sca Fell in the Lake District, and the beauties of the mountains and lakes are described in such powerful but concise language that I had to look up photos of the area. It added so much depth to the story to see the actual location where they were at, and that whole scene felt like a dream. The scene is intended to feel like a dream when the characters are away from their normal lives in London, and they are free to be themselves without the normal constraints of society. The whole plot line was masterly orchestrated with this scene as the romantic dream, and then a rude awakening when their ordinary responsibilities and anxieties creep back in. Brilliant writing! My only complaint is that I would have liked to see more of actual loving marriages and healthy family relationships. The only happy marriage in the entire book is between two minor side characters, the Micklethwaites. It is barely touched on, only gets two or three short scenes, and is sort of dismissed as a fluke. So many of the personal relationships on every level of family, romance, friendship, and acquaintances are entirely dysfunctional, abusive, and manipulative. If only there had been a little more attention to good and healthy relationships, I would have given this book 5 stars. However, after reading a little bit about the author, it looks like he never experienced a happy or healthy relationship in real life, so no wonder he found himself unable to write about them. I was also disappointed in how Christianity is completely dismissed in this book. It's not even considered as a possible avenue for happiness or personal fulfillment. Many Victorians twisted Christianity into something that would oppress people with rules, instead of the true Christianity of the Bible which sets people free to be whoever God created them to be. It was annoying to see how religion was sneered at in this book, but it wasn't often enough to ruin my enjoyment of the book. There are so many aspects of this book to consider, so many facets to the characters, and elements in the plot. I could write much more, but these are my main thoughts.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Cphe

    A vastly underrated novel. I'd never heard of this author until he was recommended on one of the Amazon threads. I enjoyed this story which at heart offers two tales of "love" by two very different women. Monica is a young woman who marries an older man and trade one prison for another. Rhoda is principled and idealistic and revels in her independence. This novel delves into the start of the emancipation movement and is a quite fascinating look at 19th century society. Really this novel deserves A vastly underrated novel. I'd never heard of this author until he was recommended on one of the Amazon threads. I enjoyed this story which at heart offers two tales of "love" by two very different women. Monica is a young woman who marries an older man and trade one prison for another. Rhoda is principled and idealistic and revels in her independence. This novel delves into the start of the emancipation movement and is a quite fascinating look at 19th century society. Really this novel deserves all of the accolades that readers are able to give. My regret is that it's taken me so long to find this wonderful and thought provoking gem that delivers themes that are as applicable today as yesterday.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Carla Remy

    From 1893. This book is really good. Being a late Victorian realist novel, it doesn't conclude with a happy, pat ending, but it is satisfying all the same. The odd women are the multitude of unmarried females in Victorian England, and this book concerns the effort (by trailblazing ladies) to get educated women using typewriters so they have their own employment (besides teaching, governessing or nursing). Actually honest about marriage leading to control of the spouse - but it goes both ways. Wi From 1893. This book is really good. Being a late Victorian realist novel, it doesn't conclude with a happy, pat ending, but it is satisfying all the same. The odd women are the multitude of unmarried females in Victorian England, and this book concerns the effort (by trailblazing ladies) to get educated women using typewriters so they have their own employment (besides teaching, governessing or nursing). Actually honest about marriage leading to control of the spouse - but it goes both ways. Wives without their own lives and livelihood can become warped controllers just like husbands can. Also deals with alcoholism - of a woman. Very ahead of its time. Amazing to think how much changed in 50 or 60 years.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Wealhtheow

    Fiction about a small selection of loosely related women with various personalities and talents. The writing is pointed and both easy and interesting to read, but I got impatient and spoiled myself for the ending, and then lost all interest in actually reading the full novel. I don't enjoy reading about nineteenth century people torturing themselves and others in order to live up to their high ideals (and inevitably failing to do so anyway).

  27. 4 out of 5

    Petra

    The Odd Women is definitely one of the most surprising Victorian novel I have read. It surprised me with its' take on unmarried women and their willingness to stay unmarried. Gissing is definitely that sort of an author I want to read more by because I really enjoyed this. His female characters are so well developed and have so many levels in them. I was completely blown away by how a man in Victorian era wrote a book with a straightforward feminist message.

  28. 5 out of 5

    John David

    George Gissing (1857-1903), much like George Meredith, is yet another great and prolific Victorian novelist whose available work has been winnowed by history and the caprice of a changing readership. When asked if he could rival Dickens’ writing speed, he once replied “Here, hold my beer” and proceeded to publish a novel a year for the twenty-five years of his life. All but a few of them are completely unknown now, but “The Nether World” (1889), “New Grub Street” (1891), “Odd Women” (1893) conti George Gissing (1857-1903), much like George Meredith, is yet another great and prolific Victorian novelist whose available work has been winnowed by history and the caprice of a changing readership. When asked if he could rival Dickens’ writing speed, he once replied “Here, hold my beer” and proceeded to publish a novel a year for the twenty-five years of his life. All but a few of them are completely unknown now, but “The Nether World” (1889), “New Grub Street” (1891), “Odd Women” (1893) continue to stick around on the occasional list of great books or the syllabus of a professor who is convinced that Gissing deserves his proper place among the Dickenses, Trollopes, Eliots, and Hardys of the world. If you happen to know something about Gissing before jumping into “Odd Women,” you’ll find the story peculiar. Gissing possessed an aristocratic nature. He didn’t have many kind words for democracy, or especially populism (which in most of its contemporary English instantiations was centered around labor movements and left-of-center). Like a lot of young people, he was once much more sympathetic to leftist politics, but used his last published novel “The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft” (1903) to opine, “To think I once called myself a socialist, communist, anything you like of the revolutionary kind! Not for long, to be sure, and I suspect there was always something in me that scoffed when my lips uttered such things.” Knowing this, it would be perfectly understandable for Gissing to write a story in which he dismisses his subjects in “Odd Women,” a group of progressive women trying to protect themselves and other women from poverty, with little more than dismissiveness or derision. What’s really wonderful is that he paints them as relatable, poignant, sympathetic people trying to do little more than make their way in a world even he shows is driven by money and patriarchy. He takes their problems and concerns seriously and treats them like fully fleshed-out human beings, which is a lot more than you can say for a lot of Victorian male writers, even those much more self-consciously progressive and reform-minded. “Odd Women” is the story of three sisters, Monica, Alice and Virginia Madden, and the small group of people who make up their social circles. One of their childhood acquaintances, Rhoda, who has come to be very suspicious of men and especially their intentions to marry, now lives with Mary Barfoot in a house where they have established a typing school for the betterment of unmarried young women. Gissing says precious little of the lesbian relationship that he might be hinting at by having two bluestockings live together in the absence, and even dismissal, of men. He doesn’t exactly say anything to keep the reader from drawing the conclusion that their relationship might be more than platonic, either. Monica is relentlessly followed (today, we would even say “stalked”) by a man name Widdowson, who is old enough to be her father and yet promises her all the bromides and platitudes of a perfectly blissful domestic union if he marries her. Once he finally manipulates her into marriage, he grows even more aggressive, abusive, and pathologically misogynistic. At the same time, Everard, Mary’s cousin, starts courting the cold and distant Rhoda, taking her suspicions about the opposite sex and the institution of marriage as just more fuel for his courtship. Despite not thinking much about the capabilities of most women, Everard ends up “genuinely” (whatever that might mean) falling in love with Rhoda and – against all odds – she eventually starts to return his sentiments. One day when Widdowson has someone follow Monica around all day to report on her movements, in a sort of “comedy of errors” twist, it turns out that Widdowson lives in the same building as another man, which causes a chain of misunderstandings and bungled identities. One more little plot twist (Monica gets pregnant), allowing Gissing to tie up the loose ends of the story. Almost everything about the two romantic entanglements hurts as the helpless reader watches them unfold. Monica is young and naïve, perhaps too young and optimistic to have taken to heart the opinions of Rhoda. From a mile away, you can spot him as a predator on the prowl for a wife, but his persistence just breaks her spirit until she finally relents. I had a lot of hope invested in Rhoda and her ability to resist and stay true to her mission of helping young women, even though I knew her caving in to Everard was almost an inevitability. You can almost feel the pathos with which Gissing writes about these women, and he certainly makes it clear that Victorian society has given women – especially unmarried ones – the short end of the stick. Considering I was ready to have marriage and love mansplained to me by a long-dead white Victorian man for the sole reason of checking George Gissing off of long list of writers I have never read before, I was more than happy to read this. Gissing explicitly said that his books were about “not having enough money” – again, an unusual topic for the son of a middle-class pharmacist who would himself grow more politically conservative throughout his life. It was so refreshing to read about women and the problem of marriage (both being in it and not) being taken seriously in an age when brusque contempt was more frequently the attitude shown toward their circumstances.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    At no point was I floored by Gissing as a writer. He is one of those where you can see snatches of talent shining through in particularly poignant phrases, but it’s only here and there. For example the book opened with: “"Mrs. Madden- having given birth to six daughters, had fulfilled her function in this wonderful world” There is such gravitas in that sentence, especially in the contact of the rest of the scene where the audience is introduced immediately to a doubtful figure of a father who cont At no point was I floored by Gissing as a writer. He is one of those where you can see snatches of talent shining through in particularly poignant phrases, but it’s only here and there. For example the book opened with: “"Mrs. Madden- having given birth to six daughters, had fulfilled her function in this wonderful world” There is such gravitas in that sentence, especially in the contact of the rest of the scene where the audience is introduced immediately to a doubtful figure of a father who continues to put off action that would provide for his children. And he dies, leaving few savings to his untrained girls. It sentences like that, and a few excellent quips in arguments, that lets you know Gissing could be powerful, but more often than not I feel that the characters are one dimensional, we never see or understand their retinence to make a decision, or sometimes their actions seem flamboyant with little to know description of why things suddenly became so heated. In the end the narrative falls a little flat. We then skip a head a number of years. Half of the sisters are dead from sickness, overwork, and suicide (all really results of the aforementioned overwork). There were several complains in our book club that skipping straight to their destitution made it hard to relate to the characters. People wanted to know more about their suffering. I think it’s important to realize that their suffering is not what this book is really about, at least not in my opinion. It was not difficult in this time to see the suffering of the underprivileged. It wasn’t required for Gissing to reintroduce you to it, it was common knowledge, what he wants to talk about is the venues open to women to improve their station, and what they can expect from that. That is why the book follows in equal parts Monica, who decides to wed, and Rhoda who is a fanatical feminist trying to carve a new path for women. You continue to see the sisters and others working in the background as a reminder of what WAS happening in Britain. Gissing spend a lot of time developing rhetoric around the different “feminist questions” that were being put to the task in Victorian England, questions such as is it better for a woman to wed or is marriage a naturally degrading conformity required by society. Such questions are still asked today, so its an interesting look back. Still most of his female characters are frustrating and often petty or jealous, so I feel like he backslid in the argument he was trying to make. In the end it was an interesting look back into early feminism. There were discussions on society and class structure that certainly made at least one chapter of the book deeper than the rest. However, in the end, it just didn’t stack up for me. I won’t be rushing off to read more Gissing.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alasse

    Forget about Edith Wharton - this the best, most ahead-of-its-time, social commentary book I have read in a long, long time, if not ever. How come it wasn't on my radar before? It speaks about women's equality in a way that makes it incredible that it was written in the freaking 1800s. If only, the fact that it was makes it even more refreshing - because these are problems that we're already aware of but we still haven't managed to resolve, seeing it all discussed like it's new and devoid of con Forget about Edith Wharton - this the best, most ahead-of-its-time, social commentary book I have read in a long, long time, if not ever. How come it wasn't on my radar before? It speaks about women's equality in a way that makes it incredible that it was written in the freaking 1800s. If only, the fact that it was makes it even more refreshing - because these are problems that we're already aware of but we still haven't managed to resolve, seeing it all discussed like it's new and devoid of connotations... well, it makes a change from all the angry-sounding articles on my Facebook feed, that's for sure. I guess the contrast should feel depressing, but the book is the one that reads surprisingly modern, so I had to keep reminding myself that we have truly come a long way in most of these respects. Just look at quote: "True. But a free union presupposes equality of position. No honest man would propose it, for instance, to a woman incapable of understanding all it involved, or incapable of resuming her separate life if that became desirable." This is GOLD, people. Read it!

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