Wednesday, November 23, 2011
The Odd Women by George Gissing
The Odd Women, published in 1893, is a spectacular novel about the choices and obstacles faced by women in their struggle for independance. Whether that be as single women or within a marriage. Mary Barfoot and Rhoda Nunn are steadfast in their belief that to marry reduces a woman to being a cook and cradle rocker and to retard her thinking. Together they operate a business that teachs young women to use a typewriter so they can escape the drudgery and abuses of service or other menial occupations. They also make themselves available one night a week in their Chelsea home to meet with women who share their views.
Alice and Virginia Madden have reached the stage of spinsterhood but their younger sister, Monica, has beauty enough to secure a better future for all three. Her chance meeting with the modestly wealthy Edmund Widdowson creates debate amongst all of the above-mentioned ladies. Let it be said that Mr Widdowson is a stuck in the mud loner and once he reels in his young prey becomes nothing short of her jailer. His opinions are to be Monica's opinions and his jealous eye questions her every movement. The security of marriage has come at a price to both and Gissing writes of that toll from his own dismal experiences. There are other riveting storylines but to hint at them would ruin the fun of discovery.
The Odd Women is a page-turner full of secret alliances, betrayal, vice, misunderstanding and deceit. And I have a new author crush in George Gissing, which is saying a lot for someone who tends to prefer the writings of women. His portrayals of a Victorian London where pea soup fog from charcoal fires causes its citizens to hug walls in order to read an address is irresistible. Also, his ability to convincingly construct characters from different classes and both genders while creating arguments for and against marriage is nothing short of remarkable. Even before I had finished The Odd Women I placed an order for two more books by Gissing, The Nether World and New Grub Street.
If this book is languishing on your shelf then you are housing a gem. Go and get it!