13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Old Men and New Women
The Odd Women is a brilliant exploration of the choices faced by young women in late Victorian Britain. While marriage to a wealthy man certainly remained one possibility not all women had the opportunity, and many did not have the desire, to pursue such an objective. There were fewer men in the country than there were women and so, as was often pointed out, even if all...
Published on 6 Feb 2011 by Gregory S. Buzwell
0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars holiday
I bought this book for holiday reading on my kindle
it looked interesting i have read a lot of classic books
and to find something that interests me is difficult
Published 10 months ago by peacock
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Old Men and New Women,
This review is from: The Odd Women (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)The Odd Women is a brilliant exploration of the choices faced by young women in late Victorian Britain. While marriage to a wealthy man certainly remained one possibility not all women had the opportunity, and many did not have the desire, to pursue such an objective. There were fewer men in the country than there were women and so, as was often pointed out, even if all the women in the land had the looks of Helen of Troy and the ability to fascinate of Cleopatra, there would still have been a large number consigned to a life of spinsterhood. Given such a mathematically-unarguable situation was it not sensible for women to be educated for careers so they could support themselves? Besides, with attitudes changing and with the rise of the more independent New Woman, not every lady in the country saw a life as some sort of decorative arm-adornment for a man as being a worthy aim for her talents. The smell of freedom was in the air, and crinolines and bustles were, metaphorically at least, being burnt.
Gissing examines these alternative options - the pursuit of marriage on one hand and the pursuit of education with a view to being self-supporting on the other - along with the more typical roles women occupied such as those of governess or dress-maker, but he never casts his own opinions into the ring. Just when you think he is about to take a stance in the debate he will skillfully present, via the experiences of one of the women in his novel, the alternative side of the arguement. He holds a mirror up to the lives of his characters - in particular to Rhoda Nunn with her passion for independence and her school where women are taught skills with which they can search for relatively well-paid employment; and Monica Barfoot, young and beautiful and with an attentive (perhaps too attentive) admirer. The trials and choices of the two women, along with those of their friends and sisters - whether they be feistily independent; obsessed with the need for a marriage at all costs, or simply resigned to the life of the lonely and unloved - are all beautifully described but never judged.
It is a shame so little of Gissing's work is readily available in print. His descriptions of city life are tremendously powerful, although tinged with a bleakness that even Hardy might have envied, and his portrayal of men and women is compellingly sharp. Gissing is often described as being 'the English Zola' and there is much of Zola's intensity in The Odd Women - the frightening jealousy, and its consequences, of Monica's admirer being one example - but he remains at heart a very English novelist and one who clearly understood the times in which he lived. Few men wrote about the 'New Woman' - who was an object of ridicule for some, admiration for others and fear for many - with quite such balanced understanding regarding their hopes, desires and fears, and The Odd Women is all the more powerful, and all the more moving, as a result.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `I am no tyrant, but I shall rule you for your own good.',
This review is from: The Odd Women (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)The novel opens in 1872, with Dr Madden and his six daughters living together in a form of domestic harmony which has not prepared the daughters for independent life outside their childhood home.
Alas, this harmony is quickly destroyed. When the need arises for the sisters to earn an income, they face a number of challenges. It is hard for them to reconcile their middle-class respectability and their lack of employment related training with their need to earn income. Marriage is unlikely to be an option for at least two of the sisters because of their relative disadvantage in a society with an oversupply of females relative to males. As the sisters are grappling with this new and harsh reality, an acquaintance of theirs - Rhoda Nunn and her friend Mary Barfoot are assisting women to train for employment. The contrast between the hindrances of the old and the possibilities of the new world for women could not be greater. Are the Madden sisters able to rise to the challenge, and adapt? Is it possible for women to be both married and independent?
I enjoyed this novel for three main reasons. Firstly, the novel explores a number of important class and gender issues in late Victorian culture. Secondly, none of the characters is without flaw. While it is possible to prefer one set of choices over another, no choice is without some cost. Finally, the writing itself guides rather than chides the reader through a story that represents the beginning of an enormous social change - for both men and women.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating discovery,
This review is from: The Odd Women (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)Serendipity is a wonderful thing. I was at my local library looking for George Gissing's novel about journalism, New Grub Street, and could not find a copy. This book by the same writer was on the shelf. I looked at its content and thought, why not have a go?
Being honest, I would not say that I expected much but having now read the book, I am very glad that I did.
The book is an exploration of the lot of women in late Victorian England, before the Welfare State and the emancipation of women. Most higher education was blocked to women and career advancement was virtually impossible. Furthermore, there was a fundamental demographic problem in that there were half a million more women than men in Britain,which meant that a large number of women would be unable to marry. This would lead to poverty for these 'odd' women.
The novel is about three sisters who move to London, two of whom had been working as a governess and a lady's companion for a pittance and fully expect never to marry. Their younger sister, Monica Madden, who is still pretty and more marriagable, is working a slave like existence in a drapers shop. In order to rescue her from this existence, they meet up with an old friend, Rhoda Nunn, who with Mary Barfoot,runs a college in Great Portland Street London to help middle class women to become useful and teach them office and administration skills so that they can make a living without marrying. I don't think it occurs to any character (except possibly the idealistic and uncompromising Rhoda Nunn) that there might be a matter of choice in all this - but is was a long time ago.
The novel unfolds through the intervention of two men who meet and fall in love with two of the characters, Edmund Widdowson, a middle aged bachelor who meets Monica in the park and Mary Barfoot's cousin, Everard who has a rather chequered past and who falls for Rhoda Nunn.
On the surface it does not seem too tempting a prospect but I would seriously say that I really enjoyed reading this book. It is very well written (not verbose in any way) and keeps you wanting to know what will happen next.
Ultimately, the book paints a rather sombre and bleak picture of humanity and the ending is not quite as a reader might hope or expect.
Good read though.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A time machine into 1893 - fascinating,
This review is from: The Odd Women (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)Superb book, about the plight of women who were brought up only to be wives, and had no way of supporting themselves without a husband, except as a governess or companion, with no freedom and little money. More interesting now even than it must have been when published in 1893. You are transported into a story of characters living out their lives and struggling with the expectations of their roles as women - and men - at a time well before the emancipation of women. It is a time machine into middle class society 120 years ago. Through the story it is evident that the expectation that women should only be educated to be dependent wives puts intolerable strain on marriages and individuals. The freeing up of gender roles and educating women to support themselves independently has been an emancipation for men as well. Today men are no longer expected to support all their unmarried sisters. Today people can marry even when they have little money, and both contribute to the household income. Unhappy marriages can end, and the parties can go their separate ways, supporting themselves independently. Well, in the countries where women are emancipated, anyway.
The issues today have moved on but still exist - how to balance childcare and work - how to apportion money fairly, and in the best interests of children, when a marriage does break down. We need another such book today, dealing with the same issues, with modern characters, and from different levels of society.
4.0 out of 5 stars Outside my comfort zone but great,
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous insights,
4.0 out of 5 stars Odd but Fascinating,
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read,
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly modern attitudes,
4.0 out of 5 stars Lots to think about,
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The Odd Women (Oxford World's Classics) by George Gissing (Paperback - 9 Oct 2008)