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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 April 2014
This book, written in 1893, must have been pretty revolutionary at the time, in its sympathy with women's desire to be able to earn their own living and be recognised as the intellectual equal of men and entitled to the same freedom and independence. It is about the 'spare women' who fail to find a marriage partner in an age when no other way of life could bring them social status. It is very well-written, with believable and well-rounded characters and a very realistic portrayal of marriage and the relationships between the sexes at that time. It isn't comfortable reading, because it is so free of romantic illusions, but it is both readable and intelligent. It made me think and also to be thankful for the progress that women have made during the past hundred or so years. Instead of my reasonably comfortable, middle-class life, I'd have been a servant and very likely unmarried, with no security or hope of change - and no old age pension.
The title refers to the fact that there were a million more women than men in Victorian England. There were "odd" women left over in the marriage market and the difficult lives of some of them are described. they were 'odd' in the sense of 'spare' and also in the sense of 'strange' in the eyes of society.
Apparently, George Orwell admired this book. He said it illustrated one of Gissing's main themes - the "self-torture that goes by the name of respectability". People's lives are destroyed because they are oppressed by social conventions which are universally accepted yet absurd. Either they obey them or else they are too financially poor to be able to find a way to avoid them. There is a lot about money - and the lack of it - in this book and, again, I felt grateful that I live in the twenty-first century, despite its problems.
I have read a bit about Gissing and his tragic life. His writings were based on his experiences of life, often caused by his own mistakes and follies. There is a deep realism about them. He is a writer who reflects on the human condition in a very challenging way.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 December 2014
Although George Gissing’s 1893 novel (nominally) about those women who find themselves to be 'odd’ i.e. part of the group of women who (in the late 19th century) 'outnumber’ men in the population and are thus (perhaps) 'surplus to marriage requirements’, is generally regarded as 'pessimistic’, its progressive approach to male/female relationships – whereby marriage need not be the exclusive outcome, but instead women should be able to exist under their own means – actually makes it (for its time) remarkably foresighted and therefore, in a wider context, optimistic.

Of course, that is not to say that Gissing’s tale is not one of personal woe and tragedy, particularly that evinced between narrow-minded, middle-aged 'bachelor’ Edmund Widdowson and the youngest of the three Madden sisters (whose family tale The Odd Women relates), Monica, whose idealistic pairing (the former 'for love’, the latter, primarily, to avoid a life of poverty) soon hits the rocks, to powerful effect. And, as with Gissing’s outstanding New Grub Street, it is his characterisations that particularly impress – alongside the 'weak’, emotive pairing of Widdowson and Monica he also gives us the independent, strong-willed and rather more aloof (in all things romantic) coupling of 'businesswoman’ Rhoda Nunn (who runs a centre teaching young women secretarial skills to facilitate their independence) and 'man of the world’ Everard Barfoot, a relationship whose undoing (perhaps reflecting Gissing’s sense of irony) stems (also) from the all-too-human instincts of repressed desire, trust and jealousy. Gissing’s writing style is to get right inside the minds of his characters, giving us another riveting, powerful and socially progressive tale.
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on 4 April 2014
I enjoyed the hell out of this novel. For one thing it is set in my favourite part of the Victorian era, the 1880s, when modernity was really changing things. Secondly it is not about the very poor underclass nor the very rich, but the people who inhabited the middle class. Thirdly it is set in London so my happiness is complete.
Being a contemporary novel, the dialogue is just how it was spoken and reading between the lines it is possible to really soak up the feeling of the times; it feels like an authentically observed slice of life in a way that modern novels set in Victorian times, as good as they may be, can only imitate.
The title refers to the fact that at this time there was a surplus of 1 million women in the UK over that of men. That meant 1 million women who would never find a husband, when being married was the only acceptable way to financial security and a respectable social standing.
The novel weaves a story around a good varied cross section of these "odd women" who were left over.
I think the different positions and options of the women were well thought out.
I could write much more about this novel. The characters, the dialogue and the plot are just superb
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on 22 July 2013
This is a really good story and I was also taken aback by the thoughtful and 'modern' attitudes it included. The prose was occasionally slightly ponderous in its Victorian way. So from time to time I had to read a sentence twice, having lost the thread to begin with. But that never got the way of my enjoyment. I was impressed by Gissing's intelligent understanding of the plight of women, even back at the end of the 19th century. It was both a social history of the era and a timeless perception of men and women's motivations. New Grub Street is equally good and I intend to read lots more George Gissing.
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on 21 November 2013
I've never read any Gissing, but was directed to this by Rachel Cooke's Guardian piece about the third Bridget Jones outing and books featuring independent women for whom marriage is not necessarily the answer. It has its flaws and I found the structure somewhat uneven, but it's very readable, engaging and interesting. I really liked it and would definitely recommend it, even if it's slightly outside your usual comfort zone.
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on 9 September 2016
This book show how important it is to vote. It also show that the suffragette movement did a lot for women and children in the early 20th century.
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on 3 February 2015
Amazing novel. Never really read this author before. An eye opener.
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on 5 March 2018
Excellent book. This author deserves to be better known.
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on 29 September 2013
Into life in these time, how women were viewed and saw themselves. Beautiful use of written English, he painted many pictures
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on 23 August 2015
A good story.
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