The Odd Women by George Gissing
Written in 1893, this novel deals with the role of unmarried women in Victorian society. Some of Gissing's characters are militantly single and opposed to women marrying; some are women of independent means generously trying to help other, poorer women achieve the same; and some of the women just want to get married. I liked the mix of views; they gave the novel added depth and made it feel more honest. Rhoda Nunn is one of Gissing's militant characters. Her take on single women in society made me smile:
"Do you know there are half a million more women than men in this happy country of ours? 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."Monica Madden, on the other hand, is the youngest of three single sisters. She's working as a shop girl in London when she meets an older gentleman named Edmund Widdowson. Although she doesn't love him, she wonders if marrying him might not be such a bad thing. After all, her older sisters don't appear to be very happy or satisfied in their single lives.
"As things went in the marriage war, she might esteem herself a most fortunate young woman. It seemed that he had really fallen in love with her; he might prove a devoted husband. She felt no love in return; but between the prospect of a marriage of esteem and that of no marriage at all there was little room for hesitation. The chances were that she might never again receive an offer from a man whose social standing she could respect."I really enjoyed reading about these 'odd women'. Their lives are funny and sad, sometimes fulfilling, (more often not), hopeful, poignant and brave. As a single girl myself, I could relate. I also enjoyed Gissing's style of writing. It's as if he borrowed the best of Jane Austen--her characters and her wit--and combined it with Thomas Hardy's gritty realism. There aren't a lot of happy endings (or happy marriages) in his world, but then this book is a criticism of Victorian society and its oppression of women, not a romantic fairy tale. There were moments when I wished for a little more happiness, especially for Monica and Rhoda because I liked them both so much. But, in books as in life, we don't always get what we want. Still, I'm very glad I read this book.