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The Odd Women

1 rating: 5.0
A book by George Gissing

A novel of social realism,The Odd Womenreflects 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 … see full wiki

Author: George Gissing
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
1 review about The Odd Women

"Middlemarch" meets "Taming of the Shrew"

  • May 14, 2010
  • by
Rating:
+5
A tale of two romances: 1) a stern rigid older man marries a young woman just at the moment of her awakening to her own identity, a marriage regarded as a mistake by many of their acquaintances, and 2) two prideful, willful people, both intelligent and morally ambitious, both of whom have been scornful of conventional marriage, struggle against being "in love". And that, dear readers, is all I intend to offer in precis of this book.

But wow! I'm agog! I thought, with all the arrogance of Alexander, that there were no more great 'Victorian' English novels to conquer. I was premature; "The Odd Women" is deep, well-constructed and entertaining, a veritable Platonic Form of the 19th C novel of manners. It's a didactic, reformist novel -- what else? -- but its moral tenor is well incorporated into its character development and its reformism is neither pious nor dogmatic. The subject IS marriage and the liberation of women from patriarchal inanition; George Gissing certainly presented himself as a advocate for "the new woman" of self-reliance and unconventionality. Nonetheless, he was an Englishman of his times, highly sensitive to social class, burdened with assumptions and prejudices of class; he positioned himself at the forefront of progressive opinion, no doubt, but still within the spectrum thereof.

Gissing bears comparison in many ways to the American novelist Henry James. Gissing was 14 years younger than James, though one would not easily guess it from their novels, yet died a decade earlier. James was by far the more adventurous stylist, but Gissing's characters are more flesh-and-blood, more likely to compel a reader's empathy. Gissing is also a plainer story teller, less susceptible to parentheses and adverbial subtleties. The comparison to the late novels of George Eliot, especially "Middlemarch", probably gives a better idea of Gissing's literary manner, but his psychological insights match those of James and Thomas Hardy. Anyway, that's the 'company' he will keep from now on, on my mental bookshelf.

"The Odd Women" is an ambiguous title - deliberately, I think - referring to the demographic imbalance between the sexes in late 19th c England, with half a million more women than men of marriageable age, but slyly also to the blunt truth that the 'liberated' women of the novel would surely have been regarded as "odd" by many. Gissing portrays women very plausibly, and unlike many 19th C novelists, he gives us women of quite distinct individuality. In this book, and in the one other Gissing book I've read, the women are more vital, more appealing, more substantial than the men, but those men are no mere cartoons. They're also flesh-and-bloody, though they tend to be bloody fools. My one previous Gissing novel was "The Nether World", an earlier production, quite interesting but not nearly as well-crafted as "The Odd Women." My thanks to amazoo cagemate Robin Friedman for badgering me to read this unfairly neglected author. Now let's see what other titles by Gissing are in print ...

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