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The Odd Women

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3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  3,079 Ratings  ·  182 Reviews
Virginia and Alice Madden are 'odd women', growing old alone in Victorian England with no prospect of finding love. Forced into poverty by the sudden death of their father, they lead lives of quiet desperation in a genteel boarding house in London. Meanwhile, their younger sister Monica, struggles to endure a loveless marriage she agreed to as her only escape from spinster ...more
Paperback, 388 pages
Published June 30th 1994 by Penguin Classics (first published 1893)
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Richard
Apr 27, 2012 Richard rated it it was amazing
What do you do, if the only socially acceptable career is marriage - and no one marries you? In late nineteenth century England, millions of women were condemned to live a life of shabby-genteel desperation because there simply weren't enough men to have for husbands and virtually no actual employment was possible. This is the horribly narrow, lonely fate endured by one woman here - but it's far better than the fates of two of her siblings: alcoholism, and marriage to a well-meaning but unendura ...more
MJ Nicholls
A riveting novel exploring the nascent rumblings of female emancipation, with a cast of strong and memorable characters serving up a long and thoughtful series of ruminations on the problems of Victorian marriage and divorce laws, and the basic humbuggering that befell women who liked to think things and not sew quilts for eight hours a day. The two main narrative threads concern an emancipated woman conflicted by the attentions of a man who is attracted to emancipated women (with dreams of domi ...more
Edward
Apr 13, 2014 Edward rated it really liked it
Introduction

--The Odd Women

Selected Bibliography
Everyman
In his day, in the late Victorian age, Gissing was one of the most popular novelists. But he is not well known today, his contemporaries Trollope, Hardy, and James having aged much better than Gissing has. Indeed, neither the Oxford Anthology of English Literature - Victorian Prose and Poetry nor the Norton Anthology of English Literature has an entry for his writing, and the Oxford Anthology doesn't even mention him in its "Suggestions for Further Reading." The Teaching Company course on "The E ...more
MichelleCH
A definite winner in my eyes. There are some books that just make you think and this is one of them. Taking the idea of 'odd women' and turning it into a novel is just brillant.

Odd women are those women who are left after all other eligible men and women have been paired in marriage. These women are not outcasts per se but definitely live a much different life than those who have a husband.

Some of the women in this novel embrace the distinction while others are so afraid of becoming one that th
...more
Ali
Jul 31, 2013 Ali rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
`there are half a million more women than men in this unhappy country of ours . . . So many odd women - no making a pair with them.'
The Odd Women explores the idea of all the “Odd Women” of Victorian England, those women left over after all the more marriageable people have been paired off. Some of the characters – particularly Rhoda Nunn and Mary Barfoot embrace their status as single independent women and in them Gissing rather satirises the “New Women” of the 1890’s.
As the novel opens in 187
...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This is an astonishing book: a subversive, feminist take on marriage and women’s roles in society, written by a man in the 1890s. I suspect that’s not a coincidence, that a woman couldn’t have gotten away with this book and its criticism of Victorian marriage and Victorian men. And to round out the praise, it is also an excellent story, with fascinating and believable characters, that had me turning the pages as quickly as any contemporary novel.

Late 19th century England had a marriage market in
...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
Writing this review will be a struggle; not because I didn't like the book, but because why I liked it is not so easy to explain without saying more than I usually do about the heart of the matter.

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.

Ok, so that exp
...more
Jean
Aug 28, 2012 Jean rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the first piece of literature that I've read by George Gissing. In fact, I had never heard of Gissing until a book was recommended by a Victorian group. After reading The Odd Women I will definitely seek out more of his works.

The setting is turn of the 19th century England. There are more women than men during this period and those women who do not possess the qualities (social class, money, looks) to attract a husband are labeled Odd Women. Two feminist women really really feminist for
...more
Issicratea
Nov 21, 2014 Issicratea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, 1800-1900
I think I’m beginning to like Gissing. I read New Grub Street a few months ago and my jury remained slightly out, but The Odd Women won me over.

Thematically, this novel is very interesting indeed. The “odd women” of the title are those surplus to requirements in late-Victorian Britian: women of the genteel, but unmoneyed classes who do not find a husband, and find themselves socially invisible, financially straitened, and deprived of any means to fight their way out of their corner. Fear of thi
...more
El
Jun 20, 2016 El rated it it was amazing
Recommended to El by: The Roundtable
I sort of fell out of the world for about a month, didn't I? I am back and trying to get caught up on some reviews. It's been a busy time and also summer and summer makes me feel like the saddest pile of shit you've ever met, so bear with me. It happens every year, though this year may be the worst so far.

The Odd Women is a delightful story about the Madden sisters and their friendship with Rhoda, an intelligent woman, rare for their environment and society. Rhoda, of course, opens up their eyes
...more
Kristina A
Jan 04, 2008 Kristina A rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like Victorian novels and/or feminist issues
Recommended to Kristina by: Kelly H.
Shelves: victorian
This novel was surprisingly good. I was expecting something more like a polemic, something in which the Issues were more important than the story. But what I got instead was surprisingly readable, well-written, and even quite suspenseful. (Okay, not in a thriller kind of way, but in a Victorian marriage plot kind of way.)

Unlike an Issue novel like Ruth (oh, Elizabeth Gaskell, I like you, but that novel has some problems!), where the protagonist is primarily a bland vehicle for making a point, Th
...more
Wealhtheow
Fiction about a small selection of loosely related women with various personalities and talents. The writing is pointed and both easy and interesting to read, but I got impatient and spoiled myself for the ending, and then lost all interest in actually reading the full novel. I don't enjoy reading about nineteenth century people torturing themselves and others in order to live up to their high ideals (and inevitably failing to do so anyway).
Sera
Sep 04, 2012 Sera rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sera by: The Victorians
I found this book to be fascinating. Gissing represents a unique voice in Victorian literature, and he did not disappoint me with the wonderful social commentary that he wrote about the roles of the sexes and their own perceptions about what their roles should be in Victorian society. Oh yeah, and then Gissing throws in a bunch of stuff regarding the multiple purposes of getting married, the effects of loneliness on the human psyche and the crazy things that people will or won't do for love. Ele ...more
Always Pink
Lord, I'm thankful to thee that I live in the 21st century and not in Victorian times. Gissing is trying his best to elucidate his readers on the grave matter of the equality of the sexes. To follow his meanderings gives us today valuable insight into the more than sad state of affairs in his times. Some thoughts and ideas on marriage are well formulated and quite interesting. But the story as such feels heavily constructed for the sake of argument and Gissing's characters have a tendency to utt ...more
Rachel
Jun 08, 2016 Rachel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars. There were certainly ideas and themes about women that I never expected to see in a Victorian novel, which was quite refreshing.
K
May 25, 2009 K rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: 19th cen. lit. fans; readers interested in early feminism
Recommended to K by: margueya; Gail Godwin
Shelves: classics
During the 1890s, apparently, a surplus of women and shortage of men resulted in the phenomenon of “odd” (as opposed to even, or paired-off) women – women who, for whatever reason, were not succeeding in finding a spouse. The question is, in a pre-feminist world, what were these women supposed to do? In this novel, Gissing’s female characters represent a few of the contemporary choices – withering away in unfulfilling jobs as governesses and companions, wallowing in hypochondria or alcoholism; m ...more
Becky
At no point was I floored by Gissing as a writer. He is one of those where you can see snatches of talent shining through in particularly poignant phrases, but it’s only here and there. For example the book opened with:

“"Mrs. Madden- having given birth to six daughters, had fulfilled her function in this wonderful world”

There is such gravitas in that sentence, especially in the contact of the rest of the scene where the audience is introduced immediately to a doubtful figure of a father who cont
...more
Alison
Apr 11, 2008 Alison rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Alison by: Book Lust
Shelves: fiction
This book focuses on single women (the odd ones out of the marriage game) in 1890s England. At that time, there were far more women than men (this came up in "Governess," as well, and I am now curious as to how this imbalance came about). As a result, many women (especially those in the middle classes) had to go out and earn a living; many wound up as poorly paid governesses, others became overworked shop girls. Two of the main characters in this book have set up a school to educate women to bec ...more
Alasse
Forget about Edith Wharton - this the best, most ahead-of-its-time, social commentary book I have read in a long, long time, if not ever. How come it wasn't on my radar before? It speaks about women's equality in a way that makes it incredible that it was written in the freaking 1800s. If only, the fact that it was makes it even more refreshing - because these are problems that we're already aware of but we still haven't managed to resolve, seeing it all discussed like it's new and devoid of con ...more
Cphe
Apr 21, 2015 Cphe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic, historical
A vastly underrated novel. I'd never heard of this author until he was recommended on one of the Amazon threads. I enjoyed this story which at heart offers two tales of "love" by two very different women. Monica is a young woman who marries an older man and trade one prison for another. Rhoda is principled and idealistic and revels in her independence.

This novel delves into the start of the emancipation movement and is a quite fascinating look at 19th century society. Really this novel deserves
...more
Kate
Jun 12, 2013 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: feminism, victorian
Gissing isn't usually my cup of te- erm, foul thameswater adulterated with gin? -- but this was both emotionally gripping and involved some swingeing feminist polemic to boot. Widdowson joins an unholy mix of Grandcourt and Casaubon, Louis Trevelyan, Willoughby Patterne, and Soames Forsythe in inspiring me to new acrobatic heights of violent book-flinging.
Carrie
Jan 13, 2009 Carrie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Odd Women is a novel of ideas, somewhat in the vein of Henry James, where not much happens, but what does is all psychologically fraught and full of meaning. Gissing, however, manages to make the philosophy into more of a page-turner than James does. It is about the idea of marriage and women’s roles, wrapped around the concept of the “odd woman,” that is the idea that around the turn of the century there were more women than men in Britain. Society freaked out about the what would become of ...more
Dominick
May 09, 2015 Dominick rated it really liked it
This was a pleasant surprise. Gissing is not regarded as top-flight, but this is a fascinating, complex book. It looks with sympathy and insight at the difficulties facing women in the late nineteenth century, as, on the one hand, traditional--both in fiction and reality--roles for woman (i.e. wife/mother) were less available due to population imbalance (significantly more women than men meaning that significant numbers of women could not marry), while, on the other, women (and others) were advo ...more
Callie
Sep 21, 2014 Callie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hmmmm. Gissing is relentlessly realistic, and that was wonderful all the way up until the end when I wanted something a little different. I wanted that Victorianesque happy ending. On the other hand, I am not too upset about it. I had complicated feelings about Mr. Barfoot and Ms. Nunn. But I am satisfied at how they both grew and changed. I think Gissing is very good when it comes to writing about women. Very, very good. How advanced he was in his views and this was in the 1890s! Even giving th ...more
Jennifer (JC-S)
May 17, 2010 Jennifer (JC-S) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
‘I am no tyrant, but I shall rule you for your own good.’


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 wit
...more
Larry
Aug 01, 2011 Larry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
This is a somewhat odd book; a late 19th century work that centers on the emancipation of women, but is about that and more. "Odd women" are women who do not have any of the factors necessary to attract a husband - lacking either looks, or money, or class, or startion. Some work in sweatshop conditions (like men c.f. "Of Human Bondage"), others live on bare subsistance and/or die young. Mary Barfoot and Rhoda Nunn run a school to teach "odd women" useful office skills, most notably typing, and h ...more
Ellen
Apr 16, 2011 Ellen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the first book I've read by Gissing, and I must say I was truly impressed. The author's purpose, made very obvious, is the status of women during the Victorian period, in particular that of single women, the "odd" women. Gissing makes clear the lack of opportunity for these women to raise themselves out of poverty and struggle, how they must rely on such work as being governesses, shop girls, and so on, and live lives of near starvation, loneliness, and pain. However, there are two women ...more
Renee
Sep 23, 2016 Renee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gissing's Odd Women referred to women of single status; some who joined ranks against the institution of marriage. His foresight on the feminist voice surprised me given that it was written in 1893. One character, Rhoda Nunn, an ardent proponent of women's independence goes through a series of emotions that could leave a reader either cheering her on or being utterly frustrated with her irrationality. In Monica, the youngest of the three Madden sisters, and a significant character who finds her ...more
Evelina | AvalinahsBooks
This read was an unexpected masterpiece for me. Absolutely recommended to those who are interested in Women's studies and such, but even aside from that - recommended to anyone - this is not one of those feminist books you will think pretentious. I would venture to call it a humanist book, rather, and with a focus on the female problems which are still relevant today. I still maintain that this was a book ahead of its time, and to us it can show how our current lives, our world - our time came a ...more
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George Robert Gissing was an English novelist who published twenty-three novels between 1880 and 1903. From his early naturalistic works, he developed into one of the most accomplished realists of the late-Victorian era.
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“A womanly occupation means, practically, an occupation that a man disdains.” 12 likes
“There should be no such thing as a class of females vulgarized by the necessity of finding daily amusement.” 6 likes
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