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Archived Group Reads 2012 > Odd Women Chapter 1 The Fold and the Shepherd - Chapter 3 An Independent Woman

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message 1: by Marialyce (new)

Marialyce For discussion of these chapters


message 2: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2552 comments Started it last night, and am through Chapter 6.

It's an easy read, but so far, I admit to being not finding much to be overly impressed about. Other than the challenge of being a poor and not well educated woman in Victorian England, I haven't found much depth in it.

So I'm hoping that others are seeing more in it to merit substantive discussion. But for starters, we see very little of the childhood of these woman which might help as we watch their character development; there is the sudden break of, what, about 15 years. I wonder whether Gissing will go back to fill this in beyond a few very brief and minor comments on what they were doing, or whether this period of their lives will remain basically an empty quarter.

I'll have a bit more to say in the thread for the next section, but want to avoid any spoilers here.


message 3: by Lily (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 1277 comments Everyman wrote: "I admit to being not finding much to be overly impressed about...."

Not so far as you, but much agree. As a reader wrote about a more recent book, a novelist needs to show, not tell. We were given a brief summary of the intervening years -- sort of a journalist's report.

Appears to be a good book to use to consider what are the differences between good writing and excellent. I'm not minding the reading and the story, it is just neither particularly fulfilling nor demanding so far. And that's okay sometimes, too.


message 4: by Marialyce (last edited Sep 02, 2012 04:38PM) (new)

Marialyce Well, I have started and read the first two chapters and while it right now is a bit short on " depthness", it is a tale we have often heard. Once the man is gone, the women were left to fend more or less for themselves. I also got the feeling that if one were not "pretty" then life had few options. Be a teacher or .... It so reminds me of the Bronte's experience.

I do like the lightness factor so far. Believing in a life where opportunities abound for our current young women, it makes one think how far we have come. It also makes me think of the narrowness that was given to the thought processes of women. It often is painful to read of how women were held in such a position as to make them seem like an add on, surely nice to have around like a dog or any other pet, but clearly not to be listened to. Surely those of us who have daughters are ever so grateful that life has changed and our daughters are now considered to be more than just eye candy.


message 5: by Lily (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 1277 comments I am enjoying reading this one -- not sure exactly where I am tonight, but somewhere beyond 25%. For all my concerns, it is becoming one where I want to know what happens to the characters Gissing has created.


message 6: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2552 comments Marialyce wrote: "Well, I have started and read the first two chapters and while it right now is a bit short on " depthness", it is a tale we have often heard. Once the man is gone, the women were left to fend more..."

It is indeed a tale we have often heard, but without offering any spoilers (and though I'm still only a quarter of the way through and don't know how it will progress from where I am), I think it's safe to say that so far as I've read it's offering a quite different approach to the oft-heard tale.


message 7: by Sera (new)

Sera Starting this one today. I'll circle back here once I finish this part's reading.


message 8: by Marialyce (new)

Marialyce I finished Chapter 3 and felt bad for these women having to struggle so. Cutting down and down on their needs, particularly food in general is something now so many presently are dealing with as well.

I am interested to learn if the "odd" in the title will eventually relate to the fact of these women might be educated in the world of business instead of the world of teaching and marriage.

Any thoughts on the title?


message 9: by Becky (new)

Becky | 174 comments I feel that Gissing has the ability to be a powerful author, consider this quote

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


I feel thats a very powerful statement to open this book with, and would surely have seemed a challenge during Victorian times. Thats all the poor woman was made for, and even saying that its a "wonderful world" seems caustic and sarcastic.

In Chapter 2 we see how the labor laws of the day literally destroyed the women. Did Gissing need to show us that? No, people then would have seen it every day on the streets of London. Everybody knows *that* story, what he wants to tell, I think -not sure never read this-, is what we can do to stop that from happening. He story isn't about what goes on in the nightly news, the real story is about to happen, the challenge to the times. And in general, I do feel that most Victorian authors tell, not show. Sometimes I feel that that was a literary preferance of later times.

As for the characters themselves- Monica seems pretty darn picky for a shopgirl with little to no prospects. I have a hard time feeling pity for her sisters, but I think thats the modernist in me, I want them to be more like Rhoda, but I think thats unfair to ask. We shall see how this develops.


message 10: by Sera (new)

Sera I've read the first 4 chapters, and I like the book so far. I don't feel that there is a lack of depth. I just think that Gissing is cutting to the chase of the story more quickly. I have a good feeling about where this one is headed.

It's a sad story so far but I have hope for these women.


message 11: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (SarahCarmack) | 1436 comments We do see quickly what a grim circumstance these sisters are in, don't we? A very conventional family background in which the father of the house did not wish to "trouble" the women with financial matters. Although, he didn't seem to trouble himself too much either. His wife had already passed away, he had caused six daughters to come into the world, but he was only then looking to some insurance measures.

Becky, you mentioned Monica as picky, but none of these women had been raised to make choices good or bad it seems. I know women today who are like that too!

I saw in some of my critical reading the suggestion that the sisters were to be thought of as a group, while other characters will move ahead into more of the leading character positions. That will be interesting to watch develop.

Marialyce, the reference to "odd women" may be in the next section, I'll have to look back -- I was thinking it literally had to do with numbers though -- population -- but will probably play as a double meaning?


message 12: by Becky (last edited Sep 04, 2012 01:36PM) (new)

Becky | 174 comments Becky, you mentioned Monica as picky, but none of these women had been raised to make choices good or bad it seems. I know women today who are like that too!

Its exactly like the old adage "The more things change, the more they stay the same." I think many readers of Viclit will have to agree on that point.


message 13: by Sera (new)

Sera Yes, the term "odd women" is addressed in the next chapter.


message 14: by Lily (last edited Sep 04, 2012 03:47PM) (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 1277 comments Becky wrote: "...And in general, I do feel that most Victorian authors tell, not show....."

Yeah, I think it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between "telling" and "showing." It was the chapter following the father's death where the reader is given so little of the intervening years that particularly came across as journalistic rather than novelistic in tone, i.e., "telling" versus "showing."

The comparison in Victorian literature that came to mind for me was Dorothea in Middlemarch . In the opening pages, she claims that she is not interested in the family jewels her sister is interested in dividing between them. Yet, when the activity actually happens, Dorothea has a very keen eye for what she wants. That little scene told more about her than all her lovely protestations.

Childhood years are such formative ones and I really did want to know at least a bit more about the sisters who died -- enough so that the survivors are more clearly situated relative to each other, who they had become as women, and why. I do note the comment of one of you that Gissing probably wanted the reader to think of then as a unit or group. Will have to ponder that as read more -- especially having grown up with aunts and uncles who were certainly individuals, yet occasionally may have seemed a unit outside the family.


message 15: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2552 comments Marialyce wrote: "Any thoughts on the title? "

The title is specifically explained in the next set of chapters. It wouldn't be much of a spoiler to reveal it here, but I won't anyhow.

Meanwhile, keep guessing. :)


message 16: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (SarahCarmack) | 1436 comments We're guessing! Good idea, Everyman.

I think in regards to the six sisters, we may have been given the story as it was to understand especially that there was not possibly enough funds to go around in the family as it was originally. They were barely surviving -- literally some of the girls were just given work and shelter -- not even salary. As in some of the other novels of the time, we see what an appalling situation it was considered to have six daughters in one family.

Which strikes on something else -- I had no idea women were expected to work for no pay at all, as described in this novel. The poor two older sisters think they will be lucky to get a job WITH pay. Isn't that enslavement in a way? I guess not technically, but for a woman the only choice in leaving that situation was to go to the streets. And, yes, Jean, I agree -- with backgrounds of no telling how much unpleasantness for a young child -- we imagine that Monica always struggled.

I think the telling and showing of the events and important elements of the story are important in a good flow too, Becky. From what I have been reading, Gissing was a prolific writer, but a problematic one in his execution of characters and plot. As the novel picks up its stride in the coming chapters, I believe we'll able to discuss this more.


message 17: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2552 comments Becky wrote: "I feel that Gissing has the ability to be a powerful author, consider this quote

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


I agree that that's a sentence worthy of Austen [g], but I'm not sure why you say it "would surely have seemed a challenge during Victorian times." Wasn't that pretty the primary role of women of her class?


message 18: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2552 comments SarahC wrote: "I had no idea women were expected to work for no pay at all, as described in this novel."

I think it wasn't that common, but did happen usually to young workers in their first jobs. They got room and board and material to make their clothing, shoes and other necessities, but no salary. But what they got was on-the-job training, which in other professions young men often had to pay for in apprenticeships (even worse than working for no pay was having to pay to work!), and if they were good workers they would get a good reference so that they could go out later and get a paying job (though probably not that much pay). And they were exposed to men with the prospect of perhaps getting "an offer." At any rate, it was better than having no job at all, I guess, and either starving or working the streets.


message 19: by Becky (new)

Becky | 174 comments I felt that the sentence was slightly flippant, the whole opening scenes were sarcastic and doubtful of the father's role to actually provide for his children. So, in that sense, and knowing what was sure to come since Gissing was often controversial, I feel that it would be challenging.

I also think many women would have been affronted. They, at least, would recognize that there is much more to mothering than giving birth. Its often remarked in Victorian novels what a dreadful disadvantage it was to be raised without that proper matronly touch. I think women would have bristled at that sentence, even if it was what they were preached so regularly.


message 20: by Silver (new)

Silver When I first heard the title of the book I thought that it meant Odd as in strange or unusual, so I had thought it was going to be a book about a group of unconventional women. Needless to say it is turning out different than what I had expected though I find it is still entertaining to read and I am enjoying it for the most part thus far.

I have to agree with previous comments, that up to this point it feels as if there is a certain lack of depth to the writing. I do not feel as if I really have a very strong idea of the characters and who they really are, and so I have had some trouble trying to keep the sisters straight as to who is who.

I was surprised by the rather abrupt jump in time, which also lends to not having a very defined sense of the characters since we only have a brief glimpse of them as children and than next thing you know they are already grown adults, and some of them already dead.

One of the things I do appreciate within the book though is what seems to be the more realistic portrayal of the women, opposed to a more typical idolized Victorian heroine type figure. Because the characters are flawed, they do seem, and feel more human than often is the case in Victorian literature.

I also do generally enjoy novels that give glimpses into the struggles of working women within the 19th and early 20th century. I too was surprised by the prospects of women having to work without expectations of receiving payment.

I agree with Becky about the sentence regarding women giving birth. When I read it, it was my impression was that Gissing was being sarcastic when he stated this, while on the surface it conforms with the view of the time, but I think that Gissing was stating it with a critical eye, and rather in mockery of the fact that this was the accepted view among must, as considering this book certainly seems to suggest that he had more liberal views towards women.

I also have to say that thus far I quite enjoy the character of Ms. Nunn (her first name momentarily slips my mind) I am curious to see more of her and what role she might end up playing within the book and the sisters lives.


message 21: by Lily (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 1277 comments Silver wrote: "When I first heard the title of the book I thought that it meant Odd as in strange or unusual,..."

Given that Henry James had already written The Bostonians, with its innuendos about the sexual orientations of the women in it, given the construction of the discussions here between the rather idealistic Ms. Nunn and her down-to-earth business partner, and that Oscar Wilde was writing and tried about this time as well, I too am curious as to where Gissing's observations will take us.


message 22: by Sera (new)

Sera My view is that there is a reason that Gissing is not as well known as Oscar Wilde, or Henry James, or others for that matter, in the Victorian novel field. Therefore, part of me sort of expects that this work will be flawed in comparison to the depth of writing to which we are becoming accustomed in regard to the other writers who are more well known in this genre.


message 23: by Silver (new)

Silver Sera wrote: "My view is that there is a reason that Gissing is not as well known as Oscar Wilde, or Henry James, or others for that matter, in the Victorian novel field. Therefore, part of me sort of expects t..."

As I started reading this book I had a simillar thought in my head, I thought to myself perhaps there is a reason why Gissing is not in fact that well known.


message 24: by Lily (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 1277 comments Sera wrote: "My view is that there is a reason that Gissing is not as well known as Oscar Wilde, or Henry James, or others for that matter, in the Victorian novel field. Therefore, part of me sort of expects t..."

That is part of why I find reading this book so very interesting, because I do respond to it somewhat the way I do to what I shall loosely call, for purposes of this conversation, much of the book-club literature of today. (Yes, I know that's sloppy terminology and clubs vary widely. But I am thinking roughly of the many books marketed with a book discussion addendum.) A good read, topics of interest, story moves fairly quickly, .... I think it was Carol Shields, a Pulitzer prize winner, who expressed doubts about whether she would continue to be read in another sixty years -- about the number of years usually ascribed for the culling process of classics. Now, I am not certain if she was being fair to herself. But not having studied literature formally myself, I have sort of a fascination whether we as readers can develop our own criteria that aid us in spotting the differences among the selections available to us, especially for modern literature where time hasn't done the work for us. So this one is fun and I look forward to the continued comments here on what does and what does not make a difference. For example, can we articulate what is "good enough" that this one seems particularly to have survived? Does anyone here know other parts of his oeuvre well enough to say whether it clearly better, or is there something about the subject that has a current tug and maybe in another 20 years another will be brought fore instead? Or...?


message 25: by MichelleCH (last edited Sep 08, 2012 07:18PM) (new)

MichelleCH (lalatina) | 6 comments I too am enjoying this read; even though it is a fairly typical experience for women of that time period. I am rather glad that we only are introduced to the sisters in the beginning, it's a different approach by Gissing and helps set up the context of the following chapters. The speed at which the sisters age and how old they appear is striking.

I noticed that one of the Madden sisters claims to be vegetarian. We know it isn't a moral choice but one based on necessity and may be the way for her to preserve dignity. I thought it was interesting for Gissing to include this detail.


message 26: by Silver (new)

Silver MichelleCH wrote: "I too am enjoying this read; even though it is a fairly typical experience for women of that time period. I am rather glad that we only are introduced to the sisters in the beginning, it's a differ..."

Yes I thought that was interesting to, as well I would not think that vegetarianism would have been that common at the time.


message 27: by Lily (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 1277 comments Silver wrote: "...as well I would not think that vegetarianism would have been that common at the time..."

My question, too. At least calling it by that name. We have read that meat was oftentimes scarce or seldom in diets of the poor, e.g., the meals of bread and cheese. Bread has been an intriguing staple of humankind.


message 28: by Silver (new)

Silver Lily wrote: "Silver wrote: "...as well I would not think that vegetarianism would have been that common at the time..."

My question, too. At least calling it by that name. We have read that meat was oftentim..."


Yes I think by referring to her as being a vegetarian, and pointing that out, does give the indication that there is some degree of conscious choice. It is not purely a simple matter of not eating meat because there was none available, or I do not think it would be worth indicating that one particular sister was a vegetarian, it would just be a sort of given of their lifestyle.

I think the concept of one actually choosing not to meat (for whatever reasons they may have) would have been uncommon.


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