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Archived Group Reads 2012 > Odd Women Ch. 18, A Reinforcement - Ch. 21, Towards the Decisive

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message 1: by SarahC (last edited Sep 13, 2012 03:29AM) (new)

SarahC (SarahCarmack) | 1436 comments Please discuss this section of the reading. Spoilers may be found.

This ends Vol. II of the novel.


message 2: by Becky (new)

Becky | 174 comments I was absolutely shocked at Everard's Sister-in-Law's behavior. What a terrible woman!

All of these chapters were chock full of shocks:

Rhoda starts to realize she has growing tender feelings for Everard.

In Chapter 19 Widowson overtly contemplates a murder-suicide when he is incapacitated by jealous rage. Personally, I think Gissing left gaps in the story so that we could infer that Widowson worried Monica into marrying him (although I think others have disagreed), now we see that his infatuation and obsession takes more dangerous turns. He even makes MOnica leave the gallery just because Everard is present.

In Chapter 20 Bevis arranges a meeting between himself and Rhoda. I suspect, as Monica does, that this manuevering was purposeful. She had the right idea to jsut leave, especially given the era. its almost hard to imagine how strict social meetings wer ethen.

And in Chapter 21 I was a little shocked to find out that Ms. B had been in love with Everard. For some reason I was reading her as much older than he and Rhoda, but I was obviously mistaken.


message 3: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (SarahCarmack) | 1436 comments Yes, Becky, Tom Barfoot's wife, I think was another illustration of the wide range of women told in this novel. The complexity of marriages seems to be a theme, regardless of "The Woman Issue." I think that is why I am still finding more and more within this novel as I re-read. The Micklethwaites illustrate another couple too.

And of course, the Rhoda/Everard issue comes to the forefront to me. I believe that Mary Barfoot was approximately 40 years old, making her about 10 years older than Everard and Rhoda, and making her love for Everard really not suitable for that time or their positions I suppose. I thought that was such an interesting thing to be revealed and it makes an even more tense situation between them all. Mary is the one perhaps with a more realistic view of emotion and affection for others, yet she loved Everard and was unable to act upon it. It also explains why his past affair with Amy Drake was so particularly hard on her. And why her coming into Everard's inheritance was ironic. I just find it fascinating, because interconnection among humans and families are sometimes like this. We don't live pretty, cut and dried lives, do we?


message 4: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2552 comments Becky wrote: "I was absolutely shocked at Everard's Sister-in-Law's behavior. What a terrible woman!"

Definitely so. Though Gissing is so delicious about describing her conduct: "By a will, executed at Torquay, he bequeathed to Everard about a quarter of his wealth. All the rest went to Mrs. Barfoot, who had declared herself too ill to attend the funeral, but in a fortnight was sufficiently recovered to visit one of her friends in the country."

What a wonderful illustration of English humor!


message 5: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2552 comments Becky wrote: "Personally, I think Gissing left gaps in the story so that we could infer that Widowson worried Monica into marrying him (although I think others have disagreed)"

Yes, I do disagree. I think she played him for a sucker, marrying him for her own purposes without any real caring, let alone love, for him, and with no intention of submitting to being a "good" (in Victorian terms) wife.


message 6: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2552 comments I was amazed at Rhoda's remark on Barfoot's humorous (I hope! though understandable) suggestion that he take a cane to Mrs. Thomas Barfoot:

'You are quite right,' Rhoda assented. 'I think many women deserve to be beaten, and ought to be beaten. But public Opinion would be so much against you.'

Egad!


message 7: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (SarahCarmack) | 1436 comments I think this is more of Rhoda's cold character. I think she is against the freedom and equality of some women as much as she is in favor of power for those she chooses. She is not universally a friend to women. But her comment verges off Everard's original intent to voice absolute frustration with his sis-in-law -- who is a selfish fright and mean to her husband. I also think he was frustrated to the point of whacking her, but did not follow the philosophy of hitting women. He feels that his brother had basically given up his own health to pursue a woman who had no real love for him, nor did she care for him when he was badly injured. He has lost his brother and is very mad. And on top of that Mrs. Tom Barfoot is saying it is Everard's fault.

I think we are left to make some of our own evaluations of Everard. He says a lot of things and confesses a lot of things, and then takes actions that we are not sure about, do you think?


message 8: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2552 comments We get -- at least I get -- a deeper look at the philosophy underlying Widdowson's attitude toward his wife in Chapter 19:

In no woman on earth could he have put perfect confidence. He regarded them as born to perpetual pupilage. Not that their inclinations were necessarily wanton; they were simply incapable of attaining maturity, remained throughout their life imperfect beings, at the mercy of craft, ever liable to be misled by childish misconceptions. Of course he was right; he himself represented the guardian male, the wife-proprietor, who from the dawn of civilization has taken abundant care that woman shall not outgrow her nonage.

This makes his conduct much more explainable to me. It explains why he gets more disappointed than angry at Monica; she is still like a wayward child who needs direction more than correction.


message 9: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (SarahCarmack) | 1436 comments So, is Widdowson the character that represents the strongest counterpoint to Rhoda Nunn and her women?


message 10: by Becky (last edited Sep 20, 2012 08:37AM) (new)

Becky | 174 comments The way that the story is set up I don't know if its correct to talk about one character as a counterpoint to another. Almost everyone is coupled to an extent that the relationship itself seems to have more personality and character than any one person. I think that the question then should be is the Rhoda-Everard relationship the strongest counterpoint to Monica-Widdowson, but I'm afraid if I went into that further I may give away developments that I'm aware of later in the book.

On a personal level Widdowson's ideals are very similar to Rhoda's if we discount gender. He appreciates hard work, duty to others, and duty to self. He is hard and driven, and maybe a little cold (he pitied, but did not seem to think much of the other shop girls in connection with Monica). In that regard he is very like Rhoda.

His ideals about relationships specifically make him more the counterpoint to Everard. Rhoda seems to think that a relationship weakens a woman when she is otherwise strong enough to go on by herself. That isn't a relationship, its a lack of, and I think that null-arguments make terrible counterpoints. Everard on the other hand wants a woman equally as free-spirited as himself that doesn't need to rely on him for either money or entertainment, in that I think he would be the counterpoint to Widdowson, who thinks that any freedom in his wife is a lack of affection.


message 11: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (SarahCarmack) | 1436 comments I do see what you are saying Becky, and there are individual similarities between Edmund and Rhoda -- that is an interesting thing to think about. Everyman's Edmund quote in message 8 however, would be what Rhoda strongly fights against in her social beliefs though, because she believes certain types of women will continue to advance and progress in the world -- certainly not perpetual children.

I was just making a similar point in the other thread -- I am more interested in examining the individuals in the story, and do think Gissing provides us food for that in the novel. I really think he gives us enough internal dialog for that -- although I must say some is definitely more interesting than others.

I think I can make a better statement about what I am seeing in the book as we draw nearer the close -- I won't say now -- but as we are seeing the characters with "before, during, and after" some relationships -- that is giving me more of a tendency to look at the individual -- I think that why the plot and story are speaking to me in that way.


message 12: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (SarahCarmack) | 1436 comments This book has really turned into a good discussion, I wanted to say! Agree?


message 13: by Becky (new)

Becky | 174 comments Absolutely! I thought it was interesting that several people (myself included, I believe) had remarked in section 1 that "not much to discuss here" but that section alone turned into a thread with 40+ posts.

Everyman's Edmund quote in message 8 however, would be what Rhoda strongly fights against in her social beliefs though, because she believes certain types of women will continue to advance and progress in the world -- certainly not perpetual children.
True, but Rhoda does seem to think that some women will never be "above" Widdowsons ideal wife. While she pities Monica's older sisters, it always seems awash with contempt. Women like Virgie are products of the environment, but even so, could never be what Rhoda views herself as. They would never be able to reach her standard, and she does find them childlike, stuck in the cycle. She even says herself they would be better of to just be married because there is no training them. They're not her style of women. She becomes so hard when idealizing the future of women, that she forgets to be compassionate for those that are suffering from the current cycle, to the point that Ms. Barfoot exclaims that she is unwomanly and mannish.

Granted, I'm not saying she doesn't have her differences from Widdowson. Obviously they'e different, but as far as counterpoint goes I would say that Everard has more differences to Widdowson that Rhoda.


message 14: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2552 comments Becky wrote: "On a personal level Widdowson's ideals are very similar to Rhoda's if we discount gender. He appreciates hard work, duty to others, and duty to self."

Hmmm. You perhaps need to clarify, what HE SEES as duty to others. Wouldn't his real duty to Monica be, at least in part, to understand her character and needs rather than exclusively trying to fit her into his mold of what his wife should be? It seems to me that his love (if you want to call it that) for her is not love for a human, but love for a possession, a belonging. To me, it's the same sort of love that ; I call it more the sort of passionate desire that some men have for their hotrods and some women for their jewels. Or that many of us here have for our plethora of books!


message 15: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2552 comments SarahC wrote: "This book has really turned into a good discussion, I wanted to say! Agree?"

Absolutely!

Which is interesting, because when I started this novel I thought that it was pretty shallow and wouldn't offer much scope for discussion. But it's developed nicely as a book and, as you say, very nicely as a discussion.


message 16: by Becky (new)

Becky | 174 comments Hmmm. You perhaps need to clarify, what HE SEES as duty to others. Wouldn't his real duty to Monica be, at least in part, to understand her character and needs rather than exclusively trying to fit her into his mold of what his wife should be

Actually on that point I wasn't even thinking about how he saw his own duty to Monica. I was reflecting more on how Widdowson viewed Bevis- he had commented that he thought Bevis was doing his duty by his sisters and mother in providing for them, and, I suppose it shoudl be noted, that they did their duty for him by doting on him and keeping his house. In this way both Rhoda and Widdowsen see it as one's duty to elevate others around them, to keep them following a strict moral code, and to do well by them. Both Widdowson and Rhoda admire and demand quite innocent and virginal qualities in the women, they both of strict professional and moral codes (though the differ from one another), but they're both trying to help in their own ways.


message 17: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (SarahCarmack) | 1436 comments Really good points in all directions here, I think. I think I can clarify more though why I see Rhoda as counter to Edmund. Edmund is sitting on the ideal, so to speak, hoping to simply gain from obtaining the ideal woman as his wife. He really does not see the need to put any effort into it beyond locating her. Rhoda, skewed toward certain ideas as she is (like we have all said, she doesn't include all women equally in her movement), is actually working with her sleeves rolled up -- really putting her all into it. Rather than the same innocent and child-like qualities that Edmund hopes for, I rather see Rhoda defining her New Woman as celibate, strong, and progressive (described well in that essay I mentioned within the threads here).

I agree, though, that Rhoda and Mary are also contrasting characters -- they share the same work, but not the same internal motivation. Maybe Gissing is even contrasting the New Woman of 40 (Mary) with the New Woman of 30(Rhoda). I am not sure. Time and experience can make a woman more understanding. I feel more firmly that Rhoda is just Rhoda at any age though.


message 18: by Clari (new)

Clari (clariann) | 496 comments Everyman wrote: "I was amazed at Rhoda's remark on Barfoot's humorous (I hope! though understandable) suggestion that he take a cane to Mrs. Thomas Barfoot:


Although this was only a small section, almost an aside, it struck me too as significant, maybe because of how easily it was dealt with.
As I remember it (I was reading late last night and am still struggling with my kindle to go back to previous pages and highlight sections!) there was no real counterargument from Miss Barfoot. My understanding is that wife beating was prevalent in Victorian times and that a woman had no right to leave her husband because of such abuse. In the first part of the Victorian era at least the punishment for wife beating (which would have to be very brutal to get to court in the first place) was a fine contrasted to beating an animal or cutting a shrub which could get a sentence of hard labour.
I wonder if Gissing as a man of his time accepted that wife beating was justified in some situations? Or was it as SarahC says just an indication of how cold Rhoda is to women who don't meet her ideals? There is also the thing that wife beating was commonly associated with working class people, and so far there seems to be little sympathy with the working classes, they are treated as if they are a lesser breed. Which I find interesting outside the text when I think Gissing married two lower class women.

More on the text though, I was very surprised that Miss Barfoot had an attraction to her cousin, I didn't see that coming at all, and read the conflict between her and Rhoda as purely about the woman who committed suicide.
And even though I've found him generally a little creepy I'm now starting to feel sorry for Monica's husband. His whole world view has been challenged and he appears to be left broken and listless.


message 19: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (SarahCarmack) | 1436 comments Yes, I am still reviewing the mention of taking a cane to a woman -- trying to see it within the context of the conversation. I still feel it was ironic and possibly not a strong comment on that behavior during that time period. I know physical abuse is more sensational to think of than other aspects. I really find myself believing that the emotional abuse and the inferior views of women overall (as demonstrated by Widdowson) were the more damaging in society. I think to remedy those non-physical attacks to women helped to remedy the physical through time.

Yes, that is a good possibility, Clari, that Rhoda's class views just sort of left the lower class out altogether, so she was not concerned with physical violence among them.


message 20: by Lily (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 1277 comments SarahC wrote: "Yes, I am still reviewing the mention of taking a cane to a woman -- trying to see it within the context of the conversation. I still feel it was ironic and possibly not a strong comment on that be..."

I think it is easy, even today and in first world cultures, to downplay the extent and devastation of physical beatings. It seems to me that Dr. Spock's teachings on child punishment marked a real turning point in broad perceptions and values -- values which still have questions surrounding them on how we (should?) act and behave and punish.

I've known families where the males made it clear that any incoming groom was susceptible to them if the bride was ever subjected to (physical) abuse. I am aware of the "safe houses" for women and children that needs must be embedded in our affluent as much as in our impoverished communities.

My own reaction to Rhoda here was that she reflected a broad-scale acceptance of the need for physical punishment that it is my impression still existed at the turn of that century. Gissing paints her as on the front edge of the "new women" and yet also very much as a product of her time and social position.

The book on private lives I mentioned yesterday has some astonishing popular publication illustrations, including one that remains vivid in my memory today of a mother standing nearby while a father beats a small child.


message 21: by Becky (new)

Becky | 174 comments What was the name of that book? I must have missed the other post and it sounds interesting.


message 22: by Lily (last edited Sep 21, 2012 09:00AM) (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 1277 comments Becky wrote: "What was the name of that book? I must have missed the other post and it sounds interesting."

Oh, Becky, you caught me! I didn't want to go looking for the details either. lol! Try Msg 7 here:

Ch. 22, Honour... - Ch. 24, Tracked

A few messages further down Eman has some suggestions from his own collection on similar background information.

(If I had a scanner or a phone with a camera, I might have tried to give Google an image to search. I suspect the one that troubled me can be found somewhere on the Net.)


message 23: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (SarahCarmack) | 1436 comments Lily, I still do not gather that Odd Women has really much focus on physical abuse. I think that it was more about the issue of bringing women into their own so they could then create an alternate life to that which might submit them to physical, emotional and economic degradation by men.

I also believe - though I have not studied the psychology of domestic abuse -- that, then and now, violence within the home is a product of violence more than it is a product of views on women. For example, I have researched my own family members in generations reaching back to this era in history also. I have no evidence to believe my great grandfather, for example, ever laid a hand on any female in his family. The stories of his father before him and his son after give no indication that they created any environment where they would have dealt blows to the females in their lives and would have been accepted in doing so.

I have always been very interested in social history, but also very skeptical of reviewing large segments of people as a group who behaved as a group. I also feel closer to the truth would be that if I slipped through time and was able to walk up to my great grandparents, I would very recognize myself as their offspring. They would be human and often make their decisions away from a possible "norm" that we read of in histories. They would question and often stay apart from what society is promoting for the time, much as we do today. We live in an advanced society and time, but really they did too, that is why I am skeptical. I just feel there were so many individuals out there who didn't fit the historical view.

Also, Lily brought up the issue of disciplining a child by beating, which I also feel has separate influences aside from the issue we are talking about regarding the novel. Men with violent influences may have been more ready to adopt this style of parenting, but a lot of social influences went into this muddled aspect of parenting over the generations it seems. I greatly hesitate to share my personal views in a lot of areas, but that sort of discipline I cannot abide by. I see such results with alternatives that I can't imagine why it is the only resort in some families.


message 24: by Lily (last edited Sep 21, 2012 12:05PM) (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 1277 comments SarahC wrote: "Lily, I still do not gather that Odd Women has really much focus on physical abuse...."

I agree. But we do have this one rather dramatic, even surprising to some of us, anecdote. (It is another one of those cases where I asked, did Gissing keep his character "in character"?)

As for trends, I'm just not familiar enough with the sociological data to speak decisively. I do think as humanity, we have a long way to go, with some tough issues in the mix. But, as you say, probably not particularly relevant to this book.


message 25: by Clari (new)

Clari (clariann) | 496 comments SarahC wrote: "violence within the home is a product of violence more than it is a product of views on women"

It's obviously an incredibly emotive subject, but with some relevance to the novel in the way it is so cursorily doubt with. If a modern day promoter of women's rights said that it was permissible to cane a wife who has behaved badly they would lose all credibility for their cause (although even more on a tangent there is a lot of debate about female circumcision). In this novel Rhoda I think says to Mary that she would respect Barfoot if he did publicly cane his sister in law and sees no contradiction with her life purpose to liberate middle class women.
There is also the undercurrent that Barfoot wants to physically suppress Rhoda, for example the time when he grabs her hand and she wants to move away but he enjoys the movements of her muscles trying and failing to escape from him.
There are other subtle indications of some sort of inherent conflict between the genders.
If women are seen as lesser to men and the possessions of men by general society than that gives men the right to discipline them how they see right. In Widowson's character it's shown that women are considered as children that need to be morally protected by their male guardians. And as Lily mentions unfortunately beating children was an accepted form of punishment at the time.

It isn't a central issue to the plot but I think it is an interesting theme about how the men and women interrelate to each other, and the social limits on the most liberal minded characters in the novel.

I found these two sites that give simple overviews of thoughts at the time:

http://www.historyofwomen.org/wifebea...
http://www.hastingspress.co.uk/histor...
I haven't finished the novel yet, but I am hoping nothing violent happens to the characters and this is just an interesting talking point!


message 26: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2552 comments Lily wrote: "SarahC wrote: "Lily, I still do not gather that Odd Women has really much focus on physical abuse...."

I agree. But we do have this one rather dramatic, even surprising to some of us, anecdote. ..."


OTOH, we have to keep in mind that this was all theoretical. Whether it means that either Barfoot or Rhoda would have used physical punishment at any time is, I think, not resolved. It seems to me more than a mere joke, but a lot less than a reality.


message 27: by Lily (last edited Sep 21, 2012 03:16PM) (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 1277 comments Everyman wrote: "...It seems to me more than a mere joke, but a lot less than a reality. ..."

It would seem that the relevant reality that Gissing chooses to communicate was the ready acceptance of the concept.


message 28: by Becky (new)

Becky | 174 comments Personally when I read that section I read it as Everyman suggests, that Rhoda was being darkly humorous. I know that I've said personally that "someone needs slapped" for acting completely out of line. Have I ever slapped one of these people? No.

Now the fact that I joke about it, or that Rhoda joked about it, probably does reflect something on society at large. But the fact is that Everard basically believes his sister-in-law caused his brother's death, and is reviling his name in the public with lies, someone like that should receive some punishment, and its possible that Rhoda suggested caning because it would be publicly humiliating.


message 29: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (SarahCarmack) | 1436 comments Becky, I agree with you in my message #7, but I appreciate the discussion it has inspired of all views.


message 30: by Lily (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 1277 comments Becky wrote: "Personally when I read that section I read it as Everyman suggests, that Rhoda was being darkly humorous. I know that I've said personally that "someone needs slapped" for acting completely out of ..."

I did something similar once in a situation that taught me never to repeat that particular faux pas, although I have undoubtedly committed others since. My question is why did Gissing put those words in Rhoda's mouth?


message 31: by Clari (new)

Clari (clariann) | 496 comments Lily wrote: "My question is why did Gissing put those words in Rhoda's mouth? "

I think it was a public caning, so perhaps one explanation could be that it fits in with Rhoda's character that she has no sympathy for women who do not match her ideal and believes that they should all be humiliated, so that the new, intelligent woman can socially rise?

Having now read more of the novel though now I do still think there is an undercurrent of violence and suppression in the relationship between the two main couples.


message 32: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (SarahCarmack) | 1436 comments I don't believe I detected a portion of Rhoda's philosophy that the "less fit" women should be humiliated and be suppressed.


message 33: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2552 comments Clari wrote: "Having now read more of the novel though now I do still think there is an undercurrent of violence and suppression in the relationship between the two main couples. "

I certainly agree about the suppression, though I'm not so sure of the violence, in the Widdowson-Monica relationship, but which other relationship were you thinking of?


message 34: by Clari (new)

Clari (clariann) | 496 comments Everyman wrote: "I'm not so sure of the violence, in the Widdowson-Monica relationship"

I'm afraid I don't remember what chapter it is in now, but there is definitely a scene where Widdowson is physically attacking Monica because he believes she's been unfaithful, the narration suggests he could have killed her and this is a feeling he expresses himself that he feared what he could do to her because of her jealousy.
For me it isn't a main theme but I did feel that Gissing was putting slightly in there the sense of this abuse in male/female relationships by showing the potential of it in his two couples.


message 35: by Clari (new)

Clari (clariann) | 496 comments SarahC wrote: "I don't believe I detected a portion of Rhoda's philosophy that the "less fit" women should be humiliated and be suppressed."

It's probably just the way I've worded it, or maybe just my personal reading! For me Rhoda early in the book definitely looks down on certain women and I thought at some point she says something to Mary about how their cause would be easier without them. Sorry I am awful at remembering quotes though, I'll have to make notes next time, or learn how to use the highlighter feature on my kindle!


message 36: by Becky (new)

Becky | 174 comments Clari- the highlighter is the most wonderful tool. I dont know what I'd do without it :) It makes for such easy searching later!


message 37: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (SarahCarmack) | 1436 comments Don't even think of it Clari -- reading just builds to represent things and sometimes it is hard to go back and pinpoint those things specifically.

I second Becky's comment -- on my Nook, the highlighting and note-taking too are great features. It helps me even when I am not reading for group discussions. Sometimes I enjoy just going back to really great parts of the story -- just like in a hard copy edition.


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