Victorians! discussion

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Archived Group Reads 2012 > Odd Women Ch. 22, Honour... - Ch. 24, Tracked

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message 1: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments Begin Vol. III (last volume of the story)


message 2: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments From Chapter 22: "At Clevedon we shall begin
our life over again—like we did at Guernsey. "

If only Widdowson knew how ironic this is: it was at Guernsey that Monica met Bevis.


message 3: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments The title of Chapter 22 is: Honour in Difficulties.

Yet again, that ironic British humor: there is no honor whatever in this chapter, is there? Or is it there and I'm missing it?


message 4: by Everyman (last edited Sep 20, 2012 11:56AM) (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments I decided to take a look at where the places in this novel are. Herne Hill, Gissing says, is in London, but it's quite far out from the center of London, well down south of the Thames. I would think that in Gissing's day it might well have been almost a separate suburb, though maybe I underestimate how far out London had spread by then.

The distance from Herne Hill to Clapham Junction, the trip Monica takes here, is only about three miles by direct roads (Google makes it 4.2 miles, but that's because they go far out of the way to travel on highways rather than local streets). This perhaps indicates a difference between city and country life: Monica takes a train for this trip, whereas in the country this would be considered a pleasant little walk.

And it's surprising to me how often the trains ran in those days. Monica is able to take a train from Herne Hill to Clapham Junction, then from there to Victoria, then another train west to wherever Bevis lives, which I don't recall where. At another place, she misses a train to Herne Hill, the next if fifteen minutes later, she misses that one also and there's yet another shortly thereafter.


message 5: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Ah now I see that Bevis is in Bayswater, and Miss Barfoot and Rhoda are in Chelsea, both closer in to the center of London and on the north, or right, side of the Thames.

I always like it when novelists use real places!


message 6: by SarahC (last edited Sep 20, 2012 02:09PM) (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments Arlene Young makes some good commentary on the geography, Everyman. She describes that Gissing wanted us to know the affluence or lack of among the various characters. Another essayist emphasizes that in that day, these were suburbs, and that Gissing meant to concentrate on the suburban mentality as if played into the women's movement. Just as today, we recognize certain suburban thought, it had its own distinction at that time as well. Was Edmund's conventionality particularly suburban?

Something you said earlier made me think about this point earlier, but I lost my "train" of thought (mine dont run as often as the London trains!) These novels and other things we read about the Victorian view -- was it highly segmented? just as our modern views are segmented? How liberal-minded was the common man toward women in the city? in the higher class drawing rooms? in the suburbs? How many were Edmunds? How many were men who believed women didn't need a leash to keep her from running in the traffic? You see what I am asking?


message 7: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments SarahC wrote: "...These novels and other things we read about the Victorian view -- was it highly segmented? just as our modern views are segmented? How liberal-minded was the common man toward women in the city? in the higher class drawing rooms? in the suburbs? How many were Edmunds? How many were men who believed women didn't need a leash to keep her from running in the traffic? You see what I am asking? ..."

If you have access to them, there is a series of books on domestic life through the ages that you would probably enjoy, if you like asking questions like these. I built my set using discount coupons when Borders was still around. Let me go pull the one on Victorian times, although I know from past experience that I am unlikely to be able to pull succinct responses to the questions you pose.

The book:
From the Fires of Revolution to the Great War by Philippe Ariès The History of Private Lives: From the Fires of Revolution to the Great War, Philippe Ariès and Georges Duby, General Editors.

Let me go read for a few moments and see if there is anything readily obvious to share. (Don't have a lot of time tonight.)


message 8: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments Haha -- I know those are questions that might take a while to answer! Oh, and glad you got your reading device back to you. We didn't know where you were -- it was more a question of where your ereader was, right? :)


message 9: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments SarahC wrote: "Haha -- I know those are questions that might take a while to answer! Oh, and glad you got your reading device back to you. We didn't know where you were -- it was more a question of where your ereader was, right? :)..."

LOL!


message 10: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments I can also, when I get a chance, check a couple of books I have on Victorian thought -- Altick Victorian People and Ideas, and possibly The Cambridge Companion to the Victorian Novel or even James, The Victorian Novel.

But when I think of the novels of, say, Hardy and Eliot's Middlemarch, both of which represent largely rural thought, as against those of Dickens, which represent largely city thought, there does seem to be a significant difference, doesn't there?


message 11: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments SarahC wrote: "How many were men who believed women didn't need a leash to keep her from running in the traffic?"

Aren't there still men today who feel that way? Maybe not so much in the US, but in Saudi Arabia??


message 12: by Becky (new)

Becky | 170 comments What to think... what to think...

Here we see again that Monica wants Bevis to save her. She would run away with him, but at some measure she wants to make sure he can provide for her. He is already supporting his sister and his mother, so another person almost seems out of the question.

My question here is: Do you think Bevis truly had real and substantial feelings for Monica, or do you think he just wanted a cheap mistress? Honestly, I was left feeling conflicted on that point myself, so I'm intrigued to see what others wouldsay.

And perhaps Monica's abstaining from sex with Bevis saved her honor. Is Gissing implying that searching for release in lieu of divorce with Edmund is not a stain on honor, but is practical? And that the only real stain on her character would have come from her acting rashly?

Today people decry the divorce rates, but in large part I am grateful that women and men can get out of these emotionally damaging relationships. Widdowson is obviously unstable, we see that in the way he contemplates murder and attacks Monica. I'm not saying the blame is entirely with him, maybe if he'd found someone better suited to him none of this wouldhave happened. I'm not excusing his attacks, mind, but he seems a bit *off* rather than just passionate. He is quite manic.


message 13: by Becky (new)

Becky | 170 comments ...oh and what a good start between Monica and Bevis- they already don't like each other.


message 14: by Clarissa (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 529 comments Becky wrote: "Do you think Bevis truly had real and substantial feelings for Monica, or do you think he just wanted a cheap mistress?."

The novel examines lots of different sorts of love, Widdowson's jealous infatuation, Rhoda and Barfoot's intellectual games, the mathematician and his long engagement, various ill fated unions mentioned in passing like Barfoot's brother who adores his unsuitable wife so much it literally kills him.
I think Gissing is questioning the essence of romantic love. There is very little romantic happiness or even hope in it.
In this context I think Bevis isn't a cruel character but he is using Monica for a bit of flirtatious diversion from his life supporting all his family. His love is an imagined type rather than anything that has a place in reality. The fact he lied to Monica and lured her to his flat in order to seduce her without any long term plans to keep her as his mistress, in Barfoot would have been callous, but in Bevis it just seemed like something where he didn't think of the consequences of what he was doing.
I did feel for Monica though that even the lover she'd freely chosen gave her no pleasure.


message 15: by Lily (last edited Sep 24, 2012 12:09PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments Clari wrote: "...I think Gissing is questioning the essence of romantic love. There is very little romantic happiness or even hope in it...."

Love that insight, Clari! Will have to think about whether the text truly supports that view entirely, but my quick reaction says it probably does. You lead me to ask whether Gissing was more concerned about marriage or about romantic love in putting together his story -- or did he even sort out the distinctions but rather murkily intermingled them. And what was intentional, what was unintentional to his writing?


message 16: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) Lily wrote: "Clari wrote: "...I think Gissing is questioning the essence of romantic love. There is very little romantic happiness or even hope in it...."

Love that insight, Clari! Will have to think about wh..."


(Thanks, Lily, for rescuing me from the fogs of the past in old Buddy Reads... it did echo in there :)

I think you are on to something Clari. I've never read anything quite like this, and it certainly seems as if Gissing is exploring every possible angle in the relationships between men and women.

As for Bevis, I think he had a very real crush, like puppy love, for Monica, but when faced with something other than sweet fantasies, social protocol and the pressure of current morality (as well as economic problems) immediately slapped him out of his romantic reverie... I think it was more a case of being in love with love, rather than with Monica. I doubt that there was anything premeditated about his behavior beyond declaring his devotion and passion.


message 17: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments Janice George wrote: "...rescuing me from the fogs of the past in old Buddy Reads... it did echo in there :)..."

I know you and Denise had some discussion about bathing machines over on Buddy Reads. I don't remember what section of the book to which that reference belonged, but since this discussion is probably winding down for this time around, I'm just going to put a link here that shows some interesting illustrations: http://www.victoriana.com/Etiquette/b...

For fun, here is one of the pictures from an English seaside resort: bathing machines

I forget which book it was, but it could well have been Denise (or Madge) who introduced me to these fascinating artifacts of Victorian "modesty" back on another book club site.


message 18: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) Lily wrote: "I know you and Denise had some discussion about bathing machines over on Buddy Reads. I don't remember what section of the book to which that reference belonged..."

Thanks for that link, it was great and told me more than I could have hoped for about the bathing machines. I believe it was mentioned as an option to Rhoda when she went to Wasteland for her vacation. She turned it down, and now I completely understand why. The ladies of that time would faint dead away if they saw what we wear on the beaches of today! :)


message 19: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments "Clari wrote: "...I think Gissing is questioning the essence of romantic love. There is very little romantic happiness or even hope in it....""

I hope this isn't a spoiler, I finished the book a week or two ago and don't remember exactly where things happen. I don't think I've revealed any plot details or anything else that would spoil the book for those who haven't finished it yet, but if you are still in the middle of the book and are very sensitive to possible spoilers, I suggest that you skip this post and move on.

I'm not sure that he is questioning the essence of it so much as he is questioning how often our perception of romantic love is or can become true love. He explores so many of the reasons for getting married, so many of the range of feelings which a man and a woman can feel for each other, and for me shows how often we fool ourselves into thinking that our love is real and lasting when it isn't. But this, I think, is the purpose of Barfoot's friend (whose name temporarily evades me) whose marriage does indeed seem to reflect the success of a romantic love which also became a true love and led to a happy marriage despite what Barfoot considered near poverty. I think Gissing is saying that this happens occasionally, but not as often as we dream of its happening.


message 20: by Clarissa (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 529 comments I think with the mathematician scholar a happy marriage is seen as a possibility, but the book as a whole does not present it as a probability. But even with the mathematician they have an incredibly long engagement and are only glimpsed a couple of times, I think Barfoot at once point considers the fact that the woman had to wait because she'd lost her looks and had no other options.

I love the links about the bathing machines, I was wondering how Victorian women preserved their modesty while bathing!


message 21: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) Everyman wrote: But this, I think, is the purpose of Barfoot's friend (whose name temporarily evades me) whose marriage does indeed seem to reflect the success of a romantic love which also became a true love and led to a happy marriage despite what Barfoot considered near poverty. I think Gissing is saying that this happens occasionally, but not as often as we dream of its happening..."

In every other instance, the relationships all seemed to hinge on considerations and expectations, and love was never really the point. With the mathematician and his fiance, their love bested all the considerations and expectations. In spite of all, they remained truly loving of each other, and their concerns were always directed toward the "other," which is the love that is able to succeed... whereas it seems to me everyone else in these games of romance were focussed on their own personal interests -- ie, 'how will this work for me?'


message 22: by Becky (new)

Becky | 170 comments I think Janice brings up an important difference between the Micklethwaites and all the other relationships in th story. We aren't privvy to any but the barest details of their relationship, but it does seem that they had nothing to gain other than companionship by being married, they simply wanted to be together, whereas everyone else does seem to be using marriage as an escape or means, or in the Rhoda-Everard relationship, to prove their point.

Its certainly an interesting work for the time period. Victorians were so obsessed with the idea of tested love that overcame all odds. Characters usually have to suffer throughout the story (Bronte works, Gaskell, etc) but they are normally rewarded for their perseverance at the end with a love/marriage that is beneficial and well suited to them. This is not what Gissing is doing, he shows Monica and her sisters suffer but doesnt reward them wth the usual Victorian happy-ending.

Truthfully, have many people considered how the relationships would have continued after the story ended, say, in North and South, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, or even Pride and Prejudice?


message 23: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments Becky wrote: "Truthfully, have many people considered how the relationships would have continued after the story ended, say, in North and South, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, or even Pride and Prejudice?"

Good points, Becky. Fascinating to consider how the technique of closure impacts our reading of a story.


message 24: by Clarissa (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 529 comments Becky wrote: "have many people considered how the relationships would have continued after the story ended, say, in North and South, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, or even Pride and Prejudice? ."

I do...but that's probably my strange mind!

I think as you say, Becky, novels often follow a pattern where lovers have to overcome obstacles, it made me remember Shakespeare: ' for aught that I could ever read/could ever hear by tale or history/ the course of true love never did run smooth' as the great man wrote a couple of hundreds years before the novel came into being :) The reader is left with the sense that they've earnt each other and are being rewarded with a happy marriage, like the fairy tales we are brought up on teach us the pattern of narrative to expect.
But with Gissing the obstacles of courtship were presented in such a way that it made me question what a happy ending would actually be for the characters.
I've only read one of his other novels, so I don't know if that is peculiar to this book or part of his general style. I was tempted to look to his autobiography where he seemed to be in the midst of a failing miserable marriage when he wrote 'The Odd Women', so I wondered if that tempered how he presented romance and love in this novel?


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