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Archived Group Reads 2012 > Odd Women Ch. 30, Retreat... - Ch. 31, A New Beginning...

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message 1: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments The concluding chapters.

Please discuss this portion of the story here.

message 2: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments I was very surprised, and not very satisfied, at the way Gissing ended the book. I'll break it up into two (or more) posts for convenience.

I'm not that surprised that Rhoda and Barfoot never got back together, though in the traditional English novel they would have. But I am quite surprised that Barfoot went off to enter into a quite traditional marriage with a quite traditional young woman in Agnes Brissenden. She is described as a woman "not in
declared revolt against the order of things, religious, ethical, or social;... content with the unopposed right of liberal criticism. [living] placidly; refraining from much that the larger world enjoined, but never aggressive." How can the Barfoot we have been given up to this point in the novel settle for a traditional marriage to such a woman, however graceful, attractive, and wealthy? It seems a transformation which Gissing has given us not basis for thinking was in Barfoot's nature.

message 3: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments I'm also not surprised that Monica died, though it would have made a more interesting book if she hadn't. But I am surprised that Widdowson would say to his sister "'I have no love for her left,... It
all perished in those frightful days." I can understand his having no trust left, but that his love would also die out completely is another character development which I think Gissing did not justify.

message 4: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments And what is the point in Mrs. Luke marrying? Why does she pop back up out of nowhere in the last chapters with a noble husband whom it's obvious she doesn't love?

The totality of the book seems to be a repudiation of any sort of marriage (except that which is based on near poverty and only which comes after a ten year engagement). Of course we don't know what happens to the Barfoot/Agnes marriage, but I can't imagine him settling down to a quite evening in the drawing room with his three children safely tucked in bed upstairs under the care of the nurse after the obligatory daily ten minutes spent talking awkwardly with their virtual stranger parents, with his wife quietly working away on her needlework, and with Barfoot rattling the evening paper until it's time to go up to their separate bedrooms. But isn't that the life which Agnes will train him into?

OTOH, we have to recall the title of the novel. The women at the heart of it -- the Madden sisters, Rhoda, Miss Barfoot, and even the Bevis sisters -- are all odd women, left behind in the marriage sweepstakes. Monica is the only one of them willing to try the enterprise, and her attempt is an utter failure (resulting in her early death). Perhaps Agnes (and her married sisters) are introduced primarily to remind us that there are also non-odd women in the world, though they have nothing to do with this novel beyond this very brief glimpse into the peep show world of the non-odd women. Since Gissing has chosen to write a novel of these odd women, isn't it in some sense obligatory on him that he leave them as odd women, without a single happy marriage among them?

message 5: by Lily (last edited Sep 23, 2012 03:26PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments Everyman wrote: "Since Gissing has chosen to write a novel of these odd women, isn't it in some sense obligatory on him that he leave them as odd women, without a single happy marriage among them? ..."

One can ask whether that was Henry James tactic in The Bostonians. My opinion would be that he didn't see that necessity.

I wanted Rhoda to bridge that gap of her caring for women who might never have the chance to marry and her own apparently latent passion. Did she have the inner whatever for that -- well, Gissing doesn't observe her and let her grow naturally in MHO. He manipulates her and his other characters to deliver a downer on marriage.

Am I in cynical mode tonight? Probably. But I feel almost as if he abandoned Mary, Rhoda, and Monica because he didn't know what to do with them. Can I justify those feelings with text? I'm not sure.

message 6: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments I think it is an interesting ending to an interesting book. Do you think the ending scene was a merging of emotions in Rhoda? This is a very soft, womanly scene. So I am also wondering if the title of the novel really becomes ironic here. The Odd Women are not just the statistical "odd women," but many of us women whose lives and motivations travel in nonlinear paths (and not to exclude and say that is only women, Everyman).

And also, here is the baby -- is she representing the next generation of the struggle -- another generation who will struggle toward definition.

And yes, Monica's experience was a failure in happiness, but she did make a non-traditional choice to break from her husband.

Everyman, I interpreted Agnes Brissenden a bit differently. I don't think she was described as a traditional woman who would create a traditional marriage -- and can we assume she would "train" Everard into conventionality? We are told earlier that Everard sought an intelligent woman to be his partner, and his more careful association with Agnes and her family seemed to prove that they were worthy, admirable people -- and the acquaintance was showing him his faults. He also finds that she is not "at his disposal" as he originally thought a few months prior. So I do think that these characters off-stage do have quite a bit to do with this novel.

message 7: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments Lily, I actually don't feel that the characters were abandoned. This was not the kind of novel that had an ending of tight conclusions. In that sense I can see that it leaned more toward a 20th century style than it did earlier novels. And the subject matter -- women in transition in real life -- these women were still in the transition -- still working and heading toward a different place in the world. Maybe the less conclusive ending was more fitting -- Monica's choices and a really sort of symbolic death, Rhoda still a character in flux, men like Edmund still stationery, perhaps Everard finding some harmony (although Everyman may disagree!). Alice and Virginia still maintaining hope that they might open their school and raise Monica's child, and Mary "still flourishing," as described by Rhoda.

message 8: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments SarahC wrote: "And the subject matter -- women in transition in real life -- these women were still in the transition -- still working and heading toward a different place in the world."

That's a nice point. It would explain why there were no real endings -- and indeed why he titled the chapter A New Beginning (though your thought suggests that that should have been "Beginnings"). But I do like the idea that what we saw was a slice of their lives taken out of the middle (which may be why so little of the early lives of any of them were mentioned); in a sense, it was a story almost entirely of middle, not of the traditional beginning, middle, and end.

message 9: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments SarahC wrote: "...Monica's choices and a really sort of symbolic death,..."

Symbolic of death of ??? I don't think I have stayed with your chain of thought, Sarah.

I think you're kinder, gentler, perhaps more womanly towards Gissing than I am willing to be. I think I understand why this is a novel that continues to be read. I enjoyed the reading and am enjoying the discussion here very much. My own feeling is that this reading and our discussions here have helped sharpen discernment between good, very good, excellent, and great writing, even though I am probably still am incapable of articulating them.

message 10: by Lily (last edited Sep 23, 2012 04:09PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments What did you make of Virginia's alcoholism? Although we did get some foreshadowing, did it seem like it was coming? Why do we think Gissing added this to a mix that was already heavy on social commentary? Would it have helped to have had some clues that this was part of the social conditions of the time -- albeit probably greatly concealed? Or, were there early clues reflecting that kind of societal reticence that Gissing did include (prior to the clear foreshadowing hints) and I missed them?

message 11: by Clarissa (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 527 comments I liked the ending very much. I thought it was true to the tone of the book and the characters. It's obviously all personal but after the strange scene in the Lake District I couldn't see Rhoda and Barfoot ending up together. The final conversation between them was moving as they both knew they'd lost their chance and Barfoot accepting he would never love anyone as much as he loved Rhoda but that it wouldn't work between them. They both seemed mature and strong.

Barfoot's marriage fits in with how we learn he spent his time away and the new respect he had for Agnes and I imagine they would make there way through life together.

For me bringing Mrs Luke into the finale was momentarily confusing, but I took it as an illustration that she had got what she always wanted and it hadn't worked. A reflection of Widdowson's own disappointments in his relationship with Monica. Plus plot wise he needed someone sympathetic who would tell him to soften up a bit and go and see his wife and child.
In honesty I wanted some bedside reunion or forgiveness of each other before she died, but it was realistic that he could only go so far with his actions.
I think the alcoholism was just extra colouring to the characters. Although I know at the beginning there was mention that we wanted more childhood of the sisters after their father died, in the end I was touched by the poignancy of a father thinking his family will be fine and all his daughters adoring him and of course the friend of the family Rhoda there too, so sharply contrasted by the skipped time with the fate that awaits them in the novel. And it works beautifully with the ending where there is a new baby in Rhoda's arms who has already lost her mother and the reader is not giving much reassurance about her father.
I've been a little ambivalent towards Rhoda but I have warmed to her and her emotional development and purpose in the final volume.

I've already written more than I intended to, but just a little note to say this is the first occasion when I've had the time to join in with a discussion on the book being read and I've thoroughly enjoyed it and got so much more than if I had read it on my own. Thank you!

message 12: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments Clari wrote: "I liked the ending very much. I thought it was true to the tone of the book and the characters. It's obviously all personal but after the strange scene in the Lake District I couldn't see Rhoda and..."

Thank you! Hope we don't stop just yet!

message 13: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Lily wrote: "What did you make of Virginia's alcoholism? Although we did get some foreshadowing, did it seem like it was coming? Why do we think Gissing added this to a mix that was already heavy on social co..."

I think it was more than foreshadowed; it was hiding in plain sight for awhile. As was Monica's pregnancy.

As to why Gissing added this, there was a lot of secret drug use among women at that time (the upper classes used laudanum, the lower used gin). I thought that he used it to show that Virginia lacked the skills or backbone to face life head on, and needed some sort of escape from reality, which she found in the bottle. What surprised me a bit was that the other characters didn't pick up on it sooner.

message 14: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Clari wrote: "I've already written more than I intended to, but just a little note to say this is the first occasion when I've had the time to join in with a discussion on the book being read and I've thoroughly enjoyed it and got so much more than if I had read it on my own. Thank you! "

Don't let it be the last! I've enjoyed exchanging thoughts with you, and will hope to do so for many future books.

message 15: by Becky (new)

Becky | 170 comments I too felt that the ending was a bit of a cacophony. I dont mind how it ended, but I felt Gissing could have done better smoothing out the edges of his writing. It all felt so abrupt and some of it unexplained. I've enjoyed this conversation immensely, but Gissing as an author isn't jumping to the top of my "most loved Vic authors" list.

I felt that Widdowson's attitude was disconcordant with his earlier portrayal. As Everyman pointed out he continued to stalk around her apartment, hoping to see her, to meet her, this implies some level of lingering emotion on his part. I dont expect him to forgive her necessarily, but to fail to see his daughter, to refuse to see her one last time, doesn't fit into his nature. He is highly suspicoius, I dont necessarily blame him, but something here just didn't jive for me.

I didn't mind Everard's marriage so much. I think he met a woman he could respect, but realized that love didn't have to be a constant battle of wills. Earlier in the book it was noted that the only real reason he didn't want to marry was that he didn't feel he had the money for it, he didnt want his own life style of travel and fun to be constricted by the needs of a wife- this he casually wrapped up in his jovial philosophical manner, but it always seemed to be the root. If he married into money with a woman he could respect, then his main issue with marriage disappeared.

Wow this has been a great discussion everyone. One of the better ones I've participated in. I hope so many continue to join us for other works in the future!

message 16: by Clarissa (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 527 comments Becky wrote: "I felt that Widdowson's attitude was disconcordant with his earlier portrayal"

I was surprised that there was no love left for her, but maybe it was because he was more infatuated with her body than appreciated her as a person?
Even if he did love her though, I could believe that the whole experience would have left him totally drained and numb as he had his whole life view destroyed.
In my own made up extended ending he recovers from the experience, becomes a wiser man, meets his daughter and loves and cares for her immediately and she grows into a secure happy young woman with a doting dad :)

On a side note who are top of your most loved Vic author list?

message 17: by Becky (new)

Becky | 170 comments The usual I am sure: Hardy, Dickens, Gaskell, Anne Bronte, Stoker (even if it is just Dracula), and I do love the occasional Wilkie Collins. Lately I've read more Tennyson and its been breathtaking. Also I've been reading Anna Adelaide Proctor, her poetry is really beautiful.

Although a late Victorian, Robert Louis Stevenson holds a very, very special place in my heart as one of my all time favorite authors. Treasure Island was the first time I realised as a child that villians weren't all bad, and to this day remains a book I read every year and one of my favorites.

I still need to explore Eliot more thoroughly, I LOVED Middlemarch, and there are so many more, like Gissing, that I've only had a taste of and need to find out more.

message 18: by Lily (last edited Sep 24, 2012 01:04PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments Everyman wrote: "I think it was more than foreshadowed; it was hiding in plain sight for awhile. As was Monica's pregnancy...."

I saw it well before it was explicit, but still didn't see Virginia's alcoholism until the last third or quarter of the book. Do you think it is there earlier -- in plain sight, at that?

Say more if you would about Monica's pregnancy -- I do remember one passage along the lines of "if she only became pregnant" and said to myself, well, ...., sounds likely to happen if she is healthy and well.

message 19: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments Wouldn't it be fun if Rhoda became a mother figure to the baby and she and Widdowson became cohorts (but not romantically entangled, lol) in supporting the creation of productive lives for women? Perhaps the sisters' school even being successful? Now, what (happy ending) role can we give Everard and Agnes?

(Decided I'd better strike "heaven forbid" for lol!)

Sorry -- obviously I am in a "want a happy, uplifting ending mode." I really don't often seek such. Maybe it is because, flawed as these characters were, most, maybe even all, of them at least had strong decent streaks in them.

message 20: by Clarissa (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 527 comments Gosh, I've never heard of Adelaide Proctor, and a quick google tells me she was one of the most popular Victorian poets! A Robert Louis Stevenson group read would be fun :)

Lily, I totally adore the idea of Widdowson being so changed he can raise his daughter with Rhoda. My ending for Everard would probably be to quietly move Agnes out of the picture and match him up with Mary. Although it was only mentioned once I was somehow touched by Mary's love for him and thought that she deserved to get her man after all her good works. He would be some sort of house husband caring for all the orphaned children they've adopted and she'll be leading women to get the vote and equal rights.

message 21: by Sera (new)

Sera I really loved this book. I found Gissing's voice to be a unique one among the other Victorians that we have been reading as a group.

I also thought that Virginia's alcoholism was a natural consequence of the loneliness and isolation that she had felt. I found this very relevant since some people today turn to alcohol or drugs because they are lonely. I thought Virginia was a good example of how odd women could be lonely women, struggling on a daily basis with no sense of purpose. Compare Virginia to Rhoda whose commitment to helping other women drives her life and forms such a significant part of her identity that it impacts her decision on whether to marry. Perhaps if Virginia would have opened that school with her sister, she wouldn't have turned to drinking. People who have no purpose in life tend to live in despair in my opinion.

message 22: by Sera (new)

Sera Upon further reflection, Monica's husband was also isolated but seemed to be all right with that until he met Monica. Then, he was no longer alone, but he wanted her to be like him, staying at home all the time with no social life. Therefore, they would not be alone because they had each other, but having only one other person in her life was not enough for Monica. This difference between the two of them is what starts the wedge that is driven between them.

Overall, I think that Gissing may not have necessarily been anti-marriage but perhaps his message was more about finding the right person.

message 23: by Sera (new)

Sera Thanks for another excellent group read. I am now much more interested in Victorian authors than I have ever been before.

message 24: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Sera wrote: "Thanks for another excellent group read. I am now much more interested in Victorian authors than I have ever been before."

Welcome to the VAC (the Victorian Appreciation Club, or for the really serious the Victorian Adorers Club)!

What I really love about the Victorian authors is that they are satisfied, as few modern authors seem to me to be, to just tell an interesting story about interesting people in good, straightforward prose, without the need to spice things up with overt sex or abnormal behaviors or characters. Just good, healthy, enjoyable, intelligent literature.

message 25: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments As we come to the end of the month for this book, I want to express my most sincere appreciation and admiration for the superb moderating job Sarah has done for us. She has made both the book and the discussion highly enjoyable.

So, thanks, Sarah.

Off with the old, now; on to the new!!!

message 26: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments Thanks for the very kind comment, Everyman, and thanks for everyone participating in the discussion. I can't remember any more thought-provoking points brought up in discussion than these all of you have shared. I look so forward to experiencing another read with all of you -- hope you can all make it to the very next one. If you can't, please join us soon!

Please continue on with comments if you are still going through the book -- the posts stay up for a long time, so members can continue to participate.

message 27: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments SarahC wrote: "Please continue on with comments if you are still going through the book -- the posts stay up for a long time, so members can continue to participate. "

Good reminder -- I certainly didn't mean to cut off further discussion by thanking you for the work you've done on it.

message 28: by Becky (new)

Becky | 170 comments I recall thinking that Virginia was leaning towards alcoholism much earlier in the book. I cant find my notes, but it ma have been around Chapter 8. Rhoda came to visit her sister, and said she could smell Brandy. Virgie admitted to taking a bit of Brandy since she felt faint, and I thought that "a little bit" would make the whole room smell. I thought it was odd, but I woudnt say that I was expecting the full-blown alcoholism.

Nor was I surprised. Monica certainly cuts a sad figure at the end of the story, but I think that Virginia might be the most tragic. Here is a woman that was so unable to deal with the work, her worn body, and her lonliness that she turned to drink. And, in the end, have we really seen any improvement for her character? Perhaps she will shape up because she has the child to care for, but she is still puttering around talking about the school that may or may never happen. She was never educated/trained for the life that she had to lead in the end.

message 29: by Lily (last edited Oct 01, 2012 06:39AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments Becky wrote: "...She was never educated/trained for the life that she had to lead in the end...."

Are we ever? Although a college or vocational education can be a useful "union card" in our day and age.

Thanks for pointing out the early foreshadowing of Virginia's alcoholism. I'm not certain I picked up the hints with the brandy, still considering it Victorian medicine, since basically so much early "patent" medicine was alcohol based and many homes relied directly on a shot of brandy instead.

As kindly as Mr. Widdowson was to the two sisters, the romantic in me still wants to hold out the hope that his generosity and support will encourage and enable productive lives for the women in his purview -- maybe even a romance for him, too. :-) What else does he have to do with his time?

message 30: by Becky (new)

Becky | 170 comments I think we seriously underappreciate what any education can do for a person. Granted, no one can thrive under those 80+ hour work weeks that Virginia and Monica had to suffer through, but, they were also extremely unprepared for it.

Perhaps this isnt a good example, but this is how I feel about it:

I grew up in a military family. My grandfather, father, and all four uncles had been in the military- so I was going to be in as well. I had a good fifteen years of knowing that entering the military was MY choice before I went to bootcamp. The grand majority of the other soldiers there had either recently decided on being in the military because a)the judge sent them there b)it was the only way out of an impovershed situation c) benefits. Those of us who had known for years that this was the choice we were going to make handled the training much better than those who had recently come to the decision. When you know that something like that is going to happen your mindset it totally different. I imagine that the factory girls that Monica worked with were unhappy, but probably not as unhappy as she was, simply because they'd been raised in a family where that situation was the norm. They always knew that wwas how life would go for them, and, not realizing that it could go any other way, settled themselves in for the long haul. In the case of Monica and her sisters they had had a taste of another life, being forced into that brutal world came as a surprise for them.

message 31: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments I've sometimes said it takes three generations to set the shape of a family and the economic possibilities of the current generation. Now, that is obviously an over simplistic generalization, but it is along the lines of what you describe as part of the experience of belonging to a military family.

Nonetheless, now in the latter decades of my life, I realize that life can deal curves for which no amount of education or familial history can prepare one. Instead, somehow one must rely on the responses demanded by the experience and on those who are willing to walk the path alongside one. (As well as upon the resources, material, spiritual, and otherwise, one has at one's disposal.)

message 32: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments These are all very interesting points to think of. I see both the points that Becky and Lily make. I do see your point, Lily, as kind of "Part 1" and "Part 2." Becky seems to refer to the overall scope and career of one's life. The How, the Where, maybe even the When.

Lily, your second comment in your message 31 though is more about all the interruptions, unexpecteds, derailments, tragedies (maybe), health issues, or just problems of a loved-one that greatly affects your life. Those all the things that will happen to everyone, regardless if they are college-path, a family legacy of military, generations of family farming, etc. Those things are REALLY the things we are not really trained for. Although I think if we are close to older generations and have someone who has "been there" to guide you at some point along the way, you adapt better. (In my case one person was my grandmother.) So if we look at the Madden sisters, the story doesn't suggest that they really had that either -- someone who was really a guiding force. Their father seemed loving, but ineffective. There seemed to be few older generations there to take care of them.

message 33: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments I didn't intend to imply that Becky and I are contradicting each other, but rather shaping out our thoughts and perspectives.

I agree with you, Sarah, that parents and older generations can be very useful -- and certainly those were resources the Madden sisters, and a number of other characters in this novel, seemed to be lacking. It is also probably interesting to consider who and what were the strongest resources available to Rhoda. Certainly Mary was one. But I think we often forget, even though longer lives with medical advances often offer continuity, with the huge changes in types of jobs, with mobility, with immigration and emigration, how many must look beyond the extended family for the mentoring that can offer "training".

One aspect of the book we have not really discussed was the father's "failure" to plan for the unforeseen that left his children orphans.

message 34: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments No, I didn't see that you and Lily were in a contradiction with your ideas. I really did see it as a part 1 and part 2 of the subject.

I think we discussed the father briefly in the first discussion thread -- not at length though. I know I commented on him myself.

message 35: by Clarissa (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 527 comments SarahC wrote: "Their father seemed loving, but ineffective."

out of interest, why do you think he was ineffective?
In his brief appearance I just saw him as a loving father who was struck down by fate, leaving the girls adrift in the world, illustrating how hard it was at the time for women to find a way in the world.

message 36: by Becky (new)

Becky | 170 comments He was ineffective because he procrastinated. It says that he often thought that he ought to go do something about creating a will, or saving up for his girls, but kept putting it off for a "later date." Its his procrastination ultimately that doomed them to the life of hardship when he died suddenly. He was loving, but certainly not effective, as he also didnt teach them any skills or give them a useful education (that bit comes from Rhoda though, so who knows what she thought that they shoudlve been taught).

message 37: by SarahC (last edited Oct 04, 2012 12:46PM) (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments Becky shares my thoughts of Mr. Madden... :) I also see his attitude as part of the element that women finally began to rebel against. Something like "my poor girls they need to be sheltered and protected and they aren't good for anything but marriage, so we'll wait on a husband to show up."So the female children were purposefully put in the dependent position, but in Madden's case, he didn't do his part for these poor female dependents. It seems easier to look at it realistically -- his wife had died only recently -- which would have lit a fire under some people, knowing that your life can be taken and no one will be left to care for your children.

message 38: by Lily (last edited Oct 04, 2012 02:24PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments SarahC wrote: "...It seems easier to look at it realistically -- his wife had died only recently -- which would have lit a fire under some people, knowing that your life can be taken and no one will be left to care for your children...."

But some people need longer to grieve than others. Yes, Dr. Madden can be judged to have been negligent, but do we know enough factors to judge fairly? Or do we judge against our own values and familial expectations and traditions? (For some of which we should be most grateful for the issues they have avoided for us.) Some families put levels of care in place before their children are even born, but certainly not all. When recovering from a loss, it may or may not be instinctive to summarily prepare for or protect against another catastrophe.

A few years ago when a number of women in their late thirties were having children, with fathers another ten to twenty years older, some contributors to the magazine articles at the time criticized the selfishness of those parents.

message 39: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments I am simply stating my view on Mr. Madden's role as parent, Lily, it may not be shared by others and that is fine. Again, I will emphasize that to me this type of thinking perpetuated the subordinate role of female children. And I am personally familiar with the grief process, and I know how emotionally hard it is to conduct business while going through that state, I completely agree with you. As I said though, it motivates some people even more, especially when you turn around and see small children depending on you.

Your second comment is interesting, but sounds like a lot of the vague social commentary that exists in the media today criticizing certain lifestyle choices over others. That demographic of parent might likely be a group who chooses to concentrate on healthier lifestyle choices because they choose to have children later. Along with modern medicine, their children are not necessarily facing the early loss of a parent. Magazine commentary like that makes me feel a sense of more attempted homogenization of society. (Why hold back, Sarah, tell us what you really think! haha)

Also you included the term selfishness - my view is that selfishness did not come into play either when discussing the issue of the Victorian father Mr. Madden. I will use the term "lack of action" on his part.

message 40: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments On Mr. Madden's ineffectiveness, it's been awhile since I read the opening of the book, but if I recall correctly he wasn't very effective as a doctor.

Okay, couldn't leave it at that, so went back to the book. Yes, up to the start of the book, with Alice at age 19, "for twenty years he had practised medicine at Clevedon, but with such trifling emolument that the needs of his large family left him scarce a margin over expenditure." That doesn't seen highly effective to me. But at the same time, if he didn't have any money to spare from raising his family, it wouldn't have been a matter of approving subordination of the girls if he hadn't have any financial ability to do otherwise.

But now, "at the age of forty-nine—it was 1872—he looked forward with a larger hope. Might he not reasonably count on ten or fifteen more years of activity? Clevedon was growing in repute as a seaside resort; new houses were rising; assuredly his practice would continue to extend."

So as soon as he thinks he will have some money to start making provision for the girls, he plans to do so, and expects to have ten or fifteen more years to do so.

So I agree that he may have been ineffective in the economic aspects of being a doctor, but I don't think it's totally fair to charge him with purposefully putting his girls in a dependent position. Perhaps he should have made more effort and started earlier, but his plan seems to have been reasonable given that he was still only 49 and until now hasn't really had the ability to do much, or even anything, more.

And his heart seems certainly in the right place: "As no doubt you guess, life has been rather an uphill journey with us. But the home must be guarded against sordid cares to the last possible moment; nothing upsets me more than the sight of those poor homes where wife and children are obliged to talk from morning to night of how the sorry earnings shall be laid out."

message 41: by Lily (last edited Oct 05, 2012 06:15AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments SarahC wrote: "...Also you included the term selfishness - my view is that selfishness did not come into play either when discussing the issue of the Victorian father Mr. Madden...."

This post probably will be hard for me to make clear, but let me try -- or at least wander a bit. First, the magazine article to which I referred has always bothered me, perhaps because I asked to what extent it was personally applicable! It came at a time when young women had been entering careers during the sixties, had married late, sometimes to men considerably older than themselves, and then were choosing to have children. In some senses, seventy years later, these women were acting out the independence Rhoda championed. "Selfishness" was a word specifically used that gave pause -- what did it mean or imply? Eventually, I read it to imply lack of adequate concern for the lifespan well-being of the children being born. That lack of adequate or savvy concern for one's offspring was what it seemed to me we were discussing about Dr. Madden's actions or lack thereafter.

As I was thinking about this discussion, one of the places my head went was what other stories address the options and paths parents take. Without spending a lot of time on the subject, the one that came to mind was Gaskell's Wives and Daughters , with all its subsequent complications that follow from the socially expected eventual remarriage of Molly's father. (I still haven't managed to read the whole thing.) There must be others.

message 42: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments Everyman, you remembered details that I did not, that I guess pointed to a bad economy in Madden's area, causing him to struggle with making ends meet. In this case, my opinion of him softens. I still have a problem with the "home must be guarded from sordid cares" type of thinking. If all his career to that point and all the children's lives, no real hope stood for the family's economic improvement, to guard them again discussing the reality of that was to guard them against nothing really. I know this may be modern thinking, but it does seem he tried to hide the true-life circumstances from his children.

Lily, I understand what you are saying in your further explanation of the subject of the article on having children later in life. If the writer used a term like selfishness, they may have intended to say those involved did not take up the proper concern. So, along with what Everyman pointed out, that may draw closer to Madden's choices.

It is interesting bringing up a comparison from a more contemporary situation. Victorian families had large families, sometimes more than they could adequately care for in many ways. Late 20th century family had options on family planning, but, because women's roles changed in general, they chose to have their children differently. Those are both topics that bring out a lot of issues, aren't they? In spite of very little birth control, were Victorian women better parents because they had most of their children younger in life? Were late 20th century women better parents and did they make fair choices by having some or all of their children later in life? I, like you, have seen many comments on this subject over the years.

message 43: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments SarahC wrote: "I know this may be modern thinking, but it does seem he tried to hide the true-life circumstances from his children.

I agree with both parts of that comment. What is interesting, I think, is that as you noted, Madden is an example of the "don't make women think about money," or maybe "we have to protect women from thinking about money because they aren't capable of that kind of thinking" which dominated pre-Victorian and early Victorian English thinking, which is exactly the mind set that the book sets out to explore and, which, I think, Gissing is trying to reverse. I think by contrasting Madden with he was trying to move his readers more into the modernist thinking which Miss Nunn and Miss Barfoot exemplified.

What is perhaps even more interesting is that, as with most social movements, the pendulum of this one swung so far that perhaps twenty years ago there was a mini counter-movement which took the position that womens liberation had gone too far and was no longer serving women but was enslaving them in a male-copycat mindset instead of simply freeing the feminine mindset. I wonder what Gissing would be writing if he were alive today!

message 44: by SarahC (last edited Oct 06, 2012 04:18PM) (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments VEry good point you bring up, Everyman. The women's movement has been a very complicated thing. certainly during my adult life, women have questioned if they have progressed as equals in an equal world, or if they have simply reached points of success in a man's world.

message 45: by Lily (last edited Oct 06, 2012 05:59PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments So what is a "man's world"? A world in which men hold most of the economic and political positions of power?

And what is "an equal world"?

What is a "feminine mindset"? What is a "male mindset"? Women's liberation had gone too far at what? From whose perspective?

I guess it seems to me that such generalities hide a lot of specifics, specifics that often do have many pros and cons associated with each of them and that sometimes interact in unexpected cumulative ways.

Yes, this link is deliberate here, with all its ambiguous implications to the subject at hand.

message 46: by SarahC (last edited Oct 06, 2012 06:12PM) (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments I ca n give one example quickly of what I mean, Lily, and maybe Everyman will respond also.

When I worked full time in a more corporate structure, succeeding in your job was still measured within confines that still leaned toward factors such as being a company player, giving up a lot of yourself to overtime and long hours to make points. Things like family needs, child care and flextime were not considered and it weakened your image in the company if those were things you supported. The women in the company in high positions seemed to be living a kind of "male power" model.

I know the experience of women is not universal everywhere. what you perceive as high needs sometimes depend on the culture around you. I live in a more conservative part of the country. Women living and working in different geographic places are on a different partt of the curve. But I do think single mothers, for example, with the care of their children have the right to desire that the world is more equal and not a "male structure," if my term makes more sense now.

message 47: by Lily (last edited Oct 06, 2012 06:30PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments SarahC wrote: "..not a 'male structure,' ..."

Yes, on a number of the aspects to which you allude, we've come a long way, but we have much further to go to create a humane world. And, in many aspects, we don't know what that may look like, in all the variations we choose to "institutionalize." (We were lucky; my husband took a heavy "parent at home" role, but still for long periods, even with only one child, it took five levels of covering care to be in place to insure that one was always available. I probably wasn't always kind in my attitude towards women in the generation that came behind in what seemed sometimes a cavalier attitude towards job responsibilities.)

But I also play with the possibility that we need some economic expectations and opportunities such that it can be women that "afford" a spouse as well as the reverse dynamic persisting -- and not just the fortunate few, but the struggling single mother. But then, I still enjoy contemplating out of the box improbabilities that could have interesting, even pleasant, ramifications.

message 48: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Lily wrote: "So what is a "man's world"? ...
What is a "feminine mindset"?

Of course anything we say is a generalization with many exceptions, but OTOH gender psychologists that I read suggest that there are some substantive differences in the way that male and female brains are wired which tend often to come out in different ways of handling problems or dealing with people. For example, men tend to think more hierarchically and women more cooperatively. There are of course many men who think cooperatively and many women who think hierarchically, but there have been many studies which validated a general difference between the way male teams and female teams, faced with the same problem, approach it.

Since men have been the predominant ruling class in most societies, I believe that the male way of approaching problems has tended to be the more prevalent approach throughout history, and women who have sought positions of power have had to adapt in part to this way of approaching problems.

Again, these are generalities with many exceptions, but at the same time I think there is fairly solid evidence of substantive differences between the ways in which the majority of men and the majority of women try to resolve problems.

In my own field of law, for example, criminal trial law, which is a straight combat experience, tends to be more appealing to male law students (Nancy Grace notwithstanding!) while collaborative and family law, which focus more on problem solving and trying initially to find nonviolent resolutions (using the term violence to include non-physical violence) tend to be more appealing to female law students. Even in my own family law practice (there not being enough criminal law business to support my practice, though I wish there had been and loved what criminal law clients I did have), I made a concerted effort to try to negotiate resolutions rather than go straight to trial, but I will admit that when mediation and negotiation failed, I found trial work by far the more interesting and engaging part of my practice.

message 49: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments Good discussion! Thanks! So much more satisfying than what could have been implied by what we initially sketched.

Now, where we, and the world, goes from here, including testing the validity of what we have sketched, but more importantly shaping our families, communities, nations, and planet is what shall be fun -- I hope.

message 50: by Clarissa (last edited Oct 12, 2012 04:59AM) (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 527 comments Everyman wrote: "Lily wrote: "So what is a "man's world"? ...
What is a "feminine mindset"?

gender psychologists that I read suggest that there are some substantive differences in the way that male and female brains are wired"

I am so glad I was part of this book discussion it has raised so many interesting and far ranging points. I'm unfortunately a bit busy this month to read the October selection (plus I am trying to catch up reading books I was leant some time ago), but should be back for November.
I just wanted to make a quick comment on gender divisions as it is an area that interests me greatly and I covered a little bit of the linguistics side on my degree. There is significant research that questions the essential assumed difference between the sexes, suggesting that it is a matter of how things have been interpreted rather than fact, plus there is much uncertainty how much 'male' and 'female' are socialised definitions rather than something innate.
I suspect in the text that both Rhoda and Mary like many early feminists would have believed that men were more intelligent, I think I remember at various points they mention trying to make more worthy partners for gentlemen through their work.

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