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Buddy Reads > The Odd Women Chapters I-V

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Elizabeth (Alaska) I was able to get to this a day earlier than I expected.

The prose is beautiful. It seems to have been written for a better educated readership than some of the other Victorian literature I've read.

I'm unable to equate the amount of income to today's economy, but Monica is able to compare hers to Mr. Widdowson's, and thinks he has quite a bit. And even before that scene, I was thinking the amount the older women have to be quite paltry - and is so in their thinking too.

Gissing has done a good job in these first chapters laying the foundation for what is to come.


message 2: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 66 comments I'm already hooked on this novel. So many juicy tidbits already.

"It was the first time in her life that she had spoken with a woman daring
enough to think and act for herself."
Virginia Madden in regards to Miss Nunn
ch. 3
------------------------
"She is full of practical expedients. The most
wonderful person! She is quite like a man in energy and resources. I never imagined that one of our sex could resolve and plan and act as she does!'
Virginia Madden in regards to Rhoda Nunn
ch.4


message 3: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 66 comments Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "And even before that scene, I was thinking the amount the older women have to be quite paltry - and is so in their thinking too."

I was struck by the way the older sisters make do with the little that they have. Vegetarianism, that I thought was due more to the cost of meat than anything else, and such small portions for meals. They get a tiny cake for Monica for her birthday, and despite it's very small size, Monica knows that they couldn't really afford it.


message 4: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 66 comments The contrasts between the women set up even at this early point are interesting. We have the older sisters (I started reading last week and I forget their names already, oops!) past the age of marriage, the young, pretty, Monica who still has hope of marriage, and then Miss Rhoda Nunn who is decidedly anti-marriage.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Monica, thinking of her sisters Alice and Virginia:

She thought of her sisters. Their loneliness was for life, poor things. Already they were old; and they would grow older, sadder, perpetually struggling to supplement that dividend from the precious capital--and merely that they might keep alive. Oh!--her heart ached at the misery of such a prospect. How much better if the poor girls had never been born.

And then Rhoda, in her interview with Monica, giving us the background for the title:

So many odd women--no making a pair with them. The pessimists call them useless, lost, futile lives. I, naturally--being one of them myself--take another view. I look upon them as a great reserve. When one woman vanishes in matrimony, the reserve offers a substitute for the world's work.


Such a feminist speech, that last one is! Gissing references in the first chapter how Rhoda was in love with that man (I forget his name) who had such radical opinions.


message 6: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 66 comments Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "So many odd women--no making a pair with them. The pessimists call them useless, lost, futile lives. I, naturally--being one of them myself--take another view. I look upon them as a great reserve. When one woman vanishes in matrimony, the reserve offers a substitute for the world's work."

I loved this part, I found it so fascinating. And I couldn't help relishing Ms. Nunn's cynicism. I think this part is shortly before that "'But you wouldn't say so, Miss Nunn, if you knew how terribly hard it
is for many girls to find a place, even now.'

'I know it perfectly well. And I wish it were harder. I wish girls fell down and died of hunger in the streets, instead of creeping to their garrets and the hospitals. I should like to see their dead bodies collected together in some open place for the crowd to stare at.'

Monica gazed at her with wide eyes.

'You mean, I suppose, that people would try to reform things.'

'Who knows? Perhaps they might only congratulate each other that a few
of the superfluous females had been struck off."

-Rhoda Nunn to Monica Madden
ch. 4


message 7: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 16, 2011 10:51AM) (new)

It has taken me awhile to get my thoughts together on the first five chapters of The Odd Women. Thank you, Kristen and Elizabeth, for your interesting posts and like you, I am impressed with Gissing's opening chapters of this novel. Gissing is quite pro-feminist and definitely a sharp critic of the the way society was structured at this time in the way women were treated.
Some impressions: The novel places, front and center, life of the educated poor women of the middles class confronted with survival with no marketable assets other than their meager skills of teaching or the lowest levels of retail work. I think Gissing knew what he was writing about if my reading of his biographical sketch in any indication. It is a life on the slimmest of margins with no room for error. Gissing, of course, structures his story from the "odd women's" point of view, but I couldn't help thinking of others including men (Gissing, in fact) who faced similiar perdicaments.
Also, as would be expected, social class plays such a huge part in the simplest act of survival in this society. What is a lady? What is a gentleman?

Pg. 17: "Yet Virginia could not have been judged anything but a lady. She wore her garments as only a lady can--the position and movements of the arms has much to do with this--and had the step never to be to acquired by a person of vulgar instincts".

Pg. 32: Monica's impression of Edmund Widdowson: "And certainly his clothes were such as a gentleman wears. He had thin, hairy hands, unmarked by any effects of labour; the nails could have not been better cared for. Was it a bad sign that he carried neither glovers nor walking stick?"

These "markers" of Victorian gentility conceal more than they reveal but serve to reinforce an assessment of the class of the person observed.

Finally, the quote cited by Elizabeth (Alaska) (above) on "the odd women--no making a pair with them---" makes me wonder how the characters in the novel, Alice, Virginia, Monica and Rhoda will eventually come to terms with their given "station" in life as "odd women".


message 8: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Jul 16, 2011 11:16AM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) Jim wrote: "It is a life on the slimmest of margins with no room for error. Gissing, of course, structures his story from the "odd women's" point of view, but I couldn't help thinking of others including men (Gissing, in fact) who faced similiar perdicaments."

I couldn't help but think that Gissing knew whereof he wrote as Widdowson was giving his background. This is a slice of Victorian society that I don't recall reading in my, admittedly somewhat limited, experience of Victorian novels. The people were either poor and uneducated, or educated and able to secure some income above this level of poverty, either by inheritance or, particularly in the case of women, a relative who had the means of support.


message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

Good point, Elizabeth. Gissing's characters seem to me, to be more "immediate" i.e. Virginia and Alice. They are already living on starvation rations but are somehow convinced that they can pare their means even closer in terms of how many pence it will take to survive daily. I don't get this in Dickens, for instance. His characters, like you mentioned above, seem to be always able to find some means of continuing to live--or maybe we just expect Dickens to be able to "come up with" a plot line of rescue. (I'm putting this badly and can't really say exactly how well Gissing convinces me, a reader, of the seriousness of his character's poverty).


message 10: by Jackie (new)

Jackie Johnson (jrjohnson1408) The only novel I have ever read which goes into so much detail about survival in the lower levels of Victorian society is the Neo-Victorian novel The Quincunx, which I recently read. I didn't really expect to find it in The Odd Women. There is much more realism here than in, for instance, Charles Dickens. I can hardly wait to see what the rest of the novel brings.


message 11: by Anna (new)

Anna | 30 comments I agree Jackie. Gissing's approach is far more realistic than Dickens. Dicken's often portrays charicatures where Gissing is demonstrating a far more reaslistic portrait of women of this social class.

The writing is just so gripping. This is my first Gissing novel and he's clearly a marvellous storyteller.


message 12: by Ellie (new)

Ellie (elliearcher) | 85 comments Cranford is a much gentler look at poverty, it is also earlier in time before the full horror of the Industrial Revolution hit England. George Gissing is also, I think, more concerned with class analysis and the effects of poverty on people (especially artists) than Elizabeth Gaskell.

Not to mention, he struggled throughout his life with extreme poverty.

But his prose is so incredibly beautiful, I think. So controlled and balanced.


message 13: by Ellen (new)

Ellen (karenvirginiaflaxman) | 139 comments At long last I've found a copy of the book to purchase! It's being shipped and should be here soon. I'm very lucky that I'm a fairly fast reader; I hope to catch up with you all soon. Thanks!


Elizabeth (Alaska) Looking forward to reading your thoughts, Ellen.


message 15: by Ellen (new)

Ellen (karenvirginiaflaxman) | 139 comments Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "Looking forward to reading your thoughts, Ellen."

Thanks so much, Elizabeth. I am waiting patiently (or not!!) for it to arrive from the bookstore. I can't wait!!


message 16: by Mrsgaskell (new)

Mrsgaskell | 17 comments I'm enjoying The Odd Women very much! Gissing so realistically portrays the predicament of many Victorian women.

I was angered by Dr. Madden. If he was going to raise his daughters to be dependent, it was negligent of him not to provide for them. On the one hand he says, "I should grieve indeed if I thought my girls would ever have to distress themselves about money matters" and yet it is because of his delay in insuring his life that they are left in such dire straits. He had "resolved, always with postponement, to make some practical provision for his family..."

I re-read these first five chapters today and realised that I had probably missed some foreshadowing the first time around. When I first read this chapter Dr. Madden's death came as a complete surprise.

How sad and lonely the sisters' lives are and they seem so helpless. What a contrast Rhoda Nunn is - in charge of her life. Monica still hopes that her circumstances will change through marriage but I'm afraid for her when she meets Widdowson - not sure that he is representing his true self.

I was wondering if there was any special significance to Virginia's stopping at Charing Cross Station for a brandy.

So far, I'm surprised that this novel with its feminist theme is not more widely known and read. Already, my daughter can't wait until I'm finished so she can read it.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Mrsgaskell wrote: "I was wondering if there was any special significance to Virginia's stopping at Charing Cross Station for a brandy."

I think this is a glimpse of an alcoholic. I'd have to go back and reread some, but it seems to me that one of the things said about these Odd Women is that alcoholism plays a sad part.


message 18: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 66 comments Anna wrote: "I skimmed these first few chapters last night to remind myself of them and realized that there is something sinister in Gissing's introduction and description of Widdowson that I didn't catch last ..."

he's like a stalker. it is a little creepy.


message 19: by Mrsgaskell (new)

Mrsgaskell | 17 comments Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "Mrsgaskell wrote: "I was wondering if there was any special significance to Virginia's stopping at Charing Cross Station for a brandy."

I think this is a glimpse of an alcoholic. I'd have to go ba..."


That's kind of what I was suspecting and yet I wondered whether I'd read too much into it. So, nice to see I wasn't alone in thinking this. There have been no other indications so far re Virginia and she certainly wouldn't have much opportunity, or the funds, I would think. Will just have to read further along and see.


message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

#24 Allison
Thank goodness there is someone else late to enter this Buddy Read. I started OK but went on vacation and didn't have internet access--so got behind.

Interesting that the theme Gissing chooses for The Odd Women (material comforts of marriage vs. loss of independence) resonated into the 21st century. The independence route was definitely harder then (not that much choice in occupations and freedom of movement) but even worse is the padlocked chain that marriage tied to "man and wife". Marriage was pretty much final---divorce difficult if not impossible, and THEN the struggle to survive in the aftermath.


message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

#27 Very well put, Allison. The struggle for independence and fulfillment of yourself as a person continues probably more closely to the age of Gissing than we realize. I am amazed at how long it took for women to be allowed to vote, to control their own assets and to have an say in their personal futures. The world moves slowly.


message 22: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 66 comments Anna wrote: "Gissing provides a great platform for this discussion and gives us multiple outcomes of women's choices throughout the novel. None of them very successful. I wonder if we're meant to think there is no solution?"

I think Gissing is exposing the difficulties, pros and cons of all the choices and paths that are chosen. I don't think that necessarily means we are meant to think there is no solution. I think, rather, that he exposes the ideals of the traditional and the modern for what they are. I also think he does a great job at showing however great either ideal is, human nature gets in the way, as we see later in the book.


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