Bookish Discussions

The Odd Women | A Remarkably Feminist Victorian Story


I think I love George Gissing.

I mean, I’ve only read two of his books, but he is magnificent.

One of my favourite Victorian authors of all-time. No doubt.

So, The Odd Women. Opposing the “New Woman” fiction of the era, Gissing satirises the image and portrays unmarried women as “odd” for not wanting to marry. Set in grimy London, these odd women range from the idealistic, financially self-sufficient Mary Barfoot to the Madden sisters, who struggle to subsist in low paying jobs and little chance for joy. Is marriage the be-all and end-all for Victorian women?

It is a powerful story of women fighting against their so-called “duty”: marriage.

Gissing wrote such emotive passages on the plight of marriage, especially seen through Monica Madden, who sadly gives into this ideal and lives a very unhappy life. Gissing suggests that marriage isn’t always the best option for women in the Victorian period. Yes, it might have secured them financially and advanced their social position, but it poses a threat to their health and happiness.

It was Monica’s story that was the most distressing to read. Viewed as the prettiest of six sisters, Monica’s duty is to marry. Growing up, however, she finds the Odd Women movement enticing. A life of liberty – with freedom to move as and when she pleases, to work for a living, to make her own choices? Heaven.

But Mr Widdowson is persistent.

Essentially a stalker, grooming her and following her around. Invading her space. Inviting his own company and opinion on her life. Monica is soon trapped. Marriage to this odious man, it seems, is the only answer.

And so a life of misery ensues.

Through this couple, Gissing explores the often unspoken truth of marriage. Abuse. Emotional and physical. Monica’s physical and mental health quickly deteriorates and she finds herself limited to certain company and time frame. I passionately hate Mr Widdowson. He basically forces her into marriage by endlessly stalking her and then starts to control her. He even talks about murdering her simply because she defied him by going out.

It’s just horrifying.

And, because of that, I’m pretty disappointed by Monica’s ending. I won’t spoil it, but considering it’s a story about women fighting against the patriarchy and the life that is written for them, I’m quite annoyed that Gissing chose to end it this way. It wasn’t fair to Monica, and what type of message does it send to his readers?

Not a very hopeful one…

Saying this, the book was full of strong, feminist characters. It has such an important message buried in the narrative. The powerful passages on how marriage was essentially a trap for women were my favourite parts. It was so modern and radical in tone that I was quite shocked at the audacity of Gissing at times.

Honestly, such a amazing story. I would definitely recommend this. It’s accessible, modern, dramatic and emotive. I can’t wait to pick up more of Gissing’s work – the two I’ve read so far haven’t disappointed me.

Have you read The Odd Women? What’s your favourite feminist story?

Thanks for reading, Lauren X


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