Bookish Discussions

The Odd Women | A Remarkably Feminist Victorian Story

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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.

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Bookish Discussions

Man Booker Prize 2018: Milkman

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Oh God, how do I even begin to formulate my thoughts on this…

Milkman is the story of an unnamed eighteen-year-old girl living in an unnamed city. She has attracted the unwanted and unavoidable attention of a powerful and frightening older man, Milkman. In this community, where suggestions quickly become fact, where gossip and hearsay can lead to terrible consequences, what can she do to stop a rumour once it has started? Milkman is persistent, the word is spreading, and she is no longer in control…

This was a very difficult read. It’s very modern in that sense. Anna Burns wants you to work for the deeper meaning of the story. She does not hand it to you on a plate, like your average nineteenth-century writer does (which, as you’ll know, is my fave type of read). The language is overly flowery and there’s some odd metaphors stuck in there. I was lost a lot of the time, but I’m thankful that the audiobook managed to keep me on track. I don’t think I would have finished it without the help of my free trial on Scribd.

But this difficulty added to the complexity of the novel. The jarring narration and the weird images made the core of the story all the more riveting. A teenage girl who’s livelihood is affected by gossip (about her sexuality) and is essentially being controlled by a man. She lives in fear of this man, wondering when he will next pop up. Milkman knows her routine; she evens quits running just to avoid him. The simple fact that women, especially young women, are forced to give up her hobby because a man has intruded in her space is a familiar one.

The feminist undertones were strong and powerful in this one.

The lack of names allows us, as readers, to place ourselves within this situation. To mark the similarities between our society and this unnamed one.

But is it unnamed? 

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Bookish Discussions · Reviews

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman:

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Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars | Read: 1 February – 4 February, 2018.

If you don’t already know, 2018 is the bicentenary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It was published on January the first, 1818. To celebrate this, I’ll be dedicating a week’s worth of posts to Shelley. To begin with, I wanted to discuss her mother’s book, A Vindication to the Rights of Woman. I thought this would be apt as this year also marks the hundredth anniversary of some women gaining the rights to vote.

Mary Wollstonecraft set out to change the way women were treated by penning this ‘passionate and forthright’ (Penguin Classics) attack on society. In what is arguably the first feminist text, Wollstonecraft ‘laid out the principles of emancipation: an equal education for girls and boys, an end to prejudice and a plea for women to become defined by their professions, not their partner’. As one can already assume, this was extremely unconventional for the time. It remained controversial for years to come, ultimately being brushed under the carpet to rot and wither away. Society chose not to embrace Wollstonecraft’s plea for liberation. However, A Vindication for the Rights of Woman was hugely influential for many writers, such as Woolf and Mill. Slowly, but surely, Wollstonecraft was becoming the mother of modern feminism. In the nineteenth century we find the odd echo of her plea, whereas now we see it embedded in a whole host of books.

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