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The Odd Women (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – December 15, 2008

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About the Author

Patricia Ingham is a Fellow at St Anne's College, Oxford.

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Product Details

  • Series: Oxford World's Classics
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; Reissue edition (December 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199538301
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199538300
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 0.9 x 5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #463,231 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Reviewer on May 14, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A tale of two romances: 1) a stern rigid older man marries a young woman just at the moment of her awakening to her own identity, a marriage regarded as a mistake by many of their acquaintances, and 2) two prideful, willful people, both intelligent and morally ambitious, both of whom have been scornful of conventional marriage, struggle against being "in love". And that, dear readers, is all I intend to offer in precis of this book.

But wow! I'm agog! I thought, with all the arrogance of Alexander, that there were no more great 'Victorian' English novels to conquer. I was premature; "The Odd Women" is deep, well-constructed and entertaining, a veritable Platonic Form of the 19th C novel of manners. It's a didactic, reformist novel -- what else? -- but its moral tenor is well incorporated into its character development and its reformism is neither pious nor dogmatic. The subject IS marriage and the liberation of women from patriarchal inanition; George Gissing certainly presented himself as a advocate for "the new woman" of self-reliance and unconventionality. Nonetheless, he was an Englishman of his times, highly sensitive to social class, burdened with assumptions and prejudices of class; he positioned himself at the forefront of progressive opinion, no doubt, but still within the spectrum thereof.

Gissing bears comparison in many ways to the American novelist Henry James. Gissing was 14 years younger than James, though one would not easily guess it from their novels, yet died a decade earlier. James was by far the more adventurous stylist, but Gissing's characters are more flesh-and-blood, more likely to compel a reader's empathy. Gissing is also a plainer story teller, less susceptible to parentheses and adverbial subtleties.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By H. Schneider on September 14, 2010
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During the late 19th century, Britain experienced a serious demographic imbalance, when the sex structure of the population had a substantial majority of females. An estimate of 500,000 is mentioned. These `surplus' women were not `pairable' and were called `odd women'. The ambivalence of the word must surely have motivated Gissing to use the word for his title. The novel focuses on the changing role of women in the social fabric.
The `normal' role for women, as defined by the middle class point of view, was the housewife and mother, without education, without income, without own head. A single woman, a working woman, an educated woman was an abnormality. The fate of married women was some kind of lottery as well. Their normal lot was obedience. Divorce was ruled out, property rights were shaped after the male interest, child custody was always with the men in case of breakup of a family.

What happens when there are suddenly thousands of single women who have no provider, no fortune, no training, and no prospects? The novel goes into the sociology and economics of the life of single women, but don't be afraid of a pamphlet. This is a very strong piece of social writing from the late Victorian period. It was published 1892. Gissing was socially conscious, but neither was he a democrat, nor did he honestly sympathize with the fate of the poor classes. At least he was decent enough to reject the term `lower classes', but he didn't seem to realize the contradiction that this produced, as his middle class heroines are just as poor as working class women, and surely just as miserable. His sympathies were with the `de-classed', impoverished middle classes. He had contempt for the uneducated proletarian underdog. He was not in all respects an admirable person.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 22, 2010
Format: Paperback
The novel opens in 1872, with Dr Madden and his six daughters living together in a form of domestic harmony which has not prepared the daughters for independent life outside their childhood home.

Alas, this harmony is quickly destroyed. When the need arises for the sisters to earn an income, they face a number of challenges. It is hard for them to reconcile their middle-class respectability and their lack of employment related training with their need to earn income. Marriage is unlikely to be an option for at least two of the sisters because of their relative disadvantage in a society with an oversupply of females relative to males. As the sisters are grappling with this new and harsh reality, an acquaintance of theirs - Rhoda Nunn and her friend Mary Barfoot are assisting women to train for employment. The contrast between the hindrances of the old and the possibilities of the new world for women could not be greater. Are the Madden sisters able to rise to the challenge, and adapt? Is it possible for women to be both married and independent?

I enjoyed this novel for three main reasons. Firstly, the novel explores a number of important class and gender issues in late Victorian culture. Secondly, none of the characters is without flaw. While it is possible to prefer one set of choices over another, no choice is without some cost. Finally, the writing itself guides rather than chides the reader through a story that represents the beginning of an enormous social change - for both men and women.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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