Saturday, February 27, 2010

21: The Odd Women

The Odd Women, George Gissing

The Odd Women is acutely aware of misery.

The title refers to unmarried women in Victorian society, when women outnumbered men and had virtually no way of earning a dignified living, aside from making a suitable marriage. Being brought up to be a lady and educated to be a lady, an odd woman could only obtain work as a governess or a companion - both unhappy position. The Bronte sisters wrote volumes on the indignity of being a governess (particularly the whiny one, Anne) and Jane Fairfax's unbearable fate in Emma, which she evades by marrying, is that of a governess.

In the vein of Jane Fairfax and Anne Bronte comes the Madden sisters. Daughters of a doctor who died before purchasing life insurance, they were educated to be ladies. They were taught to read poetry, pour tea, stitch cushions - all in line with the lives of well-to-do ladies. With the death of their father and the end of comfortable income, the girls are packed off to their destinations, based on their abilities. Their numbers are sadly diminished by half through the course of a few years and the remaining ones are Alice, Virginia and pretty Monica. The poor girls try to make their way in life through marriage, alcohol and acute unhappiness.

In contrast to the Maddens girls, the very independent and capable Rhoda Nunn advocates independence of women. She would rather that all girls be equipped for some profession and not be groomed solely for marriage.

I liked this book for the Gissing's social commentaries on the times. He must have sisters because he seems to sympathize with the plight of the girls.

This blog has been sadly neglected for some time. I will try to remedy that with a series of short-ish reviews, starting with this one.