This book was written in 1892 and was published the following year. The Odd Women in the title are those half a million or so ‘superfluous’ females who are never going to find a husband because of the imbalance of the sexes at the time.
Monica Madden was one of them, along with her two older sisters, and they had struggled to earn a living since the early death of their parents. Monica is wearing herself away at a place of business, a sort of shop/warehouse, where she has to spend many hours on her feet, in an unhealthy atmosphere.
Miss Barfoot and Miss Nunn are two unmarried ladies who are dedicating their lives to the betterment of young women, hoping to educate them with office skills and the ability to support themselves in independent lives, with no need to rely on men to look after them. Monica takes the opportunity to leave her workplace in the hope of finding something better after she has had some training, but her heart isn’t really in it and she ends up marrying a man more than twice her age whom she hardly knows at all. Basically Monica married her stalker, Edmund Widdowson, who had become infatuated with the young girl and it wasn’t long before Monica was being suffocated by his possessive and jealous behaviour. It can only end in tears!
Free union is spoken of by other characters, in other words living together as a married couple but without the legal formalities. That subject was about 80 odd years ahead of the times in my neck of the woods anyway – where anyone contemplating that was ‘living in sin’ and would be ‘the talk of the steamie’ right up until about the 1980s!
I had read differing reviews of this book – some people really enjoying it and others finding it a bit meh. I have to say that I was on the side of those who were underwhelmed by it until about half way through, when for me anyway it began to pick up and I did end up by enjoying it. It isn’t a book which I would ever want to revisit though.
George Gissing evidently had a low opinion of women but he seems to have married women that he barely knew, his first wife was a prostitute so the relationship was unlikely to be all hearts and roses – she took to the bottle. The characters who get married in the book do so to escape from unsatisfactory situations but only end up with another set of problems. Frying pan to fire.
As I was born in the 1950s – just – I found the subject matter quite surprising because things didn’t seem to have moved on that far when I was growing up. There was still the belief that if a woman wasn’t married by the time she was 21 then she was ‘on the shelf’ and doomed to a miserable life, always living with her parents – a perpetual child until the parents grew old and then the unmarried daughter became their carer.
Mothers, including my own, actually said that there was no point in bothering about (putting effort into) daughters because they would only end up pushing a pram anyway. We could have been doing with some ambitious women as role models back then but the phrase ‘career women’ was spoken like a dirty word then. How times have changed.