The Odd Women

By George Gissing ; Patricia Ingham | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

The title of George Gissing novel The Odd Women ( 1893) is in its way as provocative as the subtitle 'A Pure Woman' that Hardy added belatedly to Tess of the D'Urbervilles ( 1891). It is a play on the then fashionable topic of the New Woman which enjoyed its heyday in the first half of the 1890s. In using it Gissing is alluding to W. R. Greg famous article "Why are Women Redundant?" in The National Review1 in which women are seen as redundant because at a marriageable age their numbers exceed those of their male counterparts. He sees the 'cure' as emigration and an acceptance of the poverty that marriage may bring to less wealthy couples. As Rhoda Nunn explains the bad news to Monica Madden, 'there are half a million more women than men in this unhappy country of ours... So many odd women--no making a pair with them. The pessimists call them useless, lost, futile lives' (p. 44). New Woman novels challenged the belief that unmarried women were 'lost' lives (using an adjective often applied to prostitutes) by showing in a romantic fashion that women really only found their full identity outside the constraints of contemporary marriage. In such novels as Sarah Grand The Heavenly Twins ( 1893) and The Yellow Aster by ' Iota' ( 1894) the heroines strike grand attitudes while rejecting marriage before or after the event. A single life, it is asserted, is a choice, the best choice, not an imposition (though that only seems to be true if a marriage is on offer). Usually, however, as in these two texts, the women either submit to a husband or the fictional alternative--death.

Gissing satirizes these romantic accounts of the New Woman by changing the epithet. In doing so he takes up Greg's conventional perception of unmarried women as superfluous because 'unpaired' and makes the point that this involves seeing them as 'odd' in the more common sense of 'abnormal, eccentric'. They are generally viewed as marginal not just numerically but in relation to the ideal of womanhood. The change from singular to plural in the noun 'woman' is a challenge to the idea of a unitary 'woman' that is pushed further by the wide range of individual women who people

____________________
1
The National Review, 14 ( 1862), 434-60.

-vii-

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The Odd Women
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • THE ODD WOMEN i
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS vi
  • Introduction vii
  • NOTE ON THE TEXT xxvi
  • SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY xxviii
  • A CHRONOLOGY OF GEORGE GISSING xxx
  • Contents 4
  • 1 - The Fold and the Shepherd 5
  • 2 - Adrift 11
  • 3 - An Independent Woman 25
  • 4 - Monica's Majority 31
  • 5 - The Casual Acquaintance 46
  • 6 - A Camp of the Reserve 59
  • 7 - A Social Advance 72
  • 8 - Cousin Everard 87
  • 9 - The Simple Faith 100
  • 10 - First Principles 110
  • 11 - At Nature's Bidding 120
  • 12 - Weddings 130
  • 13 - Discord of Leaders 142
  • 14 - Motives Meeting 155
  • 15 - The Joys of Home 167
  • 16 - Health from the Sea 181
  • 17 - The Triumph 194
  • 18 - A Reinforcement 209
  • 19 - The Clank of the Chains 219
  • 20 - The First Lie 227
  • 21 - Towards the Decisive 235
  • 22 - Honour in Difficulties 247
  • 23 - In Ambush 262
  • 24 - Tracked 271
  • 25 - The Fate of the Ideal 281
  • 26 - The Unideal Tested 297
  • 27 - The Reascent 310
  • 28 - The Burden of Futile Souls 325
  • 29 - Confession and Counsel 338
  • 30 - Retreat with Honour 352
  • 31 - A New Beginning 362
  • EXPLANATORY NOTES 372
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