"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."
George Gissing's The Odd Women is a fascinating social document, although not perhaps a Great Novel. It is a study of those "odd women" of British society, circa 1890. It follows the careers of 5 women who are struggling to find their place within this society. There is Mary Barfoot, and Rhoda Nunn, who together run a school to train young women to self-sufficiency in work as clerks. There is also a trio of sisters, Virginia, Alice and Monica Madden. Virginia and Alice are two 'old maids' who struggle in menial, slave-like child minding positions, and turn to drink to survive. Their much younger sister Monica dooms herself by marrying a very much older, incompatible, jealous man rather than turn out like them. The social criticism is still sharp and relevant today, although tempered by the fact that Gissing was not a complete suffragist; he felt that most women were weak minded and useless, but it was society and weak minded men who were partly to blame. The novel is hampered by the feeling that the characters are too nearly representative than individual, but it is absorbing and even distressing at times. It does make you realize how fortunate we are today, even with so much change left to accomplish. It is well worth reading for a picture of life in 1890's England, for these women so often overlooked.
And is it only me, or does anyone else see an inspiration for a tv show in this story of two single women, named Mary and Rhoda, making their living in the big city?