TheOdd Women was written by George Gissing, “an English novelist,his complete name being George Robert Gissing, who was noted for theunflinching realism of his novels about the lower middle class.” (EncyclopædiaBritannica)First of all, it is important to highlightthe fact that Gissing’s book “surveys the emancipation process through theexperience of four women in their encounters with the shifting customs of thetime” (Korg 188). By the “four women” (ibid) Korg refers to the Madden sisters:Virginia, Alice and Monica, and the independent woman, Rhoda Nunn, who arestruggling to cope with the rules of the society in which they live.On the one hand, The Odd Women by George Gissing includes the majority of thefeminist theories and the fact that this book can be analyzed from a feministapproach makes it more interesting and easier to understand. Although, at firstsight, this book seems to be all about women, in fact, there is more than thissince there is also presented the idea of woman in men’s view.
So, one couldsay that it is a book about both women and men, about their opinions, desires andabout the way in which they (both of them) see women in society. Moreover, the settingis placed in the Victorian period, in the late 19th century, thingthat might determine readers to assert that in those days there was a clear differencebetween men, women and their perspectives on life. For instance, the mainpoints in this book are the conditions of unmarried women in the late 19thcentury, the lack of career options for women, the meaning of marriage insidesociety, the struggle of the women in order to overcome the economic problemsencountered and the consequences of an unhealthy relationship inside marriage.(Dr.
Maria Isabel Vila Cabanes,Nineteenth-Century London Course) However, in all these situations orprocesses, both women and men are involved. It is true that a great part ofthem reflects on women, but it doesn’t mean that Feminism refers just to women.It also points out that despite the fact the name itself seems to be closed tofemale, it is meant to provide the sense of detachment. A good example ofdetachment of those ideas full of injustice, discrimination is represented byRhoda Nunn, an independent and determined women who succeeds in staying firm toher principles without paying attention to the ideas of the time, but just toher own desires and way of perception.
She doesn’t want to play the victimrole, so she tries to build her own destiny. Also, stereotypes of women such as”the fallen women” (Peterson 63), “the angel in the house” (ibid) and “thespinster” (ibid) could represent a characteristic of the feminist approach, becausethrough them, there are depicted some faces of women. On the other hand, the novel can beperceived from a New Criticism approach in which symbols and themes representan important role in the characters’ life. Marriage has a great importance in thesociety, especially for women, because they were considered nothing without aman along them. As far as marriage is considered there are some differentelements that have to be taken into account such as the difference betweenwomen and men referring to society, “the problem of working-class women” (Dr.Maria Isabel Vila Cabanes, Nineteenth-Century London Course) in that period andthe social roles of women.As respects to the divorce in theVictorian society, even if women were not allowed to ask for divorce, if theysucceeded in doing it somehow, men were still the ones with full rights even onthe children.
Unfortunately, men had the absolute power in that period andwomen were forced to sustain it or to cope with it. (Millet 131) Thefollowing quote supports the previous ideas and makes them more understandable: He has some impressive legal and historicalevidence. Although a husband might divorce his wife, a wife could not escapeher husband (…) Under the law, as Mill points out, the father own the childrenentirely. Should his wife leave him, she is entitled to take nothing with her,and her husband may, if he wishes to exercise his legal rights compel her toreturn.
Divorce (…) would seem the least concession in a system where ‘a womanis denied any lot in life but that of being the personal body- servant of adespot’. (Millet 131) So, briefly reading what was mentioned inthe previous paragraphs, it is necessary to point out the fact that the workitself is the one that really matters as far as this novel is concerned and asthe New Criticism theory highlights. From this point of view one couldhighlight the fact that the author or any other aspect aren’t important, butthe text, what is depicted there and the way in which one perceives whathappens.
Even if there is a bond between the text and the impact it has on thereader, they are not confused. Feminism in the late 19th century and the way inwhich the women succeed in coping with the encountered issues represent themain subject of discussion as far as TheOdd Women is concerned. Also, if one tries to analyze the text, it’s enoughto have a close reading (ShmoopEditorial Team, New Criticism Buzzwords)in order to understand the meaning of the whole text, because there is nothingoutside it that could distract readers. By analyzing the context in which the actiontakes place, the symbols and the characters, one can easily understand what isin the text about, without needing too much knowledge or studies in the field.
(ibid) For example, when read the description of Rhoda Nunn, it becomes easy toassert that she is superior from many points of view to Madden sisters: “Miss Nunn entered. Younger only by a year ortwo than Virginia, she was yet far from presenting any sorrowful image of aperson on the way to old maidenhood. (…) Self-confidence, intellectualkeenness, a bright humor, frank courage, were traits legible enough; and whethe lips parted to show their warmth, their fullness, when the eyelids droopeda little in meditation, one became aware of a suggestiveness directed notsolely to the intellect, of something like an unfamiliar or sexual type, remoteindeed from the voluptuous, but hinting a possibility of subtle feminine forcesthat might be released by circumstance” (Gissing 20)Later, in the text, one receives theconfirmation of the previous deduction, but it is interesting that everybody isable, from the beginning, to realize the difference between them withoutreading too much or having some additional knowledge. The last, but not the least approach one couldapply to this text is represented by the psychoanalytic one called transference (Shmoop Editorial Team, Sigmund Freud). There is depicted a situation in which one of the sisters,Virginia, associates herself with the figure of her father, being sure that shehas to accomplish what her father let undone. The situation presents herdiscussing about the inheritance for Monica, her youngest sister and about thefact that she has to keep it safe until Monica is 18 years old, because she issure that her father would have done the same.
So, the reader might perceive thatshe tries to act like him, to find some peace doing something good, to createher own therapy. As far as this concept is concerned, Monica could alsorepresent an example, because she sees in Edward, her husband, the figure ofhis father and because of that she starts loving him and shifting to him thefeelings and emotions which actually represented what she felt for her fatherin childhood. Also, it is necessary to point out one ofthe ideas of Jacques Lacan, respectively the concept of the Other (ShmoopEditorial Team, Jacques Lacan’s Buzzwords)which is supported by the following example: Monica Madden, the youngestsister, is trying to cope with her interior decisions, opinions and with therules of society. She knows what she actually represents, that she is differentand wants to become an independent woman, but there are some boundaries of thesociety that stops her from behaving naturally. It is, somehow, a fight betweeninside and outside, between the little other(ibid) and the Big Other (ibid) In conclusion, Gissing’s book represents amixture between feminist aspects, concepts used by the new critics and somepsychoanalytic concepts which help the reader to achieve a better understandingof the text, making it easy to analyze. In the same time, if we base on everytheory presented in the text, every concept on the edge, we will become able toform our own opinion.