The the emancipation process through the experience of four


Odd Women was written by George Gissing, “an English novelist,
his complete name being George Robert Gissing, who was noted for the
unflinching realism of his novels about the lower middle class.” (Encyclopædia

First of all, it is important to highlight
the fact that Gissing’s book “surveys the emancipation process through the
experience of four women in their encounters with the shifting customs of the
time” (Korg 188). By the “four women” (ibid) Korg refers to the Madden sisters:
Virginia, Alice and Monica, and the independent woman, Rhoda Nunn, who are
struggling to cope with the rules of the society in which they live.

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On the one hand, The Odd Women by George Gissing includes the majority of the
feminist theories and the fact that this book can be analyzed from a feminist
approach makes it more interesting and easier to understand. Although, at first
sight, this book seems to be all about women, in fact, there is more than this
since there is also presented the idea of woman in men’s view. So, one could
say that it is a book about both women and men, about their opinions, desires and
about the way in which they (both of them) see women in society. Moreover, the setting
is placed in the Victorian period, in the late 19th century, thing
that might determine readers to assert that in those days there was a clear difference
between men, women and their perspectives on life. For instance, the main
points in this book are the conditions of unmarried women in the late 19th
century, the lack of career options for women, the meaning of marriage inside
society, the struggle of the women in order to overcome the economic problems
encountered and the consequences of an unhealthy relationship inside marriage.
(Dr. Maria Isabel Vila Cabanes,
Nineteenth-Century London Course) However, in all these situations or
processes, both women and men are involved. It is true that a great part of
them 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 to
female, it is meant to provide the sense of detachment. A good example of
detachment of those ideas full of injustice, discrimination is represented by
Rhoda Nunn, an independent and determined women who succeeds in staying firm to
her principles without paying attention to the ideas of the time, but just to
her own desires and way of perception. She doesn’t want to play the victim
role, 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 “the
spinster” (ibid) could represent a characteristic of the feminist approach, because
through them, there are depicted some faces of women.

On the other hand, the novel can be
perceived from a New Criticism approach in which symbols and themes represent
an important role in the characters’ life.

Marriage has a great importance in the
society, especially for women, because they were considered nothing without a
man along them. As far as marriage is considered there are some different
elements that have to be taken into account such as the difference between
women and men referring to society, “the problem of working-class women” (Dr.
Maria Isabel Vila Cabanes, Nineteenth-Century London Course) in that period and
the social roles of women.

As respects to the divorce in the
Victorian society, even if women were not allowed to ask for divorce, if they
succeeded in doing it somehow, men were still the ones with full rights even on
the children. Unfortunately, men had the absolute power in that period and
women were forced to sustain it or to cope with it. (Millet 131)

following quote supports the previous ideas and makes them more understandable:

 He has some impressive legal and historical
evidence. Although a husband might divorce his wife, a wife could not escape
her husband (…) Under the law, as Mill points out, the father own the children
entirely. 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 to
return. Divorce (…) would seem the least concession in a system where ‘a woman
is denied any lot in life but that of being the personal body- servant of a
despot’. (Millet 131)

So, briefly reading what was mentioned in
the previous paragraphs, it is necessary to point out the fact that the work
itself is the one that really matters as far as this novel is concerned and as
the New Criticism theory highlights. From this point of view one could
highlight the fact that the author or any other aspect aren’t important, but
the text, what is depicted there and the way in which one perceives what
happens. Even if there is a bond between the text and the impact it has on the
reader, they are not confused. Feminism in the late 19th century and the way in
which the women succeed in coping with the encountered issues represent the
main subject of discussion as far as The
Odd Women is concerned. Also, if one tries to analyze the text, it’s enough
to have a close reading (Shmoop
Editorial Team, New Criticism Buzzwords)
in order to understand the meaning of the whole text, because there is nothing
outside it that could distract readers. By analyzing the context in which the action
takes place, the symbols and the characters, one can easily understand what is
in 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 to
assert that she is superior from many points of view to Madden sisters:

 “Miss Nunn entered. Younger only by a year or
two than Virginia, she was yet far from presenting any sorrowful image of a
person on the way to old maidenhood. (…) Self-confidence, intellectual
keenness, a bright humor, frank courage, were traits legible enough; and whe
the lips parted to show their warmth, their fullness, when the eyelids drooped
a little in meditation, one became aware of a suggestiveness directed not
solely to the intellect, of something like an unfamiliar or sexual type, remote
indeed from the voluptuous, but hinting a possibility of subtle feminine forces
that might be released by circumstance” (Gissing 20)

Later, in the text, one receives the
confirmation of the previous deduction, but it is interesting that everybody is
able, from the beginning, to realize the difference between them without
reading too much or having some additional knowledge.

The last, but not the least approach one could
apply 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 she
has to accomplish what her father let undone. The situation presents her
discussing about the inheritance for Monica, her youngest sister and about the
fact that she has to keep it safe until Monica is 18 years old, because she is
sure that her father would have done the same. So, the reader might perceive that
she tries to act like him, to find some peace doing something good, to create
her own therapy. As far as this concept is concerned, Monica could also
represent an example, because she sees in Edward, her husband, the figure of
his father and because of that she starts loving him and shifting to him the
feelings and emotions which actually represented what she felt for her father
in childhood.

Also, it is necessary to point out one of
the ideas of Jacques Lacan, respectively the concept of the Other (Shmoop
Editorial Team, Jacques Lacan’s Buzzwords)
which is supported by the following example: Monica Madden, the youngest
sister, is trying to cope with her interior decisions, opinions and with the
rules of society. She knows what she actually represents, that she is different
and wants to become an independent woman, but there are some boundaries of the
society that stops her from behaving naturally. It is, somehow, a fight between
inside and outside, between the little other
(ibid) and the Big Other (ibid)

In conclusion, Gissing’s book represents a
mixture between feminist aspects, concepts used by the new critics and some
psychoanalytic concepts which help the reader to achieve a better understanding
of the text, making it easy to analyze. In the same time, if we base on every
theory presented in the text, every concept on the edge, we will become able to
form our own opinion.