I’m about a third of the way through George Gissing’s 1893 novel The Odd Women and am enjoying it immensely. I had little idea of what to expect, except what the title might indicate, and the title could mean a whole range of things. But the “odd” of the title turns out to mean “not even,” as in not part of a couple, or in other words, the problem of the many, many women who have no means of support because they haven’t been trained to support themselves and don’t have a husband or father or some other male to take care of them. There are five women at the novel’s center, three of them sisters who unexpectedly lose their father, who was always intending to save money but never did. These three are left to fend for themselves, without any inkling of how to do this.
The other two women are similarly on their own, but are lucky to have enough money to live independently. They make use of their comfortable position to devote all their time to helping women such as the three sisters get the training they need to find jobs or start businesses for themselves. They also have long conversations about whether women should get married or should refuse marriage in favor of complete independence, and are generally at the forefront of the feminist movement of the time.
There are some odd issues with class in the novel, but so far I’m impressed at how forward-thinking and sympathetic Gissing is about “the woman problem.” I love how open, relatively speaking, the book is about sexuality and marriage and gender dynamics, and also about money and work. I’m also pleased that I’m reading this book right after finishing a Barbara Pym novel, since Pym also writes about a version of “the woman problem,” in her case, about the uncertain social role of single and married women after World War II.
As for other books I’m reading, I finally finished The Recognitions! I’m very pleased about this. I feel as though I should write a wrap-up post about the book, and I may do it at some point, but the truth is, I don’t really feel up to it. I’d feel as though I needed to write something smart about it, and I don’t have the energy to try to sound smart right now. At any rate, I’m glad I read the book, and I’m also glad it’s over.
So for now I’m sticking to two books, the Gissing novel, and the complete Montaigne, which I recently picked back up again after ignoring it for a month or two. I’m contemplating starting another nonfiction book, but I’m wary of taking on what might come to feel like too much. I’ve been so busy, and although my schedule is easing up a bit, I’ll still be busy for a while, and I’d prefer to have fewer books on the go, so I can focus what reading time I have a bit better.
But, I may feel tempted … I’ve considered picking up Ann Fadiman’s At Large and At Small, or perhaps one of the several science books I own, or maybe a Richard Holmes biography. We’ll see.