Currently reading

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.


Filed under Books, Fiction

8 responses to “Currently reading

  1. Your description of The Odd Women reminds me very much of a BBC series called the House of Eliott, in which two penniless sisters open a dressmaking business. I have always meant to watch this; I’m not sure if it was based on a book but it sounds like this was a very common theme for any books or films written or set during that time.

    I hope your schedule eases up soon. You sound very tired and perhaps a light book of essays like Fadiman’s would be the best medicine?


  2. This sounds like a good book. I have Gissing’s Grub Street on my Kindle and I am antsy to read it but have so many other books going on I can’t possibly add another.

    Congrats on finishing The Recognitions! I am impressed. It is a hard book to keep up with. I am still hoping to get back to it because I would like to finish it.


  3. Sounds like a great book. I love the definition of “odd” here. If you’re looking for a really good (but scary) nonfiction book to read, I highly recommend Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, which I’m in the midst of reading. She tells a whopping good story and seems to have be an extraordinarily thorough researcher. Hobs might like it, too, given his trip to El Salvador last year.


  4. So impressed that you have finished the Gaddis – do crosspost to the site, won’t you, if you write about it. And it doesn’t have to be smart – anything to explain it or even to tell us what happens would be just great! And glad Gissing is so good, I’d vaguely heard of him so it’s very interesting to be properly filled in.


  5. I found this a fascinating read also. Gissing is one of the few men published under the Virago imprint, I am guessing because of his sympathetic portrayal of the ‘woman problem’. There is so much in this novel about women’s status, but did you notice that it’s kind of about two women making a living in the big city who are named Mary and Rhoda?


  6. Congrats on finishing the Gaddis book. I’m not sure he’s an author I would ever try and read, but his works certainly look very impressive! Now the Gissing does sound like one I would enjoy and will have to keep an eye out for it. Good luck on wrapping things up for the end of the semester!


  7. Debby — my schedule is easing up a bit, which is good, but I still haven’t begun a nonfiction book yet. Maybe this weekend? Fadiman does seem like an excellent choice. I’d love to see the BBC series you mention — it sounds very good!

    Stefanie — I’m very, very glad to have finished the Gaddis! It was weighing on me. I think I’ll stay away from super long difficult books for a while! I’d like to read Grub Street too, particularly since I’m enjoying The Odd Women so much. He’s a much better author than I ever realized.

    Emily — there’s definitely a lot to think about in the Gissing, which I always appreciate. And I’ve heard really good things about the Klein book — good that you’re enjoying it so much! She seems like a fascinating person.

    Litlove — I’d only vaguely heard of Gissing too, but I’ve been in the mood to read some lesser-known Victorians, and I’m glad I picked him up. It continues to be a fascinating book! And if I do post on Gaddis, I’ll definitely cross-post it. But, as you can probably guess, even telling what happens is a little complicated… 🙂

    Melanie — how interesting that Gissing was published by Virago! That does speak highly of him, in my opinion. To be honest, I had to look up what you meant by Mary and Rhoda … a little embarrassing!

    Danielle — I think you’d enjoy the Gissing if you decided to read him. It’s such a good read, and it offers so much to think about too. It’s a great way to learn something about women’s lives near the end of the century.


  8. Pingback: George Gissing’s The Odd Women « Of Books and Bicycles

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