(So, as we say in the business; readers who do not wish to learn details of the plot can skip this review at your own wish…)
The Odd Women touches many concepts of matrimony in relation to contemporary values. Marriage always causes dissent in inequality, for instance, the divorce and marriage property law being disadvantageous to married women. One of the concepts would be that many characters, including Mr. Micklethwaite the mathematical scholar and Mr. Widdowson, the middle-aged bachelor, who later became Monica’s husband, all emphasized the importance and practicability of the notion of “man and wife” of the time – the female of singularity becomes a unity in subordination to her husband dutifully and financially in accordance to Ruskin’s school of thought concerning domesticity; on the other hand, it is perceived as manliness to save a wretched single woman from that fate. “Woman’s sphere is the home, Monica. Unfortunately girls are often obliged to go out and earn their living, but this is unnatural, a necessity which advanced civilization will altogether abolish…” Ostensibly, each and every woman might accept it but in Monica’s case her entrenched idea instilled by Rhoda and Miss Barfoot’s institution influenced deeply in her to liken her treatment of housebreaking into what is said on a stage of confinement as well as a maidservant on the discretion of allowance, permission and submission at Mr. Widdowson’s wishes. “All that was needed was resolution on my part. I have been absurdly weak, and weakness in the husband means unhappiness in the wife. From today you look to me for guidance. – I am no tyrant, but I shall rule you for your own good.”
The conventional notion of submission and condescension between husband and wife engender inequality in an institution of marriage, especially when it is based on a ground without a admittance of love as an irrational human infallibility. “Done, in the name of Morality. Done, in the interests of Virtue. Done, in an age of progress, and under the most prefect government on the face of the earth.” (Man and Wife (1870), Wilkie Collins) Ironically enough, in Monica and Mr. Widdowson’s marriage, although Ruskin’s school of thought prevails in Widdowson’s tirade and doctrine to Monica, unyielding to obey to her husband and position overriding another, it is a defeat upon man’s weakness; as a result, dishonour, infidelity and jealousy are the only components to define it all. “Ten years hence, would she have subdued her soul to a life of weary insignificance, if not of dishonour? For it was dishonour to live with a man she could not love, whether her heart cherished another image or was merely vacant. A dishonour to which innumerable women submitted, a dishonour glorified by social precept, enforced under dread penalties.” Anthony Trollope’s He Knew He was Right (1869) is another novel to examine the poignancy of a matrimonial relationship based on husband’s jealously and faith. Marriage evolves into a battle ground of stubbornness and manliness, as well as irrational competition to outmaneuver another sex thereby restoring self-esteem as being embroiled in a nuptial life. “He could not but remember the many nights when he thus kept watch in Walworth Road and in Rutland Street, with jealousy, then too, burning in his heart, but also with amorous ardours, never again to be revived. A little more than twelve months ago! And he had waited, longed for marriage through half a lifetime.”
Concerning imbalance of marriage statuses in sexes, misogynistic and negative attitudes towards women in nuptial relationship could be found throughout the novel. Trifling of trivialities described in women would be commonplace to describe them. “Narrow social opportunity has something to do with it. They must marry some one, and in the case of most men choice is seriously restricted.” To cure of fairer sex’s ambivalence of emotions, sentimentality and to reform it into swiftness and resourcefulness would be a motto of Barfoot’s institution in educating girls of the new generation. Doing deeds “for the happiness of men” is mentioned throughout the novel. Women Invasion, a new ruler of work, a new ruler of home, as well as being beneficial to the goods of men, is questionable. (Men demand so much from women, to be engaged in domestic household and require them to be subordinate to themselves. what kinds of women would they ask for?) Overall, men and women are dependable and inseparable when talking about women’s reformation and feminism, it should be of an equal status. Actually, I think of Robert Bly’s Iron John (1990), to teach man love woman, to live peacefully with one another.
However, women also unconscious demean herself to take advantage at the mercy of affectation and weaknesses only for the sake of her selfishness, and George Gissing illustrates this inescapable fact and tragedy that women sometimes are the perpetrator to engender in equality of their sex. Barfoot’s brother, Thomas, when in a serious injury, resorted to retreat to the countryside. Being contemptible in this circumstance and pining to return to urban abode, Mr. Thomas “always spoke of herself as a sad sufferer from mysterious infirmities, and had, in fact, a tendency to hysteria, which confused itself inextricably with the results of evil nurture and the impulses of a disposition originally base; nevertheless she made a figure in a certain sphere of vulgar wealth, and even gave opportunity to scandalous tongues. Her husband, whatever his secret thought, would hear nothing against her; his temper, like Everard’s, was marked with stubbornness, and after a good deal of wrangling he forbade his brother to address him again on the subject of their disagreement.”
Talking about marriage, it might become hard to accomplishing the vow successfully. This novel also examines the accessibility of “free union” – “cohabitation without marriage, a phrase which at the time was regarded as part of emancipationist jargon”. To put this practicability upon Rhoda Nunn and Everard Barfoot, “Seriously, I believe if a few men and women in prominent position would contract marriage of the free kind, without priest or lawyer, open and defiantly, they would do more benefit to their kind than in any other possible way. I don’t declare this opinion to every one, but only because I am a coward. Whatever one believes with heart and soul one ought to make known.” Though it arises imagination of an ideal relationship in Everard to live on love as the ground without unloosening the legal intricacies, it might be for the woman to crystallise the ideal of marriage, the symbol of completion of a golden ring. In Rhoda’s mind, it is woman weakness against self-esteem in her ambivalence in consent to a marriage. “She herself was no longer one of the ‘odd women’; fortune had – or seemed to have – been kind to her; none the less her sense of a mission remained. No longer an example of perfect female independence, and unable therefore to use the same language as before, she might illustrate woman’s claim of equality in marriage. – If her experience proved no obstacle.” To her, it is not the question of want of faith to seek a marriage, it is for the promise of love to someone. (although love is also unequal in a relationship)
All in all, I couldn’t say I was right in all the opinions I wrote, it just provokes my thinking and want to share it all in my interpretation; the novel deals with so many facets of social and sexual values richly, and definitely worth a re-read. George Gissing himself is also a phenomenon. Social Life and condition always intrigue me. I might read He Knew He Was Right by Anthony Trollope soon, but hopefully I will read Josephine Butler’s biography next, as prostitutes as free-wheeling creatures also appear in The Odd Women and being examined in great details.