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Weakness and Strength


(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…)

Why are women redundant…

So many odd women – no making a pair with them. The pessimists call them useless, lost, futile lives. I, naturally – being one of them myself – take another view. I look upon them as a great reserve. When one woman vanishes in matrimony, the reserve offers a substitute for the world’s work.

In the year of 1872 comes the first chapter of events of The Odd Women. Five year earlier, John Stuart Mill proposed to change the wording of the 1867 Reform Bill to read “person” for “man” to advocate and expand the franchise to all sexes; National Society for Women’s Suffrage was formed which later furthered into National Union for Women’s Suffrage Societies, and Women’s Social and Political Union founded by Emmeline Pankhurst’s. The Odd Women is probably a novel by George Gissing influenced by New Woman fiction around the time. At the beginning of chapter, we are introduced to Dr. Madden, the widowed surgeon of the village in Clevedon. Though the home was intellectual, he never has thought of seeking for his six daughters prospects of professional development.

Agnes Grey

Nothing upsets me more than the sight of those poor homes where wife and children are obliged to talk from morning to night of how the sorry earnings shall be laid out. No, no; women, old or young, should never have to think about money.

Their methods of study are unsystematic and if a fatality befell on him, “teaching would always be their resource”. However most importantly, he is determined throughout his life to set an exemplary and patriarchal approach to lead them into a righteous life in developing girls’ minds with £800 insured as financial assistance. Sudden death tragically practicalizes his prophecies. Governesses and girls’ companions qualify meagre needs but deteriorate health. 15 years later in 1887, the sisters are limitedly to be at the mercy of weaknesses and human sympathies compatible  with conventional views of “womanish and social usefulness” of the time; Alice dealt her devotion of religion only in “sorrowful commonplaces, profitable perhaps to her own heart, but powerless over the trouble of another’s; Virginia helplessly and pathetically resorted to be a secretive drinker as consolation of hunger in ignorance of own’s imploring of self-respect and dignity. “Already they were old; and they would grow older, sadder, perpetually struggling to supplement that dividend from the precious capital – and merely that they might keep alive”  – better than working as domestic goodness. (education method and system between gender is important issue in The Odd Women)

Monica, the youngest of all, tempts her fate to work as a shop girl in the city, and if that is the only solution to get herself married and whatnot depending on her present circumstances and frivolity. Harshness defines job when she is to be “laboriously engaged in a shop for thirteen hours and a half every week day, and on Saturday for an average of sixteen”, and on Sunday to be forbidden to stay indoor until bedtime. “Varicose vein” torments her, boredom tires her.

(c) Girton College, University of Cambridge; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Barbara Bodichon (c) Girton College, University of Cambridge; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

When my mother left me that little sum of money I took a bold step. I went to Bristol to learn everything I could that would help me out of school life.

Poverty seems to be inevitable and manifesto of fate and discrepancy of classes, “self-help” is nevertheless one of the main focuses of the novel in defining the concept of this novel. Property and finance is defined in one and each of the character either from means of inheritance and salaries. Nevertheless, there is a spirit of self-help prevailing and lurking in every opportunity of all classes, depending on “whether they have the awareness and resolution to take advantage of them”. Rhoda Nunn is a pivotal figure of this novel who constitutes capabilities of a “man” with respect of contemporary values of sternness, resourcefulness, and determination. Going through her hardship in shorthand, book-keeping, commercial correspondence, and typewriting, we found her as working in concert with Miss Barfoot to train young girls for work in offices in Great Portland Street (based on Society for Promotion of the Employment of Women established in 1850s by Barbara Bodichon). Different from Urania Cottage as refuge for fallen leaves and workhouses for refuge of the underprivileged as “ceaseless philanthropy”, it serves as an institution of women with potentiality and capability of receiving a middle-class education, be rational and responsible human beings, to please themselves and free the reproach of “womanliness” and success of “woman invasion” not only for their sex but as well as for the men’s good as “new ruler of home”. “When I think of the contemptible wretchedness of women enslaved by custom, by their weakness, by their desires, I am ready to cry, Let the world perish in tumult rather than things go on in this way!'” However, Rhoda takes a step further in obstinacy that “falling in love”, and to be engaged in matrimonial relationship is an animal weakness of sentimentality influencable by love novels at the dispense of sterner qualities,

“My work is to help those women who, by steer necessity, must live alone, – women whom vulgar opinion ridicules. How can I help them so effectually as by living among them, one of them, and showing that my life is anything but weariness and lamentation? I am fitted for this. It gives me a sense of power and usefulness which I enjoy.”

However, it is starting to get confusing for me. This might be paradoxical and critical in individuals of the story. As the novel drives on, I see that Rhoda faces challenged ahead of her in respect of defying temptation of love and triumph she has in the pronunciation of men’s weakness and confession to love.

“Rhoda seemed to have endeavoured to liken herself to the suggestion of her name by the excessive plainness with which she had arranged her hair; its tight smoothness was nothing like so becoming as the mode she usually adopted, and it made her look older. Whether by accident or design, she took an upright chair, and sat upon it in a stiff attitude.”

Apart from that, she could also be having a misogynistic attitudes apart from men in her judgmental aspects.

Many a vivid moment dwelt in her memory; joys and sorrows, personal or of larger scope, affected her the more deeply because of that ruling intelligence which enabled her to transmute them into principles.

Experience might say a lot to form a person’s mind and notion of an idea…”If only she had once been loved, like other women – if she had listened to an offer of devotion, and rejected it – her heart would be more securely at peace. So she thought. Secretly she deemed it a hard thing never to have known that common triumph of her sex. And, moreover, it took away from the merit of her position as a leader and encourager of women living independently. There might be some who said, or thought, that she made a virtue of necessity.”

Ambivalence and Influences of Circumstances

In Rhoda’s case, I think it might not be based on her belief but to be her advantage to seek a mission to be superior to the others provided with her withstanding fortitude in past struggles and experience in harsh life. Unkind circumstances strengthen her. In the end, Rhoda was sympathized by man; she seemed to be contending herself all along, “her honesty”, “her dignity, struggling against the impulses of her heart” overtake her, making her stronger than Virginia and Alice. If she enjoys inborn social advantages as other women have, the molding of her heart could be different.