We held our final discussion on George Gissing’s The Odd Women last night. If you’re looking for them, here are my notes on part 1 and part 2. Since I know some people are still reading, I’m going to hide this under the fold. Read on at your own (spoiler) risk!
Last night we had our second of three discussions on George Gissing’s The Odd Women (my notes from part 1 are here). We talked about important topics such as:
- How does Gissing feel about his female characters? Does he like them? Are they caricatures? And specifically, how does he feel about working-class women? Is the book ultimately hopeful about the odd women finding purpose and happiness?
- Who are the most redeemable and positive characters? (At the moment, Mary Barfoot, Mr. and Mrs. Micklethwaite.)
- Is Monica’s marriage a cautionary tale? Was she right to leave her job and was Widdowston a viable alternative?
- How scandalous was Everard’s “free union” proposition (e.g., Rochester’s offer to take Jane Eyre as his mistress, Mary Wollstonecraft’s tumultuous life, etc.)? And how repentant did Everard seem when discussing his scandalous past?
- Where does Rhoda’s passion for her social reform come from since she is also unsympathetic to anyone who won’t adhere to her code (e.g., the young woman she turns away who later dies of suicide)? Was her fight with Mary caused by the same things as her fights with Everard? And is Rhoda an example of what literary scholar Laura Wexler called “tender violence“?
- How did the language in Monica and Widdowston’s wedding scene reference virginity?
- What is the book’s political message and is it uncut by Gissing’s artistic choices (e.g., whose point-of-view we get)?
For next week, I want to know if Everard truly changed. Will Rhoda agree to “a free union”? Will anyone find happiness? Will Virginia say, “Screw you all” and go read “feebler fiction” and drink brandy? See you for our conclusion Monday!
Last night, a motley crew discussed the first nine chapters of George Gissing’s The Odd Women. You can relive (or live) it by reading the hashtag #oddgals, but here are some of the highlights:
- Dr. Madden: latter day Mr. Bennet (a la P&P)?
- What is the relationship between work (or maybe purpose) and healthy and beauty?
- Is Alice Madden’s vegetarianism about poverty or creeping progressivism?
- We talked about the use of description; at times there’s lot of it, but then it goes missing during pages and pages of dialogue. Why is that? What effect does it have on a modern reader?
- Why did so many Madden sisters die in chapter two?
- The text criticizes “feebler fiction.” What’s up with that? (And what books was Virginia reading? Where can we find them?)
- What is the text saying about morality and the city? How does London–or an existence outside of a traditional family/social structure–shape the lives and loves of the titular odd women?
- Courtship vs. stalking: where is the line? And is there intentional critique in the text, or are we bringing it with us?
- Predictions: Widowwson will be bad news, Everard is dissolute, and the money situation is going to get more dire for the Madden sisters.
We also discussed the emotional connection we felt (or not) to our protagonists Monica and Rhoda. The Gissing expert, Clarissa Harwood, suggested that we’d be more engaged emotionally, and not just intellectually, in their journey next week.
So chapters 10 – 19 for next time!
Following up on my earlier post, there’s enough interest to commit to a book club on George Gissing’s The Odd Women (1893) to commence on Twitter on April 25. We chatted for about an hour starting at 9 PM EST last time; does that still work? And is #oddgals an okay hashtag?
The first nine chapters gets us through the first third, so let’s make that the goal for our first chat. Digital copies are available for free at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Project Gutenberg, iBooks, Google Play, Kobo, and perhaps elsewhere.
So in December and January, a group of us read Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and we discussed it here and on Twitter. As that was wrapping up, we talked about doing two more pseudo-book club discussions: on George Gissing’s The Odd Women and Hannah Webster Foster’s The Coquette. Spoiler alert: neither of these books have happily ever afters, but they engage with romance tropes and plots. I haven’t read the Gissing (which is set in late nineteenth-century London and addresses romance cross-class), but it looks terrific. And if you’ve been listening to Hamilton non-stop, you’ll enjoy what The Coquette has to say about courtship and femininity in early Republican America. Digital copies of both books are available free on Amazon, Project Gutenberg, and elsewhere.
I’m writing to gauge if there’s still interest in reading/talking about these books. If so, I’d like to propose that we discuss Gissing in about a month (maybe April 25, May 2, and May 9) and then Foster in July (maybe July 11 and July 18). We’d done Monday nights at 9 EST last time; is that still the best option?