The novel focuses on women in England considered odd mainly because they are unable to find men to have relationships with; specifically, marriage. The premise of the novel is that an excess of a million women exists in London promoting women who do not find husbands odd ones out based also on their choices of indulgence. For instance, they live in groups of odd women and unlike the usual reserved homemaker married woman, the odd women indulge in revelries, investments, businesses, traveling and seek fulfillment from a life of singlehood and women empowerment. Further, the odd women also develop lasciviousness for the opposite sex as well as for the same sex putting into question not only sexuality but also encouraging waywardness as pertains to sexual innuendos that are presented in the novel (Gissing, 1893). This paper evaluates the themes that arise in the novel "The Odd Women" with the intention of relating them to themes affecting women in the 21st century who undergo similar circumstances as the odd women in the novel.
The overarching theme of feminism can be seen throughout the novel, as Gissing's main proposition is the empowerment of the feminine over the masculine traits. At the onset, Gissing's introduces the reader to the Madden sisters who move to London and develop a friendship with Rhoda who we come to learn is a bluestocking (Gissing, 1893). Bluestockings were regarded as independent women that meant that they did not depend on men financially for support. Moreover, the bluestocking women are unmarried mostly and, therefore, directly compete with male counterparts in industry and business. The theme of women empowerment is very much alive in the 21st century as it reflects a foreshadowing of what was to come in the future in the novel by written by Gissing. To date, it is quite common to find various women's empowerment initiatives where feminist agendas are pushed.
Women have run for political office, occupied CEO positions in major companies and worldwide organizations, and some of these women if not most choose a life of celibacy. An example of such successful women includes Oprah Winfrey and Condoleezza Rice who are both successful African-American women that have both transcended gender and racial barriers to succeed and become women of valor in society. However, the most notable attribute among them is that they are satisfied with their careers and do not seek companionship with men. Instead, they have settled in their lives as women who are independent and adequately contented with the fact that they do not have intimacy with men. George Gissing can turn in his grave if he were to realize how his novel has come to be relevant in the 21st century as it is representative of the struggles and achievements that single women who have chosen a life of being single and self-reliant have come to fruition. Although representative of the time when the novel was written, the novel foreshadows the 21st century's characteristic of single women who put their careers before the need for developing intimacy with men.
Infidelity is yet another theme that the novel focusses on that can also be said to be part of society in the 21st century. Gissing introduces the audience to the character Monica, the youngest of the Madden sisters who is the prettiest of them. Her beauty attracts a character known as Edmund Widdowson who woes her into accepting his proposal for marriage. However, lasciviousness sets in when Monica meets Bevis a young lad who peruses her relentlessly that she elopes with him abandoning her marriage. Infidelity is a common occurrence in the 21st century and it is notable that Gissing could have foreshadowed the state of affairs in the 21st century through his novel. Divorce rates in the United States of America. USA Today reports that 40 - 50% of American couples divorce within the first year of marriage over infidelity. Further, research also shows that women who are divorced and re-marry have even a higher chance of divorcing again (Harrington & Buckingham, 2018).
The rate of broken relationships over infidelity in the 21st century is glimpsed at in the novel since Widdowson's character though heartbroken and willing to save his marriage finds that Monica his cheating wife is not bothered. The novel presents women not only as promiscuous but also as the determinants of the relationships that they develop. It is interesting that she elopes with her lover leaving her husband longing for her in lonesomeness regardless of the fact that she knows that she is hurting him. Although women are not entirely to blame for divorce rates in the 21st century, Gissing's novel foreshadowed the dilemma of the 21st century whereby most marriages come to an end over infidelity. Thus, quite telling of how the novel's depiction of infidelity in the 1800s proves relevant in the 21st century.
Other than lasciviousness that comes out prominently in the novel, the theme of false perception of independence of women also props up. Throughout the novel, George Gissing makes an attempt to portray the odd women as self-empowered and independent of men. For instance, the character Everard is attracted to Rhoda not because of her looks but because of her intellect and her devotion to the principles of odd women in solidarity with the idea that the odd women are independent of male influences. However, when Everard proposes an open relationship or free union with Rhoda, she, in turn, refuses to accept it and instead opts for a traditional marriage arrangement where formalities are observed. In this regard, Gissing breaks the perception of independence that women such as Rhoda have and dismantles the idea that single-independent women do not opt for relationships with men. Instead, the author reiterates that the idea of independence is just a facade or a matter of convenience that the character Rhoda takes up simply because she did not have a male companion at the time. Put another way, when presented with an opportunity for a stable relationship with a man, self-proclaimed independent women will opt for a relationship with a man rather than a successful career of loneliness without male companionship (Gissing, 1893).
The same facade is quite telling of 21st-century relationships because the natural order of things demands that men settle with women in a romantic relationship. Therefore, the odd women in the novel cannot escape the idea of taking up an opportunity to settle down with a man if it presents itself. In the same line, most independent women in the corporate world in this 21st century also acknowledge that it is often difficult to find a man who can suit their level of intelligence or who can tackle the fact that they are successful. However, they do humble themselves at the opportunity of having a meaningful relationship with a man. In that regard, Gissing dismantles the idea that the feminine is independent of the male and that the notion of independence merely revolves around circumstance of lack of opportunity of a relationship with a man, the same is true for self-proclaimed career women in the 21st century (Faw, 2012).
To drive this point home, Gissing also presents the dilemma between Monica and Widdowson where despite the fact that Monica has left Widdowson for her lover Bevis, she still lives off her husband. To worsen the situation she moves in with her fellow odd women in a rental apartment that Widdowson is paying for. In that regard, Gissing debunks the independent women ideology as a mere front or distraction from the reality that women who do not find themselves in relationships undergo. Simply put women who have no opportunity to have a relationship with men will put on the face of independence but in reality, all women are dependent on men. As such, when the opportunity presented itself to live off a man, Monica could not resist. The same is the case in the 21st century as women who are 'independent' career-oriented often have high expectations of men they date and always want such men to have achieved above their accomplishments (Faw, 2012). Gissing accurately foreshadowed the facade of women independence from men in the 21st century through his novel "The Odd Women."
In essence, the discussion has delved into themes eminent in George Gissing's novel and their replication or relevance in the modern 21st-century world. Among the arising themes discussed are women empowerment, the facade of independence of women from men, infidelity, and lasciviousness that is characteristic of the odd women. The discussion finds that these themes duplicate over time and remain relevant a century later after the novel was penned. To that extent, George Gissing can be said to have foreshadowed the themes presented in the novel, as they are relevant and prevalent in the 21st century as presented.
Faw, L. (2012, December 5). Why are so many professional millennial women unable to find dateable men? Forbes. Retrieved 12 18, 2018, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/larissafaw/2012/12/05/why-are-so-many-professional-millennial-women-unable-to-find-dateable-men/#741b7b808486
Gissing, G. (1893). The Odd Women. London: Lawrence & Bullen.
Harrington, J., & Buckingham, C. (2018, February 2). Broken hearts: A rundown of the divorce capital of every state. USA Today. Retrieved 12 18, 2018, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/economy/2018/02/02/broken-hearts-rundown-divorce-capital-every-state/1078283001/
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