The Odd Women by George Gissing is a late Victorian novel that explores the personal and social implications of a surplus of spinsters. It follows the struggles, fortunes and (limited) choices of the three Madden sisters, whose father’s sudden death leaves them in the situation of many financially straightened gentlewomen. Theirs is a steady descent into poverty as age and strain reduce their job opportunities to increasingly poorly paid drudgery, their only possible relief the further chanciness of marriage. Meanwhile, their childhood friend, Rhoda, faces the situation from another perspective, committed to women’s rights, financial independence and life-long singleness.
This was a thought-provoking, nuanced and compassionate exploration of women, power, marriage, money, emotional abuse and singleness in late 1800s England. The character development was excellent. I had to check Gissing wasn’t a pseudonym for a female author because of the level of insight and sympathy for women. Emotionally heavy-going at times (particularly its portrayal of emotional abuse within marriage) but well worth the read.