Two such 'odd' women, women suffering the humiliation of being elderly and unmarried in Victorian society, are Virginia and Alice Madden, eking out a tiny income in a stifling and genteel boarding house. Their younger sister Monica escaped into a loveless marriage amd is paying a bitter price. Through their friend Rhonda Nunn, a daring feminist whose mission is to educate spinsters for the independant lives they must lead, they are made aware of the depth of their oppression. But when Rhonda falls in love, she is forced to re-examine her life and arrive at a decision that is true to herself. In its fierce criticism of a society that encouraged the oppression of women and consequently the arrogance and cruelty of men, The Odd Women (1893) was astonishingly ahead of its time, and vividly reminds us that feminism in not a new concern. It is also an unflinching examination of the dilemma of choosing between one's desires and one's principles.
Virginia and Alice Madden are 'odd women', growing old alone in Victorian England with no prospect of finding love. Forced into poverty by the sudden death of their father, they lead lives of quiet desperation in a genteel boarding house in London. Meanwhile, their younger sister Monica, struggles to endure a loveless marriage she agreed to as her only escape from spinsterhood. But when the Maddens meet an old friend, Rhoda Nunn, they are soon made aware of the depth of their oppression. Astonishingly ahead of its time, The Odd Women is a pioneering work of early feminism. Gissing's depiction of the daring feminist Rhoda Nunn, it is an unflinching portrayal of one woman's struggle to reconcile her own desires with her deepest principles.
Elaine Showalter is the author of the groundbreaking A Literature of Their Own and editor of Little Women for Penguin Classics.
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