“I don’t think . . . there’s much real difference between men and women. That is, there wouldn’t be, if women had fair treatment.”
The Odd Women
“The art of living is the art of compromise.”
New Grub Street
The Odd Women
A novel of social realism, The Odd Women reflects the major sexual and cultural issues of the late nineteenth century.
Unlike the “New Woman” novels of the era which challenged the idea that the unmarried woman was superfluous, Gissing satirizes that image and portrays women as “odd” and marginal in relation to an ideal.
Set in a grimy, fog-ridden London, Gissing’s “odd” women range from the idealistic, financially self-sufficient Mary Barfoot to the Madden sisters who struggle to subsist in low paying jobs and little chance for joy.
With narrative detachment, Gissing portrays contemporary society’s blatant ambivalence towards its own period of transition. Judged by contemporary critics to be as provocative as Zola and Ibsen, Gissing produced an “intensely modern” work as the issues it raises remain the subject of contemporary debate.
New Grub Street
In New Grub Street George Gissing re-created a microcosm of London’s literary society as he had experienced it.
His novel is at once a major social document and a story that draws us irresistibly into the twilit world of Edwin Reardon, a struggling novelist, and his friends and acquaintances in Grub Street including Jasper Milvain, an ambitious journalist, and Alfred Yule, an embittered critic.
Here Gissing brings to life the bitter battles (fought out in obscure garrets or in the Reading Room of the British Museum) between integrity and the dictates of the marketplace, the miseries of genteel poverty and the damage that failure and hardship do to human personality and relationships.
The Odd Women
What a wonderful surprise this book has been for me.
Published in 1893, it is one of the best books I have ever read about how the pressure of social conventions as well as the lack of financial backing can both ruin women’s and men’s lives. Of course, women’s lives are even more affected by them as they received very little education and were brought up to marry, run a household and have children. What made this book so special though is the added underlying theme of feminist movement led by two strong women who use their skills and financial means to provide training to women who due to their social standing have very little chance of an advantageous marriage. Their aim is to offer independence to these ‘odd women’ (as they were called then) through work that does not ruin their health prematurely and pays them better than the usual teaching, nursing or shop assistant jobs.
It’s an eye-opening, gripping and realistic book and I have to confess that I was surprised that it was written by a man. He paints an honest picture of a society whose stiff social code causes great human/female distress with very little room to manoeuvre and create a decent when money is lacking. Highly recommended!
The Book in three words: Feminist, gripping and thought-provoking
New Grub Street
After finishing The Odd Women I vowed to read more of Gissing’s work. New Grub Street is hailed as one of the best novels written in English, so I decided it had to be next in line.
A quote from the short summery of one of the best of listings it appears in (here it is from the Guardian) says the following: ´George Gissing’s portrayal of the hard facts of a literary life remains as relevant today as it was in the late 19th century.’ I agree that the struggles to ‘make it’ as an author, the difficulties to get your manuscript into the right hands was as difficult then as it was today. I would like to add though that, apart from the superbly well portrayed struggles of authors, publishers and literary magazine editors, the book also offers a modern discussion about marriage and the necessity for people to part in civil ways if they find themselves unhappy, incompatible or realize that their aspirations lie beyond domestic obligations. The author does an amazing job in staying empathetic for both sides and his views on women’s rights or rather the lack of them are feminist and surprisingly progressive for his times.
Published in 1891, it is shocking to read the descriptions of extreme poverty, the pollution in London, people’s daily struggles to keep afloat while being under pressure and deep-rooted moral obligations to marry, procreate and look after your family. The book is never dull, the scenes and plotlines vivid and compelling, and I was gripped throughout.
I read that the author experienced many of the difficulties himself and this probably contributed to the feeling I got that what he describes are true to life events and circumstances. This story tells us what it was like at the end of the 19th century in London trying to make it as an author with little funds and the hardship of falling into poverty. It’s a classic in my view and so refreshing to read a male author exploring feminist themes with an open mind and heart.
The Book in three words: compelling, realistic and modern
Overall, I’m in awe of Gissing’s writing, his psychological insights into both male and female struggles, his ability to make the reader care about his characters, set lively scenes, thought-provoking dialogues and compelling plot twists. His characters are given ample room for fallibility, vulnerability and exploring how societal constraints and conventions restrict the freedom to choose how and with whom one wants to live or work.
I’d love to know your thoughts on the books if you’ve read them!
About the author
George Robert Gissing was an English novelist who published twenty-three novels between 1880 and 1903. From his early naturalistic works, he developed into one of the most accomplished realists of the late-Victorian era.