The Odd Women

I just finished George Gissing’s The Odd Women, a novel I truly enjoyed.  The footnotes made me laugh about the gap between Victorian and Victorianist readers (how was I supposed to know that *that* signified alcoholism? My that pregnancy came quickly) and was struck by how characters that seem to be protagonists at the beginning of the novel (Virginia & Alice Madden) become minor over time, while minor characters (Rhoda Nunn) become protagonists. There was also a shout-out to the nutritional value of an Irish diet of potatoes and milk, which I loved (the particular woman who celebrated it is the one who takes to the drink later in the novel).

I was especially struck about the novel’s musing on the politics of visibility given the current political climate where killing people (directly and indirectly) seems to go relatively unchallenged. Rhoda Nunn, champion of odd women everywhere, wishes “girls fell down and died of hunger in the streets, instead of creeping to their garrets and the hospitals. I should like to see their dead bodies collected together in some open place, for the crowd to stare at” (42).  But she notes that even gathering the bodies together may have no effect, “Perhaps they might only congratulate each other that a few of the superfluous females had been struck off” (42).

Her line makes me think about the mass grave ‘discovered’ at Tuam, which people knew existed long before, and the constant circulation of images and videos of Black people murdered by the police. Seeing does not mean knowing–it certainly does not mean intervening–and often it only intensifies the very logics that lead to mass death.