Many of us-perhaps even most of us-disagree with Mr Gissing in his views of life and his plans for improving it; but the mere fact that he has any views at all gives him a claim to our interest and to our careful consideration. The 'Odd Women' who form the subject ofhis latest work have nothing in common with lunatics, but are simply the million or so of surplus females who have to struggle through their span somehow, independently of men. To emphasize his point the better Mr Gissing has drawn a sharp contrast. On the one hand there is a shiftless family ofdoctor's daughters who have been taught nothing that is useful at home; on the other there is a friend of these girls who sets to work to remedy her own helplessness, and ends by making a comfortable livelihood in the type-writing line. Ofcourse the story is not as bald as this. The types ofcharacter are each distinct, and are not exaggerated either for moral or artistic purposes. The well-meaning, ill-educated, unhealthy, conventional Alice Madden; her equally well-meaning, ill-educated, unhealthy sister Virginia, who out ofsheer poverty and weariness takes to drink; their younger, prettier, and more practical sister Monica, who wrecks her life by an unsuitable marriage out of a pardonable desire to escape from the shop in the Walworth Road where she is an assistant-these women are in no way single
specimens of their kind, nor are they meant to be. No more is the harder, more successful Rhoda Nunn, above alluded to. Curious to state, Mr Gissing's women are far truer to nature than his men. Their conduct is intelligible from their varied points of view, but the personality and the behaviour ofMr Everard Barfoot, for instance, would baffle the understanding ofmost people. He is meant to be a charming and aristocratic (though rather wild) person: in reality he is a very pronounced cad. It is not very easy to see how far the doctrines of terminable marriages, and 'marriage in the sight ofGod' (which always means no marriage in the sight of men) are really Mr Gissing's own, and how far they are merely attributed to his characters. Mr Barfoot decides, when he declares his affection to that advocate of celibacy Rhoda Nunn, that if she consents to forego the ceremony he will make her his legal wife; but that if in the first instance she insists on even the Registrar, she will lower herself for ever in his eyes. This, at least, is what we have understood; but Mr Gissing has not expressed himself very clearly. The best chapters in the book are those which describe the loving and zealous tyranny of the middle-aged Widdowson, who having become the husband of the young and pretty Monica Madden, wishes to shut her up exclusively with himself: and drives her into telling lies and offering to elope with a gentleman, who looks on her proposition as manifesting 'trop de zele,' and there the matter ends. Humour is never the 'crowning glory' of Mr Gissing's novels; but he shows some when he allows us to see that he thinks that boredom is an excellent reason for rending marriage; only in a book that sets forth the perfect equality ofwomen it is rather strange that the acts of boring cited should all be on the one side. And, in spite of her somewhat blatant self-assertion, it is at once sad and comic and true to notice that all her dislike to matrimony does not prevent Miss Rhoda Nunn from rising in her own esteem when, at the age of thirty-three, she has an offer. This is the attitude many persons assume towards life in general. They do not care to have, but they wish to be able to reject.