“The Odd Women” and “Women in Love”: Evolving Views of Gender Roles Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Apr 22nd, 2019


Women’s roles in the society have been evolving as time progresses. In the late 19th century, many nations had imbalanced demographics with respect to social structures. More women dominated the structures in relation to men. In the words of Rhoda Nunn, “…there are a half a million more women than men in this unhappy country…so many odd women” (Gissing 44).

However, in the modern society, this perception changed with women acquiring strategic roles in society. The primary objective of this paper is to bring into perspective a theory prescribing how gender is mapped onto life in an attempt to find out whether people performed gender in a somewhat free way or whether they are subject to the rules of gender.

An effort is also made to track the changes of the roles of women in the social fabric in the Victorian era by considering The Odd Women by George Gissing written in 1893. How the roles of women manifested themselves in the post Victorian era is considered through the book The Women in Love of David Lawrence.

Evolving Views of Gender Roles

How Gender is mapped onto Life

The question of how gender has evolved attracts large scholarly research, which is often open to criticism. However, literal ideas such as those postulated John Stuart and other writers of the Victorian era to early 20th century (1893-1920) reveal that, apart from being conceived, gender could indeed be performed.

In the gender trouble, Butler consolidates such ideas by discussing the manner in which gender can be done, or put differently “the ways in which masculine ties and feminism are acted out” (Deirdre 121). In the essay, Butler maintains that gender is neither inherent in the body nor static.

It is a matter of performance. In this sense, the performance of gender influences the outward side of an individual. In The Odd Women, women who did not have men to pair up with them were termed by pessimists as “useless, lost futile lives” (Gissing 44).

This belief constructed their perception in the world hence determining their gender performance. Social relations between male and female sex in the Mill world influenced such performance.

Social spheres in The Old Women, tantamount to Butler’s argument, construct the concept of differences between genders. Therefore, the physical body is not a determinant of gender. Rather, it is an imitation of the ideal.

Butler approaches the concept of gender by deconstructing naturalness of various categories of sex coupled with gender via conducting a genealogy. In the genealogy, she evidences that the categories of gender are not naturally constructed: they evolve. Besides, they are brought into the limelight via specific power formations.

Based on Butler’s argument, gender is mapped onto life through social construction of gender. People construct a particular perception regarding a particular gender profiling. Ursula evidences this argument in women in The Women in Love who resemble an “in infant in the womb” (Lawrence 7).

Just as an infant develops slowly, Ursula attempts to alter gender profiling of women. This way, she makes Butler‘s assertion clear that reification of gender categories is accomplished by gender doings or gender performance. This argument means that people perform their own genders.

In this perspective, it is arguable that gender has hanged from being a description of people’s natural sex into the description of what different genders are capable of performing. Hence, societal convention is responsible for the construction of gender.

However, Mary challenges this conventional view in The Odd Women. “The odious fault of working class girls, in town and country alike, is that they are absorbed in preoccupation with animal nature” (Gissing 71). This argument means that they are inherently different from men. Hence, to Mary, gender is inherent in the body.

In fact, from Butler’s focal point, “…categories of sex and gender are mutually reinforcing” (McLaren 100). This claim implies that each of the two categories is constructed in a binary fashion. Such a construction results in the normalisation of distinctions of different people as fitting to particular membership groups described by the gender hegemonies.

From the dimension of these augments, the following sections of the paper bring in a theory describing how gender is mapped onto life through subjection to socially constructed gender rules, as opposed to the free will of people.

This position is clear by considering the evolution of gender roles of women in the nineteenth century in The Odd Women by George Gissing and The Women in Love by David Lawrence.

The Odd Women by George Gissing

In the modern societies, women have equal rights to participate in social economic activities with men. However, this position was not the case in the early nineteenth century. Rhoda Nunn informs that there are more than half a million women than men who are “…odd women –no making a pair with them” (Gissing 44) evidencing the assertion in The Odd Women.

These excess women are referred to as odd ones since they do not have someone to pair up with. The surplus in the women population was a matter of concern since women were to be provided for by men.

Nevertheless, in the contextualisation of the evolution of gender articulated roles, the application of the term ‘odd’ to describe the surplus and eccentricity of the population with reference to gender was not coincidental.

In the absence of men to support the surplus women population, such women were forced to pursue their own independent and unprecedented lives.

This case entailed seeking means of supporting themselves financially as an alternative to getting married. Upon reading The Odd Women, taking such a move for already matched women would be horrifying and perplexing to men.

In The Odd Women, the evolution of women implies a compromise of the supremacy of the male gender. Indeed, later in the nineteenth century, the position of women in the society had greatly improved particularly following the enactment of legal protection and legal provisions such as women property act, which guarantees women rights to own and use property (Tosh 12).

These legal provisions made even married women become more of like the odd women in that they started to gain independence from their husbands so that they could make their own decisions. Although the modern society views the positions of women in the society in this manner, the Victorian era viewed the female gender in direct contrast.

McLaren termed the odd women described by Gissing as “an unwholesome social state” (101). He further suggested, “Rather, peremptory solution of government sponsored emigration to colonies” (McLaren 101) meaning that women were commodities that would be bandied in the British European Empire.

A similar perception is echoed in The Odd Women through consideration of surplus women in the Victorian era as fitting in the process of nation building through engagement in tasks, which are less challenging. This assertion is reinforced by Gissing’s sentiments.

Mary could not fit in a position in the board of directors since she had “many traits of character…strongly feminine…she did not seek to become known as a leader of a movement, yet her quest work was probably more effectual than the public career of women who propagandise for female emancipation” (Gissing 63).

This argument perhaps provides an incredibly sound basis for making a presumption that gender is mapped onto life through subjection of socially constructed gender roles, as Wollstonecraft and Mill note, as opposed to the free will of people.

The Odd Women provides an encapsulation of tumult of the Victorian era initiating from the demising of Victorian patriarch and then transcending to the granddaughter who can best be described as the new brave woman (Deirdre 121).

The evolution of the imagery of the female gender is traced through archetype trials, which are largely passive, and which reflect Alice madden and Virginia. The two women figures come out in The Odd Women as “useful for nothing” (Gissing 177). On the other hand, there are evolved women who reflect the altered position of women in the society.

They include Rhoda Nunn and Mary Barfoot. These two women are determined to teach typing in school in the effort to change the position of girls in the society by providing them with technical skills. Additionally, there evolved a new breed of women.

Girls also acquired skills such as book keeping strategies, which not only fosters their independence by making them appealing to the labour market but also facilitates in alteration of the perceptions of gender roles in the society that was dominant in the Victorian patriarch era. In the novel, Rhoda is depicted as fulfilling philanthropic roles.

Rhoda is a militant woman character who is described in The Odd Woman as “quite like a man in energy and resources” (Gissing 32). This description evidences that gender is not a mere conception driven by perceptions of differences between men and women in terms of culturally determined roles for the two genders.

It can also be acted out. Indeed, Rhoda is a champion of feminism. On the subject of superfluous women, she believes that the condition provides “great reserve, which offers substitute for world’s work pool when other women vanish in the matrimony” (Gissing 41). In this sense, Rhoda presents a new social order that is meant to shape the performance of gender.

Women in Love by David Lawrence

The book The Odd Women presents two struggles for women to move from one perspective of gender performance to another as evidenced by different characters such as Rhoda. Written by David Lawrence, The Women in Love masterpiece explores the relationships that exist between women and men while not negating how nature interplays in the relationship between the two genders’ body and mind.

The novel suggests regeneration of inexorable coupled with natural relationships between women and men coupled with the relationship between men and nature in the effort to provide a thorough exploration of life mysteries (Leavis 115).

In the understanding of life mysteries, it is perhaps important to consider how gender interplays. In this extent, the work of Lawrence may be interpreted from the paradigms of being depictive of gender performance (Cross 54).

Much similar to calls made in The Odd Women, in The Women in Love, a call is made to transit from the conservatism Victorian age approaches in spelling out interactions between men and women.

The presentation of Birkin and Ursula in pair underscores that Lawrence has an immense hope that people can be able to dichotomise themselves from ill-fated perceptions towards the roles of men and women in the society siphoned from the past Victorian era (Beynon 29).

Birkin depicts ‘a death eater’ charter who is capable to contemplate his moves as he muddled looking for his dream lover: women who would bring the true meaning for his individuality. He is lucky to find Ursula who is an ideal romanticised woman.

Ursula is described as one whose life is like a “…shoot that is growing steadily, but which has not yet come above ground” (Lawrence 51). From this description, it is arguable that Lawrence presents gender in different dimensions. Men have supremacy over women while women are the gorgeous tools for making men happy based on their physical appearance.

They should have the capacity to capture the attention of men (Asher 3). Additionally, Lawrence paints the picture that women are meant to make men’s lives easier as evidenced by the statement, “He worshipped her as age worships youth, he gloried in her, because, in his one grain of faith, he was young as she, he was her proper mate…this marriage with her was his resurrection and his life” (Lawrence 371).

This statement presents a change from the Victorian era perception of the female gender from being subverted and open to misuse by the male gender at will to seeing women as people that men cannot live without. Hence, men must appreciate their roles in the society that is shaped by perceptions of modernism as opposed to traditional conservatism aspirations.

The above argument implies that women in The Women in Love are depicted as people having evolved roles in the society in that they play proactive roles in shaping men’s lives.

Although it sounded right for men to rule over women in the early nineteenth century, consistent with the Butler’s ideas on gender performance, the new woman gender performance roles make man a logical being in terms of violation of the rights of women (Black 57). For instance, in The Women in Love, Gerald struggles with Gudrun.

In doing this act, he is being driven by his deeply seated internal violence. This argument explains the contribution of the Victorian era attitudes towards the opposite gender in the characterisation of transition into modernisation era where women deserve all due respect from men (Asher 8).

In this extent and directly congruent with the contemporary discussion of gender performance before and after Victoria era, gender performance can be argued as being instigated by socially defined norms in the Victorian era.

However, in the modern era, gender performance is altered to be driven by self-will. This approach is evident in Gerald’s decision to quit struggling with Gudrun after realising that what he was doing was indeed what he never wanted.


In the Victorian age, women’s roles in the society were clearly defined in a manner that contrasted with the modern approaches, which are defined by feminism. In the effort to prescribe a theory on whether gender performances are defined by somewhat free way, or whether they are subject to the rules of gender, the paper tracked the evolution of gender roles by considering two literal works: The Odd Women by George Gissing written and The Women in Love by Lawrence.

Works Cited

Asher, Kenneth. “Nietzsche, D.H. Lawrence and Irrationalism.” Neophilologus 59.1(1995): 1-16. Print.

Beynon, Richard. D. H. Lawrence: The Rainbow and Women in Love. Cambridge: Icon Books, 2002. Print.

Black, Michael. Lawrence’s England: The Major Fiction, 1913 – 1920. New Jersey, NJ: Palgrave-MacMillan, 2001. Print.

Cross, Charles. Women in Love: A Novel of Mythic Realism. Boston, Mass: Twayne. 1991. Print.

Deirdre, David. “Ideologies of Patriarchy, Feminism, and Fiction in ‘The Odd Women.’” Feminist Studies 10.1(1994): 117-139. Print.

Gissing, George. The Odd Women. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. Print.

Lawrence, David. Women in Love. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.

Leavis, Richard. Lawrence and Art. Shanghai: Shanghai Art Publishing Press, 1995. Print.

McLaren, Margaret. Feminism Foucault and Embodied Subject. New York, NY: Sunny Press, 2001. Print.

Tosh, John. A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle-Class Home in Victorian England. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. Print.

This essay on “The Odd Women” and “Women in Love”: Evolving Views of Gender Roles was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.

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