Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Maybe in this reading it will come out better

She continued reading for a while in The Odd Women. And found that, over the years, her reader's response had changed. She still rooted for the two women for whom some chance of love was still possible. The other three she grew impatient with out of despair (as she had despaired of her student Portia): what hope for Monica's two older sisters, eating their meal of rice at a table measuring three by one and a half feet in Lavender Hill, the hair of one falling out, the other becoming an alcoholic? She did not wish to dwell with them longer than absolutely necessary as she herself lay in her young married sister's cast-off room, every other woman in this house warming herself against a man. When Monica Madden who was still young and pretty, met the older Widdowson, a bachelor with money, in Battersea Park, Jane thought furtively, as she had thought the last time she read this novel: Oh, go ahead and marry him. Why not? Maybe in this reading it will come out better. Perhaps he will have learned his lesson and won't hound you literally to your death with his jealousy. And you will have learned to be more discreet, to value a good home. Likewise, Jane counseled Rhoda Nunn, the young spinster career woman with whom she most identified: Stop playing this feminist power game with Everard Barfoot. You've proved your admirable point--that in the nineteenth century you are able to forgo the legal form of marriage to preserve your independence. And he has proved he loves you enough to give up his prized bachelorhood and marry you. Why not get married and do more interesting things than destroy your love with ideologies? Nevertheless, Jane found herself circling Rhoda's angry outcry:

. . . Love--love--love--a sickening sameness of vulgarity. What is more vulgar than the ideal of novelists? They won't represent the actual world. . . . . In real life how many men and women fall in love? . . . Not one married pair in ten thousand have felt for each other as two or three couples do in every novel.

Was Rhoda right? Was "love--love--love" never to be found outside the ideals of novelists? But she remembered Sonia Marks saying, "Most women can identify with heroines who can learn to live without marriage; but not so many want to live without love of any kind."

--Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman

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