The Space of Optimism

Zarena Aslami

in The Dream Life of Citizens

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780823241996
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823242030 | DOI:
The Space of Optimism

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Chapter 4 argues that George Gissing's The Odd Women critiques the state's encroaching powers, both actual and imagined. In particular, through the description of how municipal spaces shape characters' interiority, Gissing expresses the fear that the state, as mediated through local government, was in the process of appropriating marriage and culture. As the lynchpins of nineteenth-century bourgeois liberal individuality, these institutions furnished imagined sites from which one could both escape and critique the political. Gissing's novel registers the subtle process by which, through common law courts, the state began converting marriage's religious identity into a primarily civil one. The novel also records the state's active provision of education and public spaces, seen as the incubators of culture, to the masses. This chapter proposes that The Odd Women expresses Gissing's anxiety that the institutions of marriage and culture were becoming disarmed as traditional liberal sites of opposition to the state. In their place, he describes a model of critical consciousness based on novel reading, which comes to offer British subjects a possible position outside of the state.

Keywords: George Gissing; The Odd Women; State interventionism; Marriage; Culture; Victorian novel; Liberalism; Municipal spaces; Novel-reading

Chapter.  9175 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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