(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The title and central issue of Gail Godwin’s story are based upon George Gissing’s 1893 novel, The Odd Women—a pessimistic study of the possibilities of women in the late nineteenth century. Godwin’s The Odd Woman is one character’s search in the late twentieth century to resolve her personal story: Will Jane Clifford find a perfect faithfulness in marriage, the kind of love George Eliot and George Henry Lewes had, or will she remain “odd” in the sense of Gissing’s women, single, unpaired? The novel spans Jane’s semester break at a Midwestern university where she has filled two successive sabbatical leave vacancies in the English department. Her future is uncertain; she has no teaching position for the next academic year, yet if her married lover receives a Guggenheim she could go to Europe with him.

The death of Jane’s grandmother, Edith Barnstorff, at the end of the first chapter triggers the action of the novel, a journey that encompasses half the country, most of Jane’s past, and the remainder of the novel. When Jane flies South for the funeral, it is a visit into her family’s past and her relationships with her mother, Kitty, half brothers, Jack and Ronnie, half sister, Emily, and stepfather, Ray Sparks, whom she perceives as “the villain” of her story.

Although Jane’s visit takes her deep into the past, it fails to resolve the problems of the present. She recalls Edith’s contradictory advice (“I think, on the whole, it is better that you do not...

(The entire section is 623 words.)