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Female. Single. Marriageable.  The combination of these three things were perceived as a growing social problem in mid- and late-Victorian England.

They comprised a population of one million women; who were “odd” – that is, they outnumbered the men. In 1893 George Gissing wrote a novel titled The Odd Women. He examined the woman’s role in society: marriage, moral and the rise of the feminist movement.

“Why Are Women Redundant?”, an essay by William Rathbone Greg in 1862, expressed genuine concern that women between the ages of twenty and forty faced a miserable live of “celibacy, struggle, and privation”. His solution? Ship them to the British colonies. Stories of large numbers of men wanting/needing wives provided a possible solution.

But he did see a serious obstacle in that the emigrant women needed to be of the working class and lower ranks of the middle class. The majority of “redundant” women of which he wrote belonged to the middle- and upper-class. Additionally, he was horrified that young, upper-class women actually preferred luxury and splendour to the sacrifices of married life. But he failed to comment on why the men of their class were unsuccessful in wooing such suitable partners.

The growing number of educated and liberated women questioned the foundation of the paternalistic society. Increasingly they saw less and less bliss in a traditional Victorian marriage.


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