The Odd Women is a novel from 1893 written by George Gissing. This is quite readable, a quick and easy read, and not at all preachy. It has a more modern feel to it that might be imagined from the publication date. Wikipedia describes the origin of the title:
The novel's title is derived ostensibly from the notion that there was an excess of one million women over men in Victorian England. This meant there were "odd" women left over at the end of the equation when the other men and women had paired off in marriage. A cross-section of women dealing with this problem are described in the book and it can be inferred that their lifestyles also set them apart as odd in the sense of strange.You can read it online here, or listen to it at LibriVox.
from the dust jacket:
If ever there was an age in which women were superfluous, it was the nineteenth century. George Gissing takes a group of such middle class women who are without any hope in or outside marriage, without any opportunities for betterment, without any opportunities of escaping from the whalebone corset of the society of the day.Nineteenth Century Gender Studies discusses the book in terms of the economic realities of the time:
From this unlikely material George Gissing creates a fascinating story; he captures completely the claustrophobic atmosphere of female society of the time. The reader is rewarded not only with immense sympathy and insight into the nineteenth-century woman's world, but also with a compulsively good narrative.
Gissing does not render every relationship in exclusively economic terms, nor does he stipulate that women or men are economic entities and nothing else. However, the deprived condition endured by the characters regulates many of the decisions, conversations, and commentary in the novel, resulting in discussions which often suggest, explicitly or implicitly, a business deal of some kind. Because of this reality, Gissing frequently injects the terminology of capitalist exchange into the narrative. Capital and class are not identical, but in this novel, capital does affect one’s ability to participate in class-appropriate roles.Open Letters Monthly has this to say:
One of Gissing’s central concerns in The Odd Women is precisely the way financial exigencies like the Maddens’ lead to moral compromise because women had so few ways to support themselves. The uncomfortable proximity of a “good marriage” to prostitution is a theme often touched on in Victorian fiction.... It takes Gissing a while to get all his pieces on the board and into position, but the game that plays out after that is fast-moving, dramatic, and consistently surprising. Hardly anything turns out quite as you expect...You can read a literary analysis here.