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Bachelor Girl: 100 Years of Breaking the Rules--A Social History of Living Singleby Betsy Israel
Synopses & Reviews
Chapter One The Classical Spinster: Redundants,
The Singly Blessed, And the Early New Women
"My dear, to a brighter future — when there will not be so many forced marriages, and women will be taught not to feel theirs a destiny manqué, nor the threat of poor spinsterhood, should they remain single.
"He: Who's the fat lady with the heavy brows and all the hair?
"The woman of a certain age is a very charming concept in French. In just about every other language it is a euphemism for having lost, through age, whatever charmant thing it was that made you charming. And for a woman who never married, there are no euphemisms. The "losing" in her case is a condition, a pathology. It is about as far removed from a charming concept as a brain tumor.
It seems safe to say that in 2002 nobody is a spinster and that a certain percentage of the population is not entirely aware of what a spinster is. For, those in the latter category, I offer a brief tour of the Classical Spinster Museum.
What the Old Girl Looked Like:
WhatShe Did Each Day:
What Others Thought (in addition to "it's so sad"):
Thus Her Potential to Become a Monster:
It's an odd and dusty exhibition, and yet pieces of the collection are still scattered about the culture. A forty-two-year-old pianist who called herself "Mildred — definitely Mildred" says that her relatives give her money as she leaves any family event, in case, as an unmarried, childlike person, she doesn't have her own. Another woman, thirty-eight, describes phone calls from relatives and friends who are "really calling to make sure I have not died and, as no one noticed, I've gone ahead and decomposed." A single stock-broker, thirty-six, says, "My sister asksme to do errands that often require me to stand on long lines and this is 'reasonable' to her because she has children and I do not. What is this presumption?"
I'd call it an essential part of the spinster legacy. In Which the Spinster Arrives
The first spinsters appeared in thirteenth-century France and a bit later in Germany and England as spinners of cotton and wool. They were not yet spinsters but "femmes seules — unwed young girls, orphaned relatives, and widows of the Crusades who performed their tasks within the self-sustained family home. Most stayed there. Yet there were some who lived independently, dealing for themselves with weavers and textile merchants and often earning their praise. As late as 1783, in a "Description of Manchester, we learn that "weavers were ... obliged to pay more for the spinning than the price allowed by the merchants 'but darst not complain ... lest lose the spinner.'
Long before the industrial revolution — and before the implementation of a restrictive British common law — single women worked on their own in other ways. Town and city records, portions of which have been published in academic papers, indicate that unwed women in medieval France, England, and Germany traded in raw wool, silk, and rare spices. Some engaged in foreign trading and owned their own ships, and a few are said to have managed large estates and breweries.
On into the seventeenth century, "spinster was used to identify a respectable employment category. When later that century the French began using spinster to indicate an unwed woman, the term was understood to be descriptive: a woman on her own, for any number of reasons, and in need of an income.
InEngland, however, another spinsterly model was in the making: the Old Maid, who first took form as a loud, bosomy theater grotesque known as "the Dame." Here was a new female creature so vain, so rabidly flirtatious she seemed unaware that the men she desired found her repulsive. For best effect, the dame was played by a man. Even in France, where the view of the serious, dedicated spinner prevailed, the playwright Moliè re created a protospinster, his own prehistoric Old Maid, in the form of Bé lise, a conceited and oblivious character in "Les Femmes savantes (1672). Bé lise has never wed, and without companionship, talking to or arguing with herself or whomever happens to be standing there, she has come to believe that she's a genius ...