Thursday, 12 June 2008

Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson

As in her book Among the Bohemians, Nicholson extracts an informative and humourous work from published and unpublished sources, interviews, letters and memoirs. The material is spun deftly into a compelling narrative of women's lives. While celebrating the successes of spinster existence, she never underestimates the difficulties of managing alone in a society that was often hostile to single women. I would have liked a chapter on the later evolution of the spinster, and society's shifting attitudes to the single woman, but generally this was fascinating and extremely moving. I had five spinster great-aunts of the generation she covers, and this was an insight and a reconnection to the nature of their lives, already greatly influential in mine.

A few months after I read the book, I heard Virginia Nicholson speak about it at the Charleston festival. She's an entertaining reader and speaker; worth seeking out. She asked the audience to raise their hands if they had been related to, or taught by, the generation of women she described. Almost everybody did. I hope some of those who raised their hands will tell the stories of the spinsters who shaped their lives and memories.

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