Spinster: Life Beyond the Blueprint.

Spinster A Life of One‚Äôs Own, by Kate Bolick.jpg a room of ones own

In 1928 Virginia Woolf was asked to give a lecture at Girton College, Cambridge on the topic of women and fiction. Her first line was “But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction- what has that got to do with a room of one’s own?”

This important feminist polemic explain the difficulties of a woman equally as gifted as Tolstoy and Shakespeare in writing great works of literature. Woolf explains that poverty and domestic shackles have always limited women’s capacity to contribute to the canon and that “women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. Women have had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves.”

Modern woman has the financial freedom not alone to write fiction, but can dictate her own reality and occupy and enjoy not only a room of her own, but an entire house of her own. She also has the power to both write and live by a narrative of her choice.  She is the woman celebrated as the heroine of Destiny’s Child’s song Independent Woman.  The house I live in / I’ve bought it / The car I’m driving / I’ve bought it / I depend on me.

The question of how a woman moves through the world alone is explored with bold candour by Kate Bolick in Spinster, described as a triumph by Malcolm Gladwell.   This polemic for our time is a marvelous meditation on what it means to be female at the dawn of the 21st century. The cover of the book shows the author sitting on a sumptuous gold velvet sofa sipping tea from a porcelain cup.  She is glamorous and smiling, the photographic antithesis of the archetypical spinster. Bolick wrote the book as she approached forty and was ruminating on whether she could spend her life alone and still be happy. Bolick states that the dual contingencies of “whom to marry, and when will it happen” impact on every woman’s life regardless of where she was raised or of her religious background,  and continue to “govern her until they’re answered, even if the answers are nobody and never.”

She believes that the single woman has always been stigmatized and reviled.  Social psychologist Bella DePaulo coined the word “singlism” to describe this bias and discrimination against people who are single.  Bolick notes that the single woman stereotype is continually evolving and perceptions of her have fluctuated wildly over the decades.  From the cat-loving spinster of the popular imagination, she can be perceived to be selfless like Florence Nightingale, a charming eccentric à la Mary Poppins or Holly Golightly or as a powerful icon as Joan Of Arc.

The author structures the book around the lives of five female authors, weaving their experiences and struggles with her own narrative path. These writers become her “awakeners”, female spirit guides didn’t conform to societal demands and proclaimed the joys of freedom from domestication. These women were all true pioneers, women who secured the freedom and range to develop lives independent of home and family. Her awakeners are the Irish writer Maeve Brennan, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edith Wharton, Neith Boyce and Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  Bolick’s book was inspired by her “spinster wish,” which is her shorthand for the extravagant pleasure of simply being by herself, it is a sensuous vision of solitary self-care and self indulgence.

The terrain of the modern single woman is explored with psychological depth in Other Hood by Melanie Notkin, A Life Of One’s Own by Ilana Simons and Rocking The Life Unexpected by Jody Day.  These new books are blue prints for living a single life with confidence, they put a new spin on spinster and rebuff the taints of singlism. In the words of Sylvia Plath they encourage single women to take a deep breath and listen to the old brag of the heart “I am, I am, I am”.

Holiday reading

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I always love to rediscover an old holiday read on the bookshelf, its pages stained with sun tan lotion, the pages clumped and curling from frequent encounters with my dripping self. I can always remember the holiday where it earned its battered state, the beach or poolside that provided the backdrop to its disfigurement and post- sodden state. Summer reads like destinations should supply just enough entertainment to help the mind unravel. A tome that requires too much concentration as you lie poolside is never a good idea.

I attempted Thomas Piketty’s ” Capital” on day one on the beach and after half an hour was in an advanced state of anxiety about the World, the economy and my own meagre place in all this. I abandoned it for an Autumn night, made immediate peace with the fact that I’ll never have much money, it seems to elude me somehow, like the green light in Gatsby.

I returned to my supply of novels that promised to transport me to other lives and other sensibilites. I can highly recommend the following beach themed books.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub- a deftly observed novel about the secrets,lies and jealousies that bubble to the surface over the course of an American family’s two-week stay in Mallorca.

Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler- The character Delia Grinstead vanishes without any reason. She sheds her old life for a new and exiting one, which makes it an ideal holiday read as you lie on the deck chair and think of new schemes and reinventions.

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf- enter into this landmark novel of high modernism and join the Ramsay family in their summer house off the coast of Scotland, as prepare to be transformed by this moving portrait of family life.

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh- From the Ramsays at the turn of the century, you can now join the long-married Jenn and Greg on summer vacation in Mallorca. As you sip your vino be prepared for a very steamy read of lust in the lemon groves. Oh, and it doesn’t involve Greg as the object of this lust..

Alison Moore’s first novel ” The Lighthouse ” brings the reader on a holiday that begins on the deck of a ferry, where we meet Futh who is leaving an unravelling marriage for a walking holiday along the Rhine. What follows is a story of repetition and circularity, which is deliciously unsettling. As a Man Booker contender this book lends a bit of literary cachet to your beach look!

Always good when on foreign shores to hark back to the motherland with that peculiar mixture of smug gratitude at having escaped however temporarily and a sort of nostalgic patriotism for the old isle. These books, recently published by Irish authors are superb.
Eimear McBride’s ” A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing” is an experience that needs a little commitment from the reader and this award winning book will teach you more about language and consciousness than a PhD in linguistics. She’s hailed as a Joycean genius, make up your own mind.

Colin Barrett’s ” Young Skins” is probably the best collection of short stories I’ve read in the last few years. These stories are based in a fictional Mayo town, and in both style and scope excavate the gaping holes in lives and loves in post-boom Ireland.

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