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Singleness Is The Focus Of New Book

Armen Hareyan's picture


The lives of single men and women in England (1914-60) are the focus of a new book by Dr Katherine Holden of the University of the West of England.

In The Shadow of Marriage: singleness in England 1914-60 Dr Holden looks at individual lives of single men and women as well as considering images of singleness and the conditions in English society which affected the choices people made. And while conditions have changed considerably since this period, many of the old stereotypes still exist.

At the end of the First World War there were believed to be a million more women than men of 'marriageable' age and for much of the period, nearly half the adult population was single, and well over a third had never married.

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Dr Holden says, "Many of these women thrust into 'singleness' went on to play very important roles in the lives of others and in society. For example, despite not being mothers, they played a significant role in the lives of children as nannies, foster mothers, domestic servants, and teachers. It was also the expected norm for unmarried daughters to care for their elderly parents.

"The spinster stereotype has changed little over the years, and the image of the never married woman as incomplete without a man is still around. In the past these women were described as 'old maids' and despite the major changes in society we still use the same images to deride women - especially those past child bearing age. The spinster is typically someone who is seen as having no life of her own, as being unattractive, no fun, narrow minded and judgemental.

"Through my research I found that this was far from the case. Men and women who lived single lives often shared their lives with parents, friends and others in society. The image of loneliness that is associated with singlehood is simply not accurate.

"Conditions are very different for women now and single women are not such a large collective group. The range of occupations open to women is greater now, whereas employment opportunities in the past were much more limited. During periods in history such as the aftermath of the First World War when there were large groups of single women, there were more support networks - such as women's associations, hostels and organizations specifically for single women. These support networks do not exist now. In some ways this is a loss for single women."

Key to this book is the idea that 'singleness' exists only in contrast to marriage as the 'normal' state. Dr Holden explores and challenges this notion, by probing the boundaries of the nuclear family and casts light on stereotypes of singleness still prevalent in society today.

Dr Holden has invited many of the interviewees from her book to attend the launch on Saturday 3 November 5.00pm - 7.00pm, The Institute of Historical Research University of London, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU.