I've never felt spinster to be much of a negative word but then again, I've been lucky to have grown up in a generation where it hasn't been thrown around with wild abandon. I've always thought it a bit quaint, oddly romantic. Now that I better understand the origin of the word and the way it's been deployed over the centuries, I find it lovely now to be able to pick it up and claim it.
I'm not married and portents decree that is unlikely to happen. I am currently in a relationship, but by the commonly accepted definition of the word - an unmarried woman - I am a spinster - and even by today's more liberal standards, a rather old spinster.
My imagining of a spinster has never been crazy-cat-lady or social-outcast but, rather, an older woman whose decisions, life, and living space are designed of her full autonomy. It's clear that Kate Bolick has entertained the same imaginings. Her new memoir examines the history of spinsterhood, entwined with her earnest relation of her own struggles towards - and desire for - becoming a spinster.
Bolick provides examples of five different female writers who were all ultimately defined as a spinster, whether by never being married or by spending the larger portion of their lives unmarried. She shares how she relates to each of these writers and their experiences. Though I've read that some readers have found the inclusion of the five writers feels like Bolick shoehorned them in, I very much enjoyed their presence. So many people complain about memoirs being too much about the person writing them; those critics will appreciate Bolick's pioneering spinster authors to alleviate the focus from Bolick's own experiences (of which I also enjoyed). Bolick clearly lives a life quite different from my own, some of which was difficult to relate to; she writes at one point of a deep-seated fear of becoming a bag lady on the streets of New York, which is highlighted when the magazine at which she has been a well-paid editor folds and she is unemployed, but then in the next breath writes about how she's discussing her fears with her therapist. I'm inclined to believe that if I were already scared about my financial situation in one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, and then lost the stability of my job, unless I were seeing my therapist for a life-or-death sort of situation, those appointments would be one of the first things to go.
Despite some remove due to clear significant lifestyle/financial differences, I did love this book. I saw myself in many of Bolick's fears and desires, I enjoyed discovering a couple authors I don't think I'd heard of before, and better appreciating those I knew very little about. I loved how there is this small illustration separating the different sections of the book and it wasn't until about halfway through that I realized what the illustration was depicting.
The subtitle is the guide, here, if you are wondering what you might gain from Spinster. Whether you are single (willingly or not), coupled but not married, or even if you are married, Bolick's narrative encourages women to be careful not to allow partners or family to overwhelm themselves as a distinct person with passions and lives separate from those they love. I worried, sometimes, that Bolick could've been making too strong of a correlation between the women and their writing declining when they coupled up with someone. But on the whole, there was almost certainly some affect on some of their output during the years they were married (especially given that they all lived during times when they were expected to drop any careers or artistic interests once married), and so regardless of how much you subscribe to Bolick's conjectures, there's still some cautionary tales here.
Encouraging, inspiring, skillfully engrossing.