Singled Out: How Two Million British Women Survived Without Men After the First World War
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Almost three-quarters of a million British soldiers lost their lives during the First World War, and many more were incapacitated by their wounds, leaving behind a generation of women who, raised to see marriage as "the crown and joy of woman's life," suddenly discovered that they were left without an escort to life's great feast.
Drawing upon a wealth of moving memoirs, Singled Out tells the inspiring stories of these women: the student weeping for a lost world as the Armistice bells pealed, the socialite who dedicated her life to resurrecting the ancient past after her soldier love was killed, the Bradford mill girl whose campaign to better the lot of the "War spinsters" was to make her a public figure--and many others who, deprived of their traditional roles, reinvented themselves into something better. Tracing their fates, Nicholson shows that these women did indeed harbor secret sadness, and many of them yearned for the comforts forever denied them--physical intimacy, the closeness of a loving relationship, and children. Some just endured, but others challenged the conventions, fought the system, and found fulfillment outside of marriage. From the mill-girl turned activist to the debutante turned archeologist, from the first woman stockbroker to the "business girls" and the Miss Jean Brodies, this book memorializes a generation of young women who were forced, by four of the bloodiest years in human history, to stop depending on men for their income, their identity, and their future happiness. Indeed, Singled Out pays homage to this remarkable generation of women who, changed by war, in turn would change society.
Fascination with the country, and the issue of our own responsibility for it as colonisers, took root in her brain. By chance in 1924 a post came up at her old Oxford college; her scanty experience of the colonial administration was by then sufficient for her to be asked to instruct foreign service probationers. And that was the beginning of a lifetime of travel and research, of teaching, advising, publishing and journeying. Margery went to the Pacific islands, to the Antipodes, to America, the.
Bravely endured loneliness, grief and poverty with her self-respect intact. For Jane, plain though she is, love triumphs and Charlotte Brontë rewards her heroine with the most cathartic of fairytale endings. ‘Reader, I married him…’ is the biggest sigh of relief in English literature. These earlier novels fed the notion that only marriage offered true happiness; they did not dispel the overwhelmingly negative and distorted image that was accepted as a portrayal of the single woman in literature.
Gay and sunny-tempered… put him in a holy and sacred niche in your heart… Finale! The Wedding March and orange-blossom and that “little grey home in the West” – matrimonial heaven.’ If the girl played her cards right, she would catch her man, provided she satisfied his conditions. And it appears from the pages of the women’s magazines that his conditions hadn’t changed much since the days of Charles Darwin. Women’s magazine editors gave men plenty of column space. In August 1920 Woman’s Life ran.
Fiancé killed…’, you were only too glad to marry anyone, even if ‘totally blinded or otherwise incapacitated by the War…’, then the wartime hospitals were a rich source of grateful, submissive and sex-starved young men. When nineteen-year-old Stuart Cloete’s shoulder-blade was smashed by a German bullet at the battle of the Somme he was taken back to recover in hospital in Reading. Watching the VADs in their starched uniforms as they bustled busily around the ward, his mind was on their bodies.
And woman. ‘Love is something far more than desire for sexual intercourse; it is the principal means of escape from the loneliness which afflicts most men and women throughout the greater part of their lives…’ wrote Russell. The human being needs sex, but more than that he or she needs companionship, understanding, sympathy and just someone to talk to. Perhaps these were, for the single woman, more fundamentally necessary than heterosexual love, romance, motherhood and wifely status. Lonely.