Sunday, August 3, 2014

Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson


About one million British men were killed during WWI -- and another 2 million wounded, almost 35% of their total forces.  A disproportionately large percentage of these men were officers.  This "lost generation" was devastating, not only because of the lives lost and ruined.  After the war, approximately 2 million women were left single, with no prospects for husbands or children.  Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson is the story of how those women coped during an era when the ultimate goal of most women was to get married and have a family.

This book is fairly short, but packed with information.  It must have been absolutely terrible -- for some women, especially in the upper classes, the ratio of available women to men was something like ten to one.  A higher proportion of upper-class men enlisted and were killed in the war, and most upper-class women couldn't or wouldn't marry down the social scale.  Many of them had few prospects, other than becoming teachers and governesses, and maiden aunts, during a time when being a spinster was the ultimate shame.

Nicholson's book describes a variety of women, some who became famous, like writer Vita Sackville-West and archaeologist Gertrude Caton-Thompson.  Some of the women in the book were able to use this terrible situation to break down barriers and pursue other careers and dreams, such as becoming doctors, lawyers, and businesswomen.  Though it's probably a fraction of many of the women who were left single and childless, it's a very interesting look at how the era and their situation contributed to the changing role of women in the early part of the century.  

This book was very interesting and well-written, and I especially like how the author organized the works mentioned at the end of the book -- she quoted from so many novels and biographies, it was nice to have them organized so I can go back and find them again easily (and add them to my to-read list!)

I highly recommend this book, especially if you're interested in social history and about the aftermath of WWI.  It's particularly timely because of the upcoming anniversary of the Great War.  And another book I can check off my 2015 TBR Pile list! 

11 comments:

  1. Very interesting review Karen, and I have added this to my list of To-be-Bought books! I thought at first I already had it listed, but that is another book by Virginia Nicholson, 'Millions Like Us', which is about British womens' lives in the second world war, which also got good reviews.

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  2. I really liked this book too -- she has a good mix of anecdote and more old-fashioned facts, I thought, which makes for a good read.

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  3. Yay! I knew there was someone else out there who likes the bibliography as much as the book! This has been on my list for a while but as you mention it's the perfect time to read it. The Great Silence, by Juliet Nicolson, was also very good.

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  4. Thank you for reminding me about this book. I've been meaning to read it for ages, but I am very bad about finding time for non fiction,.

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  5. Thanks, I'm definitely adding this one to my ever growing list. When I was young there were quite a lot of elderly spinsters where I lived, mainly due to the lack of men. A lot of them did become teachers as in those days married women weren't even allowed to teach in schools, unless they were widows.

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  6. Sounds like an interesting book, and an interesting bit of "hidden history"!

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  7. I'm also adding this to my list. I wonder if the casualty rate had the same effect in other countries. It had to have less of an impact in the US, because we came into the war so much later, but I wonder about France and Germany.

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  8. I can't remember if I have this I'd not but I know I've looked at it a few times. It sounds really interesting - I sometimes feel we get so caught up in the horror of the actual war that we forget how much it affected society and changed things generally.

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  9. Sounds fascinating! I'd especially like to read about how the women of means and ambition went about filling their lives -- like Gertrude Caton-Thompson. (I say "of means", which actually I have no idea! Maybe she was poor but very very intrepid.)

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  10. Great review. I'm adding this one to my list. Studying about World War 2 is fascinating on so many levels and I think we don't focus enough on the sociological aspects.

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  11. This sounds very interesting! The way WWI and WWII have changed a lot of things for women is a subject of great interest to me.

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