Friday, 31 October 2008

Singled Out

Three-quarters of a million young men lost their lives in the First World War. This 'lost generation' meant that many women had to abandon their traditional expectations of marriage and motherhood as there were simply not enough men to go round. In Singled Out, Virginia Nicholson examines how the women of this generation responded to the crisis. Many lost fiances, beloved brothers, colleagues and friends. After coming to terms with their shock and grief these women magnificently rose to the challenge of life as a singleton (long before the phrase was coined by the fictional Bridget Jones) and found new direction and purpose.

For some, this meant a career. Gertrude Maclean established Universal Aunts in 1921, an organisation which provided ladies of 'irreproachable background' to act as nannies, personal shoppers or researchers. Nicholson describes how one Universal Aunt had to look after a mongoose for a week while its owner was abroad! Others, such as Elizabeth Goudge, took comfort from a devout Christian faith and a literary talent. Goudge went on to become a best-selling writer after the publication of Green Dolphin Country.

Singled Out is a highly original and interesting book.


Juliann in WA said...

Just found your blog this morning and I have put this lovely book on my list to read. I do like your blog and will look forward to checking back.

Ms. Wis./Each Little World said...

I ordered this from the UK after reading about it on Cornflower (I think). I like my cover better (is that a bad thing to say? It is a group of women walking arm in arm).

The writing wasn't always the best, but the subject is one that has been rarely covered given that WWI books are practically a cottage industry. I liked that it looked at the war from women's viewpoints.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about a book like this is that women's experiences and options have changed so radically that it's hard for contemporary readers to picture the narrow possibilities that confined single women before the war. But that is also the value of this book: it presents that life in all social and economic classes so we get a broad look at the issue.

I also like the fact that the book introduces readers to dozens of women who went on to make a name for themselves and thus offers further opportunities for reading and research. At times it annoyed me while reading it (in January) yet I have not got it out of my mind all these months later.

Vintage Reading said...

juliann, thank you so much for visiting. Hope you enjoy the book as much as I did! Nicola

Tara said...

I've been waiting for this to come out in paperback. It is on my bookdepository want list. Thanks for the review.

Vintage Reading said...

Hi ms wis. Yes, this book has stuck in my mind since I read it in the summer. I don't actually read a great deal of non-fiction so I don't have an extensive knowledge of books of this genre to compare it to. I haven't seen the other cover, yes this one is a bit obvious but I do like the lady's shoes!

Tara, I think you will enjoy this. Only thing about the paperback is that the font is very small and difficult to read. Shame, because it detracts from the pleasure of the text.


Tara said...

Nicola, I'm sorry to hear that the font is small! That may make me purchase the hardcover. I'm not that old, but my eyesight seems to be getting worse. I've already had books that I stopped reading because the font was too small. I'm glad you told me this.