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Once Upon A Bookshelf

Where Fiction and Reality Meet

Singled Out

Author: Virginia Nicholson
Originally Published: 2007
Publisher: Penguin Books
Source: Bookmooch

The Story

From the inside cover:

It often seems to the single woman today as if available men are getting scarcer; but there is nothing new about young women who can’t find relationships.

The First World War deprived Britain of three quarters of a million soldiers, leaving as many more incapacitated. In 1919 a generation of women who unquestioningly believed marriage to be their birthright discovered that there were, quite simply, not enough men to go round. They became known as ‘the Surplus Women.’

Many of us remember them: they were our teachers, our maiden aunts, women who seemed to have lost out on life’s feast. This book tells of their stories: it tells of the student weeping for a lost world as the Armistice bells pealed… the socialite who dedicated her life to resurrecting the 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 of many others who reinvent themselves.

Tracing their fates, Virginia Nicholson shows how the single woman of the inter-War decades had to stop depending on a man for her income, her identity and her happiness. Some just endured; others challenged the conventions, fought the system, found fulfillment. Singled Out pays homage to a remarkable generation of women. They were changed by war; in their turn they helped change society. These pages offer some of their solutions, and also some of their consolations.

The Response

Have I mentioned lately how much I love books relating in almost any way to WWI? Normally, I stick with books that somehow had something to do with Canadians, so the different perspective was a nice change. It’s also a topic that I’m not overly familiar with – all of the women who were forced to make their own way in life because so many of their men died in the war. It’s tragic and heartbreaking and extremely powerful. These women took what they were given in life, and made the world a much better place for all of us women coming after them – those women who wanted to be archeologists, politicians, business women, women who didn’t settle for life as a stay-at-home wife. It’s hard to imagine how different this world could have been without them.

Parts of the book are very inspirational. As someone who was serially single for almost her whole like before meeting my current bf, it was awe inspiring to see what these women were able to accomplish. It was also easy to see how some women may have felt heartbreak and destitute in their situation. But the strength that they showed to push through and live a full life even when everything that they expected from life was ripped from them… very cool.

So the stories in this book were awesome. I’m wondering, though, how much the narration did for me. See, it always takes me so long to read non-fiction. I think this is why I don’t read more of it. I want to, I really do, but when it takes over a month to get through one book… well, it’s a little daunting, you know? (Does anyone else have this problem?) Anyway, this book seemed to take a little bit longer than normal, and I think it was because of the fact that I didn’t particularly like the way Nicholson related the subject.

One thing that I know for sure I didn’t like about this book was how much Nicholson seemed to depend on novels as being an insight to the author’s own thoughts and feelings in regards to single women after WWI. Yes, they sometimes can. But sometimes they aren’t… Are we just supposed to assume that because a single woman author wrote about a single woman that it’s autobiographical?

Anyway, aside from that, the subject matter was highly interesting, and I am certainly very glad that I did read this – I learned a lot more about a subject that interests me than I had previously known, and I’m happy to have learned about some of the women who had a hand in making my present career path possible, and not just some future where I’m expected to stay in the home.

The Bottom Line

Good read. Educational. Interesting. Recommended to those who enjoy women’s studies.

Other Reviews

Things Mean A Lot, A Few More Pages, Sassymonkey Reads, A Work in Progress. Have you reviewed this book on your blog? Let me know and I’ll add your link.

Posted by Courtney Wilson @ 7:05 am October 14, 2011.
Category: Non-Fiction
Book Author(s):

  • sassymonkey

    I think your problems with the narration were the same as mine. Loved the subject matter but not the way it was presented. Nicholson has a book about the role of women in WWII that I’m kind of tempted by, because again I love the subject matter, but she’s going to have to cover some of the same ground as Anne de Courcy and de Courcy is a tough act to follow. She writes very well.

  • Court

    Sassymonkey – I haven’t read anything by Anne de Courcy. I’ll need to remedy that, methinks.

  • Shannon

    Annd do Courcy is probably distantly related to me. My mom’s maiden name is Coursey, which was shortened and respelled from the original Irish when they came to Canada.

    I think a lot of non-fiction lacks the driving narrative that we are used to in contemporary fiction. I am going to try to get my hands on some of the CBC Canada Reads books this year, because they are focusing on non-fiction for the first time. There’s often very little momentum in non-fiction because we know how it ends. Or at least, that’s how it feels for me.

  • Nymeth

    I hope you and Karen enjoy Millions Like Us if you decide to try it! I love both that one and this, though you’re certainly right about the biographical approach.

  • Aarti

    I think I have heard mixed reviews of this one, so I’m glad to see you really enjoy it. I am a serial singleton, too, and I can completely understand how women feel alternately very empowered and very lonely in that role- I imagine it was even moreso in the after-effects of WWI.

  • Kailana

    I really want to read this. I have it, so it is just a matter of getting around to it! I am thinking of trying to read books of this nature in November… I say that every year, though, and then rather crash and burn when the time actually comes. Her other book sounds really good, too.