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All Single All the Time

Monday, July 29, 2019 - 07:00

In the context of doing a podcast on the usefulness of singlewomen studies, I plunged into this collection that I picked up at Kalamazoo this year. (Thereby also fulfilling my pledge to try to prioritize new book acquisitions.) There are several really fascinating articles for my purpose, especially one on singlewomen in the profession of moneylender. I’ve started off by scheduling these at the usual one-per-week rate, though I'm not counting this introduction as fulfilling the requirement so I'll be posting the first actual paper on Wednesday. As several of the later articles are of very little relevance to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project, at some point I’ll dump the remaining items one-a-day around the rest of the blog schedule to finish them off. But in the mean time, I need some breathing space for my two-week trip to Ireland in August (for Worldcon) plus recovery time while I line up more blog material. Oh, and August is also when I’m doing the editorial revisions for Floodtide. Another reason to set up a series of blogs where I can just hit the button and publish. [Edited to add: I wrote up all the entries for this collection a week ago before I started the Floodtide revisions when I anticipated a longer process. As it happens, we finished two go-rounds of editorial feedback this past weekend and it's all done. Yay!]

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Full citation: 

Amtower, Laurel and Dorothea Kehler. 2003. “Introduction” in The Single Woman in Medieval and Early Modern England: Her Life and Representation, ed. by Laurel Amtower and Dorothea Kehler. Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Tempe. ISBN 0-06698-306-6

Publication summary: 

A collection of articles on the general topic of how single women are represented in history and literature in medieval and early modern England. Not all of the articles are clearly relevant to the LHMP but I have included all the contents.


As usual, the introduction to this collection includes laying out the basic concepts of the topic, a review of the existing literature, and then summaries of the papers that discuss how they relate to each other.

Among the social categories for women, “singlewomen” is a complex that includes widows and pre-married women as well as never-married women. It can include well-born “spinsters” and economically independent businesswomen, as well as wage earners (including domestic and agricultural laborers). Existing research includes some in-depth statistical surveys of singlewomen across time and space, but studies have rarely included literary studies and typically begin their focus in the 16th century.

This collection discusses methods for recovering the lives of singlewomen from a broader cultural perspective. Good previous publications in the field include Bennett & Froide (Singlewomen in the European Past), Lewis et al. (Young Medieval Women), Hufton (The Prospect Before Her). All share a focus that women can’t be reduced to a single category or experience. A given woman’s life can represent multiple experiences.

This collection focuses mainly on representation of singlewomen, especially literary representation. It notes how the division of singlewomen into sub-classes masks their pervasive presence in society. There is a discussion of different sub-classes within the category. Each era has a normative model of women’s lives, and those who don’t fit are stereotyped and argued away as non-typical. These essays discuss those various contexts and how they sustain or contradict the model of patriarchal restrictions on women’s options.

The collection is divided into “Celebrating Chastity”, “Repudiating Marriage”, “Imaginary Widowhood”, and “Sexuality and Re-virgination.” One focus of the papers is on the potential agency of singlewomen. How was singlehood understood as an available and even positive choice? The remainder of the introduction is a summary and contextualization of the contents.

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