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Janet Wolff

9: Spinster George Romney’s portrait of a ‘spinstress’ in Kenwood House is a bit misleading. The subject, Romney’s muse Emma Hart, later Lady Hamilton, was not actually a spinner – this was just one of many romantic and theatrical poses she held for the painter. Nor was she a spinster. By the time she sat for Romney for this painting in 1784–85, she had already been employed in a ‘temple of health’ (possibly a brothel), become pregnant at the age of sixteen and been for a few years the mistress of the Hon. Charles Greville, second son of the Earl of Warwick

in Austerity baby
Emma Liggins

Chapter 3 Spinster heroines, aunts and widowed mothers, 1910–39 Critical accounts of spinster fiction have tended to focus on the subjectivity of the spinster heroine and her entrapment within the domestic space. Maroula Joannou has emphasised ‘the disparity between how the spinster sees herself and how she appears to others’ in 1920s spinster fiction, arguing that it enacts ‘a form of resistance, albeit at times hesitant and ambivalent, to the distorting ideologies of the day’.1 Such narratives mediated ongoing concerns about surplus women exacerbated by the

in Odd women?
Emma Liggins

Chapter 5 Professional spinsters, older women and widowed heroines in the 1930s This chapter compares representations of single and widowed women in 1930s novels and life-writing in the context of concerns about promiscuity, maternity and ageing. A new interest in cross-generational bonding had ushered the obscurer figure of the widow into the spotlight. Virginia Woolf ’s polemic Three Guineas (1938) welcomed the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919, which ‘unbarred the professions’ to women, as a moment of ‘excitement’ and ‘pride’, allowing the educated

in Odd women?
Abstract only
Spinsters, lesbians and widows in British women’s fiction, 1850s–1930s
Author: Emma Liggins

Women outside marriage between 1850 and the Second World War were seen as abnormal, threatening, superfluous and incomplete, whilst also being hailed as ‘women of the future’. Before 1850 odd women were marginalised, minor characters, yet by the 1930s spinsters, lesbians and widows had become heroines. This book considers how Victorian and modernist women's writing challenged the heterosexual plot and reconfigured conceptualisations of public and private space in order to valorise female oddity. It offers queer readings of novels and stories by women writers, from Charlotte Bronte, Elisabeth Gaskell, Ella Hepworth Dixon and Netta Syrett to May Sinclair, Radclyffe Hall, Clemence Dane, Winifred Holtby and Virginia Woolf. This interdisciplinary study tracks diverse representations of the odd woman in fiction and autobiographical accounts in relation to the rise of feminism. It illuminates singleness in the context of the suffrage campaign, women's work, sexual inversion and birth control as well as assessing the impact of the First World War. It draws on advice literature, medical texts, feminist polemic and articles from the new women's magazines. Developing debates within queer theory about gender non-conformity, heteronormativity and relationships between women, this genealogy of the odd woman shows how new conceptualisations of female singleness and lesbianism troubled, and ultimately transformed, social norms.

Emma Liggins

and offices who reaped the benefits of increased sexual freedom in a new heterosocial culture. To recast the spinster, or old maid, as a fun-loving ‘bachelor girl’ was to bestow on her a new identity which showed that female singleness was becoming more acceptable. Evolutionary fears about racial decline, however, revived concerns about the old maid’s childlessness and limited social function. As Grant Allen claimed as early as 1889, the ‘self-supporting spinster’ was ‘an abnormality, not the woman of the future’; he annexed this view to an attack on contemporary

in Odd women?
Reconfiguring spinsterhood and the Victorian family in inter- war women’s writing
Emma Liggins

  –​condemning the plight of unmarried women, their aimless existence, their economic and emotional dependency’ (2003: 32). The subtext of protest about the precarious economic conditions of the Victorian spinster in Brontë’s writing became an important aspect of her legacy to women writers of the early twentieth century, who were equally concerned with reinventing singleness for new kinds of heroines (Lamonica, 2003: 30). The ‘coarseness’ of the Brontës’ work which offended mid-​Victorian reviewers, and the ‘violations of propriety’ Gaskell famously protested against in a

in Charlotte Brontë
Emma Liggins

failures who had not played their cards right on the marriage market. This chapter argues that female autobiographers challenged assumptions about spinsters and widows to attack prejudices about gender nonconformity, despite constraints about women’s public selves. To borrow from Judith Butler, if identity as a ‘normative ideal’ is assured through ‘the stabilizing concepts of sex, gender and sexuality’, this is called into question by ‘the cultural emergence of those “incoher­ ent” or “discontinuous” gendered beings who . . . fail to conform to the gendered norms of

in Odd women?
Emma Liggins

birthright of the invert’ ( p. 217). The lesbian heroine does not always correspond to Abraham’s model of the invert as ‘avatar of the urban’,24 as her experiences of displacement, exile and alienation in the city are also used to map her desire for more enabling ‘spaces of inversion’. Intimate friendship between women was both problematised and tentatively endorsed in medically informed advice literature about and for spinsters at this time. Associations between spinsterhood and lesbianism, fuelled by growing public awareness of new sexological theories of repression

in Odd women?
The control of property
Cathryn Spence

properties from others, how they used that property varied. Erickson uses probate records to determine how widows and never-married women lived in England in the early modern period, noting that ‘widows may have often lived with other widows, their sisters- and mothers-in-law’ or rented rooms, ‘again, often with other lone women’, and that ‘slightly less than one-half of single women whose estates came before the probate court appear to have lived in someone else’s household’.9 With this, Erickson makes reference to ‘spinster clustering’, a phenomenon identified by Olwen

in Women, credit, and debt in early modern Scotland
Marilyn Lake

than the tribulations of spinsters. For several decades feminists in Australia focused on attempts to elevate the marriage relationship – lifting it from being a species of prostitution to a ‘sweet companionship’ and, by the twentieth century, attempting to end the ‘sex slavery’ of the wife through the introduction of motherhood endowment. 29 As a result of the perceived

in Gender and imperialism