In this book that’s part literary biography, part memoir, journalist Kate Bolick engages with the notion of “spinsterhood” and claims that, rather than being used pejoratively, it should be seen as a term of female autonomy and empowerment. She notes that contemporary society is full of single women (whether never-married, widowed, or divorced), but “spinsterhood” is still largely viewed as an aberration. In other words, as she states in the first sentence of Chapter 1, “Whom to marry, and when it will happen — these two questions define every woman’s existence…” Bolick talks about her own life as a 40-something, never-married woman and how she was inspired to find her own path by the lives of five literary women: Maeve Brennan, Neith Boyce, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Edith Wharton. She weaves the biographies of these women into her own autobiography as she explores what it means to be a spinster and concludes that it can actually be a good thing.
This book was an odd read for me; some parts of it were very interesting and thought-provoking, while others made me roll my eyes in annoyance. I think its main problem is that it’s trying to be too many different genres; I was hoping for more of a cultural study and often found Bolick’s personal reminiscences tiresome. I also struggled with her definition of spinsterhood. To me, a spinster would be a woman who remains unmarried and uncoupled throughout her life. But Bolick’s literary inspirations, all of whom she styles as “spinsters,” mostly did get married eventually. Some of the marriages were tempestuous, and some of them ended in divorce, but these women did not live their entire lives uncoupled. Bolick herself, though technically never married, talks at length about her previous and current relationships, and she has even cohabited with some of her romantic partners. So I feel like she’s not really writing from the perspective of a spinster, but rather as a woman who is in a long-term, committed relationship — married in all but name. That said, the little biographies of the five “spinsters” who inspired Bolick were interesting, and I’d like to learn more about these writers and/or read some of their works. But overall, this book disappointed me; it just wasn’t what I expected.