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The Magnificent Spinster

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  155 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
The “magnificent spinster” is Jane Reid, a teacher who became not only a revered role model but a dear friend to Cam, the narrator of this novel within a novel. After Jane’s death, the accidental discovery of poems written by Cam in her youth to Jane prompts a flood of recollections—and frees Cam to imagine in fiction Jane’s passionately vibrant life.
Paperback, 384 pages
Published February 17th 1988 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1985)
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Oct 16, 2016 Carol added it
Shelves: fiction
The Hook - It’ hard to remember exactly but I think The Magnificent Spinster by May Sarton is a favorite of Thomas Otto, one half of the podcast team at The Readers. I believe he recommended this at Booktopia Petoskey 2015. I promised myself I would read it and I finally have.

The Line(s) -” Alzheimers! And really, “she went on half to herself, “one trouble with all the statistics and all the generalities is that old age is as singular an experience for each person as childhood is. “
The Sinker -
Aug 17, 2016 Mandy rated it it was ok
The magnificent spinster of the title is Jane Reid, a paragon of all the virtues who receives adulation from all who know her. The story of her life is narrated by her devoted friend Cam who reflects on the influence Jane had on so many other people. There’s a lot to enjoy about this biographical novel as it paints a portrait of a group of women who survive very well without men. Many of them are lesbians but not all, and more than romantic attachment the driving force of their lives is ...more
Jean Sheldon
Jul 22, 2014 Jean Sheldon rated it it was amazing
Nearly every Sarton book offers memorable characters, The Magnificent Spinster is no exception. Simple yet elegant writing, enduring characters, and a story well told—for me, it doesn't get much better.
Feb 01, 2015 Mystica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am indebted to the blogger who introduced this author to me and for the life of me I cannot remember who it was. Thank you.

I loved the style of writing of this wonderful story. A memoir of a life but first starting at seventy and then going back to seventh grade and then gradually unraveling a life which was so full of vitality, energy, love and kindness that I felt totally inadequate at the end of the story feeling very much so that I have not done enough with my life!

Cam is our narrator and
Dec 14, 2015 Kate rated it really liked it
Recommended to Kate by: Thomas Otto
Shelves: 2015-books
I won this book from the lovely Thomas of The Readers while we were attending Booktopia Petoskey. It is a quiet, beautiful story of a life, that of a woman who chose service to others over her own needs. Told as a novel by one of her former students, we see Jane Reed's life from her privileged childhood, through her career as a teacher, then as a volunteer in post World War II Germany and finally as an older person, enjoying her family and her summer home. Throughout, May Sarton writes of a life ...more
Mar 18, 2012 Leaflet rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels
I picked this one off the freebie shelf at the library. I don't know what to think of this book...there were parts I liked very well and some parts seemed rambling and pointless. Is it fiction? Biography? Biographical fiction? It's an odd book. Though I liked the emphasis on the strength of lifelong friendships, I have to say I was getting pretty weary of reading how wonderful Jane Reid was by the time I reached the end. I do give the author half a point though for mentioning The Hobbit a couple ...more
I didn’t finish this so won’t rate it, but did read 260 pages of it, so feel it should count. In response to my request for reader feedback, I received a lovely email which has encouraged me to pick this up at another time, and give it another try.
Jul 11, 2011 Maxine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good read. Celebrating friendship and what you learn from each other through the many years that you stay connected.
Nov 17, 2015 Shad rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, biography
I had a hard time putting this book down. Jane was a fascinating character.
Oct 02, 2013 Ruth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title is dumb, but it does tell you what the book is about...
Jane Reid is a wonderful, interesting woman who was Cam's, teacher in grade seven. Cam is now in her seventies, is attempting to write a novel about Jane's life. Jane was a mentor and friend to Cam, who just cannot imagine people not knowing her friend, and what an amazing person she was.

The story is actually a novel within a novel, Cam's telling about her quest to write the story, and the story itself. Jane is very very rich, but
Karen Klein
Jan 24, 2015 Karen Klein rated it really liked it
Enjoyable read for the most part. Cam has just come from the funeral of one of her oldest and dearest friends, Jane Reid. As she thinks about Jane and her life she becomes sad, knowing that no one will know about the extraordinary life that Jane Reid led. Cam now feels compelled to write Jane's biography so that the world will know how wonderful her friend truly was. She realizes that there are big chucks of Jane's life that she knows nothing about. She begins to seek out old friends and ...more
Dec 01, 2009 Kerry rated it really liked it
I really enjoy reading May Sarton. She has such a way of making her characters feel like they are people you know or want to know. The privileged Cambridge location of this book is the back drop for a memoir, if you will, of a woman who devotes her life to giving to others. The giving of herself and her resources are done so beautifully as to make you think about all the 'random acts of kindness' you could be doing. Smile. In the background is the very intereseting dynamic of the women from ...more
Jul 08, 2013 Carol rated it liked it
A fictional biography of a fictional woman narrated by a fictional long time friend. On the one hand, the characters are not complex enough to be real. On the other hand, it is real enough to remind me of people I have known: Women born at the beginning of the 20th century who are strong and gentle and centered in their human values, having lived through 2 world wars, woman's suffrage, the great depression, and the technology revolution.... Women of that era had a quality which is difficult to ...more
Mary Etta
Apr 05, 2008 Mary Etta rated it really liked it
From my Bozeman book group.
A story within a story.
Some quotes:
"There is always a discrepancy between what we see of a person, especially one at a certain distance, and what has been actually happening to that person."

". . . How much planning went into life that seemed to saunter along unplanned! Somewhere Jung has noted: 'We must not forget that only a very few people are artists in life; that the art of life is the most distinguished and rarest of all the arts. Whoever suceeded i draining the w
Apr 06, 2010 Maryjoamani rated it it was ok
I love May Sarton but my goodness, she missed the boat on this one. A biography with no subtlety or insight--and it all seems to be pointing toward her. Pedantic and repetitive. Oh well. I don't recommend this one unless you are an afficionado and want to learn more about Sarton by her attempt to write an autobiography with poor concealments. There is sweetness in the book--her one dimensional characterization of female friends does shed some light on the times (pre and post WWI and II) that ...more
Jul 13, 2016 Tiah added it
– It is odd that, on the whole, novelists speak little of friendship between opposite sexes, and especially these days, when sexual encounters dominate everything else in most fictional characters. –

– She made me see that my tendency to talk a lot in class sometimes prevented shyer students from contributing. –

– Anger is so close to grief. –

– What I could not know was that death brings with it a thousand errands and responsibilities, and the bereaved are too busy to mourn or even to think. –

Jan 19, 2008 Robin rated it it was ok
What a mess this turned out to be. This was published during Editors' week Off. Imagine if someone went into your desk drawer, took out your novel-in-a-notebook and put a cover on it. And like that draft, there are strong scenes, interesting characters, a few good stories, and no structure at all. A novelist writing a novel about an historian writing a novel disguised as a biography that may be based in some truth. I didn't finish.
Gena DeBardelaben
Mar 03, 2015 Gena DeBardelaben rated it liked it
ARC: Netgalley

In The Magnificent Spinster May Sarton covers the life of her former teacher and life long friend Jane Reid. Jane's life spanned from the innocent days of the late 1800's to the last half of the 1900's. It was a time of great change in the world and Jane set out to live life her own way.
I so much enjoy reading May Sarton's books. They are all different from each other, but all are very insightful and introspective.
This one is a fictional biography.
Sarton writes sparingly, giving you a lot of room to think about things.

Sarton grew up in Belgium and the US, with a Belgian father [a famous historian of science] and an English mother.
Apr 04, 2015 Nancy rated it liked it
Fictional biography but interesting in the time period it covers - late 1800s to late 1900s. Story is about strong women helping others, making their marks and not depending on men or marriage. There's a lot of jumping back and forth between people and time periods, so a bit hard to keep in order if you don't read it straight through.
Steven Monrad
Aug 03, 2009 Steven Monrad rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
I once read an excellent autobiographical book by May Sarton which I don't have so always pick her books up used.
This one is based on some real inspirational woman in her life,
a setting of east coast academic women spanning the major wars,
nice but not inspirational.
Jul 08, 2011 Julie rated it liked it
3 1/2 My "friend" of the booksnob blog loved this book. I recommend it as an insightful look at the life of a single woman who does not feel that the be all and end all is getting married (AMEN!).
I have always liked the writings of May Sarton and am surprised I hadn't read this before.
Jan 27, 2008 Kim rated it really liked it
If I was pressed into a corner and HAD to pick a favorite book, this would be it. Maine and Massachusetts, teachers, living full while being single, lasting influence... oh sigh!! I re-read it at least once a year when it calls to me.
Jane Brocious
Mar 07, 2015 Jane Brocious rated it it was amazing
My first (but not my last) May Sarton novel. The book has an interesting structure, a novel within a novel. Intricate details of character and friendship. I don't think this novel is for everybody, but it really spoke to me in many ways.
Laura-nassidesa Eschbaugh
May 12, 2012 Laura-nassidesa Eschbaugh rated it it was amazing
A wonderful book about women, their friendships, struggles, their role in history. You will savor this story, passing it on to friends, family and strangers.
Dec 25, 2009 Jan rated it did not like it
Pretty words do not always equal a satisfying book. Dull, boring.
Lovely language. Could not finish. Skipped to the end - glad I
didn't waste any more time.

A great book about how one woman really can change many lives, and that you don't have to get married to be happy.
Great portrait of life in Cambridge in the early part of the 20th century.
Aug 31, 2013 Linda rated it really liked it
This book is so enjoyable. No great plot arcs or fast action. Just thoughtful writing about people.
Deborah rated it really liked it
Jun 21, 2010
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May Sarton was born on May 3, 1912, in Wondelgem, Belgium, and grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her first volume of poetry, Encounters in April, was published in 1937 and her first novel, The Single Hound, in 1938. An accomplished memoirist, Sarton boldly came out as a lesbian in her 1965 book Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing. Her later memoir, Journal of a Solitude, was an account of ...more
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