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Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived Without Men After the First World War
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Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived Without Men After the First World War

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  538 Ratings  ·  125 Reviews
Almost three-quarters of a million British soldiers lost their lives during the First World War, and many more were incapacitated by their wounds, leaving behind a generation of women who, raised to see marriage as "the crown and joy of woman's life," suddenly discovered that they were left without an escort to life's great feast.

Drawing upon a wealth of moving memoirs, Si
Hardcover, 312 pages
Published January 23rd 2007 by Viking Books (first published 2006)
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Samar Barakat
Sep 11, 2011 rated it liked it
Not a bad read, though often repetitive and sometimes idealistic. I could not escape the feeling that the author was often imposing her own (wishful)interpretation on the lives of the single women she chronicles. Concluding her brief narration of the life of feminist activist Cicely Hamilton, the writer states confidently, "..surely Cicely Hamilton never cast a backward glance at the kitchen,the nursery or even the drawing-room, or sighed for a married life that was never to be. Didn't that sen ...more
This book isn't exactly short of faults, but it's incredibly companionable.

- As several others have said, it's repetitive. I read the book in two chunks almost a year apart which reduced the effect - though by no means completely. Nicholson, a great-niece of Virginia Woolf, has tried to organise the book into themed chapters, but in order to try and present a rounded picture of life for many women, some ordinary diarists, others [semi] famous, who feature, details already mentioned unde
Feb 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
What a fascinating book! Using letters, autobiographies, novels, and her own interviews, Virginia Nicholson explores the lives of the Surplus Women of the Great War. Of course, I've known about the huge numbers of war dead and the permanently wounded, but somehow I'd never spent much time thinking about the women they left behind. If I thought of them at all, I suppose I assumed they mourned their lost husbands/fiancés/boyfriends for a period of time and then moved forward in their lives. I'd ne ...more
Becky Sharp
Jun 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Un libro estupendo. Imprescindible.
Aug 10, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in History, Great Britain, Feminism
Wartime has a way of causing social change, particularly before nuclear warfare, when soldiers did a lot of the fighting. As such, the death of thousands of British soldiers of prime marrying age in World War I resulted in around two million women who would never find a husband. There simply weren't enough men to marry.

That was a generation of women who had been brought up to see marriage as the only option for a decent woman, whose only examples of single women were sexless, unfulfilled, butto
Melanie Baker
Jan 10, 2011 rated it liked it
An interesting look at the consequences of history-shaping events. In this case, due to the carnage of WWI, after there were ~2 million "Surplus Women" in Britain -- a major gender disparity due to the number of men killed in the war. As a result, few of these women would ever marry and have families (which was what women were *for* in those days).

Additionally, the numbers of dead were much higher in certain echelons of society, i.e. the young men of the upper classes were more likely to become
Sep 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2014, i-own
Libro molto interessante e molto godibile che racconta l'esperienza di tutte le donne che si ritrovarono in surplus dopo la Prima Guerra Mondiale - al giorno d'oggi sembra quasi imbarazzante, ma in un'epoca in cui la società voleva le donne sposate e non le voleva lavoratrici, ritrovarsi statisticamente impossibilitate al matrimonio per i troppi decessi avvenuti in guerra risultò in una vera e propria 'piaga' sociale.
Da un lato questo situazione agevolò l'indipendenza delle donne, dall'altra si
Apr 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
A fascinating read - I knew of this part of history, but had never really researched it or thought through any of the ramifications. I found it both moving and thought-provoking (imagine being told by your headmistress, at a time when it was so taken for granted that girls would marry that it was near impossible to think of any other way of life, that nine out of ten of them leaving school would remain single for life...not unlike a university graduate nowadays being informed that the job market ...more
I just realised that I forgot to do a review for this one when I finished it a couple of weeks ago. It was an interesting, if at times sad, read. It made me very grateful that I live now, with life being better in general for both married and single women.

It was sad to read about the women who wanted a husband and family and felt that they had lost their sense of purpose without this path. But it was also inspiring to read about the women who viewed the lack of men as an opportunity to succeed
Feb 13, 2010 rated it liked it
Virginia Nicholson's true story of the generation of women left without husbands after the Great War. Read by Miriam Margolyes.

1/5. Virginia Nicholson's true story of the generation of women left without husbands.

2/5. Not all men are happy with the amount of spinsters after the Great War.

3/5. True story of the women left alone after the Great War. The 1920s was a brave new world.

4/5. True story of the women left alone after the Great War. Exclusion led women to pair up.

5/5. It takes a valiant wo
Ultra Violet
Apr 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this, these women were remarkable characters with their passion for life, their cats and their eccentricities. I would have liked to have met them. I will now say that " marriage would have eclipsed my unusual talents". Or " that anyone can get married but it takes a good valiant woman to remain unmarried".
Sally George
Sep 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
I felt compelled to read this book when I came across this paragraph in the Family Tree Magazine - "In 1917, the senior mistress of the Bournemouth High School for Girls made a sobering announcement to the sixth form assembly: 'I have come to tell you a terrible fact,' she bagan, ominously. 'Only one out of 10 of you girls can ever hope to marry. This is not a guess of mine. It is a statistical fact. Nearly all the men who might have married you have been killed.' On a positive note, the mistres ...more
Oct 21, 2015 rated it liked it
"I should prefer to have been a man: then I could have had a career and marriage too", said Dame Evelyn Sharp, one of the first women to head a government department. Almost two million women more than men left over in Britain after World War One. Most had no hope of marriage, but back then there was so little choice and even women were saying a woman without a husband and children was a failure. Despite that, as Dame Evelyn showed, this was the real era when women's liberation took off. Those t ...more
Oct 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
An absolutely fascinating examination of the "surplus women" of post WW1 England. At the time, many (most) were raised for two purposes - marriage and raise kids. After the massive losses in the war, there simply weren't enough men of "marriageable age," leaving two million women to face a future they had not prepared for.

I really enjoyed the exploration into individual lives of several women, scattered throughout the book are vignettes that introduce these ladies and tell their stories.

Some are
Mar 31, 2008 rated it liked it
Becomes repetitive within the first 100 pages, but does give a unique perspective on a generation of women who went unmarried and had to deal with the mind numbing idiocy of common culture... you can just imagine, the portrayals in the media of the desperate women, the needy ones, and the stereotype of the ones who tried to find happiness outside of societies narrowly defined terms of what happiness as a women SHOULD be. F**k society.
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This book is very strong in its strength and embarrassingly amateur in its area of weaknesses. The writer appears to have done a degree in English Literature, and this is very obvious in her approach.

Strengths: It is very readable and benefits from the depth of research - reading of private diaries and memoirs as well as published sources, including some long out of print, and interviews with very elderly women providing rich and vivid first person testament.

Often, reading about the achievement
Jun 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
I found this history of English women who came of age during the First World War--losing brothers, fiancés, husbands, and even just date prospects to the carnage--very compelling. Nicholson presents illuminating narratives, some retrospective from little old ladies she interviewed, some fictional (and often heavily autobiographical), and some autobiographical. She does a wonderful job collating different kinds of evidence (magazine articles about the spinster problem, personal letters and interv ...more
Gail Amendt
Dec 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
I have to admit that I have never given much thought to the demographic imbalance that resulted from the loss of so many young men in WWI, in spite of the fact that two of my great aunts were among the "surplus women" who never married. This book does a great job of examining the lives of some of these surplus women in Britain, and the societal changes that resulted from so many women having to make their way in the world alone. While most had been raised believing that marriage was the only goa ...more
Bruce Baugh
Sep 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I've known for a long time how many men died in World War I - more than a million for Great Britain. But this book is the first sustained study I've read about what that loss meant for British women. There was a generation where the overwhelming majority simply weren't going to be able to marry, and therefore had to build different kinds of lives for themselves. Nicholson surveys the whole spread of outcomes with tremendous respect and admiration: for those who flourished, for those who managed ...more
Martin Samuels
Jan 23, 2016 rated it liked it
This is a good book, but it could have been an excellent one. The author looks at the women left behind after the First World War, exploring all aspects of their lives, from the initial sense of loss, through their working lives, home lives, sex lives, and place in society. She uses an impressionistic style, drawing on extended examples from individuals' experience, in order to paint a sense of the experience of the 'surplus women' generally. This is an often forgotten group and the book provide ...more
This is both a well-written and interesting cultural history/gender studies history of women in the post-war years and also highlight some of the potential problems the besiege historians trying to accurately portray life during/after the war and how "accuracy" sometimes wars with perceptions and memories of the war.

I think, as far as I can tell, the perception that Britain had lost a generation of its best men (often cited as the civil servant class) is true. This was the view held both those l
Being a working girl is tough. Melanie Griffith and Dolly Parton may have thought they had it rough in Working Girl and 9 to 5 but, as those movie came out well before Virginia Nicholson graced us with her well-researched account of English women's lives in the wake of the First World War, I'll forgive them. It couldn't have been easy to realize that though you were raised to believe marriage and making babies was your lot in life, you'd never do so because all the eligible men (of your class) w ...more
Jul 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I read a bunch of UK blogs and keep finding books like this one that aren't in the bookstores or public library here. Expensive read since the price is in pounds not dollars but worth it. The writing wasn't always the best, but the subject is one that has been rarely covered given that WWI books are practically a cottage industry. New books are constantly appearing but this is one of the few that looks at the war from women's viewpoints.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about a book like this is
Aug 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I gave this book 5 stars because of the fascinating topic.

Today in America we have about the same number of single men and women, despite the complaints of the lovelorn.

But what if there really was an imbalance? A terrible imbalance: 2 million fewer men than women from age 15-35. What would women do? What would society do?

That disaster actually happened after World War 1. The death toll was staggering. No matter how rich or beautiful you were, there was only one man for ten woman of marriageab
Caroline Button
Aug 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ikea-one
Very enjoyable and informative read about the 2 million surplus war bereaved spinsters following World War I.

I agree with many of the reviews because of limited sources it could be repetitive but I didn't mind that is often coming from a different angle it consolidated my knowledge

I did though think that the author was perhaps too determined to focus on the positive outcomes rather than the hardships. source materials focuses on women's narratives of those who made great successes of the time. I
Dec 22, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone. Especially to 25-40 year-old single people.
Recommended to Stuart by: The Economist
This was a very interesting book about the unique struggles faced by British women after WWI. The stories are wonderful, touching, and well-researched. The only hiccups were the sometimes oddball comments and tangents thrown in by the author. The most truly bizarre one was made after a quote from one of the women whose stories the author was relating. The woman, Lizzie Rignall, had ended her memoir like so:

"I can say, with complete honesty, that I think the life I have had was right for me."

Oct 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Writing biographies is not easy even when it's one person's story. Virginia Nicholson took on an entire genre of women, from WWI through the 1950s. And she does it beautifully.

Off-put a little at the beginning by the fact that this is about women in the UK, not the US, and the plethora of facts and stories and more facts and more stories and the reasoning behind some of them...I was soon engrossed in the obvious progression of women's causes through the effects of the wars. The brave pioneer wom
Jan 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A whole new perspective not often studied by scholars of WWI. The brave British women, these "Surplus Women", who survived the war having lost a beloved husband, boyfriend or brother and yet went on to create their own lives while remaining unmarried, come to us fully formed on the pages of Virginia Nicholson's "Singled Out". So many of them carved places for themselves in the "brave new world" of the '20s and '30s despite prejudice and misunderstanding of the "spinster" or "professional aunt", ...more
Dec 26, 2012 rated it liked it
[Audiobook version]

Fascinating subject, but unfortunately there wasn't much structure to the way it was presented. I felt like the author skipped around focusing on bits and pieces, going from looking at one woman's life in detail to then making general statements on the country at that time, and then meandering over to another topic entirely before ending up back where she'd started.

But as with Bluestockings, it was the little stories that drew me in. Women like Gertrude Caton-Thompson and Caro
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VIRGINIA NICHOLSON was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1955. Her father was the art historian and writer Quentin Bell, acclaimed for his biography of his aunt Virginia Woolf. Her mother Anne Olivier Bell edited the five volumes of Virginia Woolf’s Diaries.

Virginia grew up in the suburbs of Leeds, but the family moved to Sussex when she was in her teens. She was educated at Lewes Priory School (Comp
More about Virginia Nicholson...
“There is love and there is sorrow, but the gain outweighs the loss, if you will make it so.” 2 likes
“Love- the only human attribute that is indestructible by time, that is certain to survive time, if humanity itself survives.” 1 likes
More quotes…