Thursday, December 13, 2012

WW I Reading: Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson

Singled Out: How Two Million British Women Survived Without Men After the First World War
Author: Virginia Nicholson
Publisher: Oxford University Press (2008) 328 pages
Subject: women's roles following World War I
Setting: Great Britain after World War I
Genre: Non-fiction, sociology
Why did I read this book now? It was part of my World War I reading challenge
Source: Public Library

As I continue reading about World War I and its after effects, this book seemed like it would be an interesting one.  As the Amazon blurb says:
The First World War deprived Britain of three-quarters of a million soldiers, with as many more incapacitated. In 1919 a generation of women who unquestioningly believed marriage to be their birthright discovered that there were, quite simply, not enough men to go round. The press ran alarming stories about the 'Problem of the Surplus Women - Two Million who can never become Wives ...'. But behind the headlines were thousands of brave, emancipated individuals forced by a tragedy of historic proportions to rethink their entire futures. Tracing their fates, Virginia Nicholson shows how the single woman of the inter-war decades had to stop depending on men for her income, her identity and her happiness. Some just endured, others challenged the conventions, fought the system and found fulfilment. "Singled Out" pays homage to this remarkable generation of women who were changed by war, and in their turn helped change society.
 The  premise was a sound one.  The author is an academic who served as a documentary researcher for BBC television. Her research background glows in this book, but for me it simply pulled me down into a quagmire of tons upon tons of details.  If one story could have made her point, she chose to give us three or four examples.  It was like waiting for a train to pull away from the platform--- it just never developed enough steam to hold my attention.  It often rang of the poor dears in DOWNTON ABBEY who just couldn't quite figure out what to do with all these women.  As a result, I found myself reading the first three or four paragraphs of each section, and then skimming.  I also think because I had already started reading Vera Britain's Testament of Youth where the author was experiencing many of these same issues but reporting them in much more elegant prose that I just couldn't settle into this one.

If you are a detail oriented person who needs lots of reinforcement to prove points, this one is for you.  It's an important work in its thesis, and worth at least a look-see.  It certainly covers an important aspect of how this War changed the way women were regarded and regarded themselves. 


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