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Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived without Men After the First World War [Hardcover]

Virginia Nicholson
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)

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Book Description

23 Aug 2007
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.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (23 Aug 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670915645
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670915644
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.8 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 441,221 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


Brave, humane and honest -- The Observer, 2 September 2007

Remarkably perceptive and well-researched ... Virginia Nicholson has produced another extraordinarily interesting work, sensitive, intelligent and well-written. -- The Sunday Telegraph, 2 September 2007

This in an inspiring book, lovingly researched, well-written and humane... the period is beautifully caught -- The Economist, 1 September 2007

This is a ground-breaking book, richly nuanced with titbits of information, insight and understanding -- The Daily Mail, 24 August 2007

Virginia Nicholson's splendid new book is ... tenderly sympathetic -- Evening Standard, 3 September 2007

`Elegant, funny and a compelling read . . . [Nicholson] succeeds
triumphantly in telling the human story behind the demographic statistics' -- Literary Review

About the Author

Virginia Nicholson was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. She has worked as a documentary researcher for BBC Television and her first book, Charleston -- A Bloomsbury House and Garden (written in collaboration with her father, Quentin Bell), was an account of the Sussex home of her grandmother, the painter Vanessa Bell. Her second book, Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900--1939, was published by Penguin in 2002. She lives in Sussex.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
75 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Admirable women 9 Oct 2007
By Lynette Baines VINE VOICE
I loved this book. The stories Virginia Nicholson has discovered of women who could never marry, or who did not want to marry, are inspiring and often moving. From the women whose fiancees or husbands were killed in WWI to the women who had never wanted to marry at all but had felt under pressure from society to do so, these women all had to create a life for themselves without a man. For some, it was the making of them. They created their own careers, travelled, made money, formed unconventional relationships and freed themselves from the strictures of society. For others, their singleness, and often, their childlessness, was a sorrow they couldn't get past. Nicholson is to be congratulated for discovering the stories of these women. She doesn't gloss over the problems and heartaches, but she also celebrates the diversity of these women and the lives they made for themselves.
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72 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Women 8 Oct 2007
I was looking at a different book by this same author on Amazon in the US, and they linked to this book, but it was only available in the UK. It cost me almost $50 US dollars, but it was one of the best purchases I will ever make because it changed my life. I know that seems like a dramatic statement, but it is the absolute truth. I am one of the "generation x'ers" so for me the women in this book are of my Great Grandmothers generation, but what amazing women they were. I had always admired my Great Grandmother for her honesty, her stoicism, and now I see that it was not just her, but an entire generation of women. I realized how very much that I have to be thankful to these women for. How much they changed the world, because they had no choice. They were not going to just sit back and let the world go on without them, they changed the world in ways that I am still feeling today. Virginia Nicholson did a wonderful job, this book made me think. It made me think about the past and there future and it made me realize that I have to do something for all the girls who will come after me. I changed my University major to Women's Studies after reading this book and I am so grateful. This book opened my eyes and changed my view of the world. I am still very young and hopefully have a long road in front of me, but this book made me realize that we are all alone in this world and no one can live your life for you, so you have to seize the day and take chances.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Land Fit for Heroines 9 Aug 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Unlike a previous reviewer I thought there really was a representative cross section of women featured in the book, and the author came up with some quite obscure biographical details to bring the situations of women in the twenties and thirties alive. What comes across is the genuine sense of loss that some felt at being denied the chance of having a family, and the often ground-breaking successes they achieved once they decided to channel their energies in other directions. The last chapter which records these achievements is particularly uplifting, and the author herself conveys a quiet pride in what they did.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By hiljean VINE VOICE
This was a fascinating book which I was very glad to have read as it gave me a lot to think about. It made me realise how far women have come during the last 80 years (my mother's lifetime in fact) but also how little some things have changed. These women were able to make strides in their careers because they were single and had no husbands or family (with one exception who adopted adopted a child when she was in her 40s and could afford a nanny!). Memorable quote by Dame Evelyn Sharp (in the last chapter): "I should have preferred to be a man: then I could have had a career and marriage too". That still has the ring of truth today as I have found it very difficult in my life juggling a career with home and family.

Nevertheless these women paved the way for today's generation to take up careers that were previously closed to them, and what is most striking is that they were so accepting of their fate (ie to remain spinsters) and simply got on with life. Lacking self-pity they turned things to their advantage by taking up causes, having careers, or simply enjoying their friendships and the world around them. It teaches us a lot about our attitudes to the hand life has dealt us, and makes me value how many more choices women have today as to how they choose to live their lives.

One quibble; I think Nicholson crams too much material into the book. She would have done better concentrating on a handful of real life examples (more biography as one other reviewer says) and leaving out the literary examples from novels of the time.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great social history 5 Aug 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It was said that, after WWI, nearly 2 million women were left without the possibility of marriage. This is what happened to them - how they coped without marriage or children, which women of the previous generation took for granted. Although you obviously do not need marriage for a fulfilling life, it was heart-breaking to read of women who longed for the comfort and company of marriage and, as a mother myself, I found it awful to think of those women who wanted children contemplating life without them. The author shows both side of the issue - how many women found it liberating that careers, previously closed, opened to them. Yet how others faced lonliness, often as their husband/fiance had been killed in the war. Whether their life was ultimately successful or, whether they made the best of a situation they did not want to be in, it was a fascinating account of the time and social history at its best.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Sadness
I once asked my late Aunt, who was born in 1895 "why did you never marry Auntie?" "My dear, there was no one left". Read more
Published 4 months ago by Bookworm
2.0 out of 5 stars This is not a novel, and the typeface in the penguin edition is too...
I'm a couple of chapters in and find that this isn't a novel but a history book. The print is also tiny and difficult to read, and so I may not make it to the end. Read more
Published 4 months ago by katiewoky
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting book
Some may say that this book has many similar short stories; girl meets boy, boy goes to war and dies, girls spends the rest of her life as a singleton regretting the loss. Read more
Published 4 months ago by JOESKY9
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting
A fantastic read. So very sad to think of all those women left without a hope of being married after the First World War. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Liz Penn
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting in parts
Some interesting sections, I recognized some of the characters from my childhood, more academic than a light read. Raised questions.
Published 10 months ago by LyraB
5.0 out of 5 stars great
Came very quickly and in good condition. Am really enjoying reading it, much to learn of that period. Will definitely recommend it.
Published 11 months ago by Barbara C. Powell
3.0 out of 5 stars nothing new
sadly there was nothing in this book that if you sat and thought you couldn't have worked out for yourself without paying for it. Read more
Published 11 months ago by rod
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting book covering a wide range of angles
A very interesting and well researched book written in a manner that can reach all
kinds of readers. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Richard G Carr
3.0 out of 5 stars Long winded but interesting
Thought this was a novel so bit disconcerted to realise it was a social history. Well researched, rather repetitive but good to see these women celebrated.
Published 16 months ago by jennieclaire
4.0 out of 5 stars Paving the way
The upheaval caused to all levels of British society by the first world war was immense and permanent. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Granny
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