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4.1 out of 5 stars
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4.1 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 9 October 2007
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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on 8 October 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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on 8 March 2014
I once asked my late Aunt, who was born in 1895 "why did you never marry Auntie?" "My dear, there was no one left". With this book one realises how very true this was. In those days one did not ask questions the way we did now. My Mother was furious that I had even asked her sister that much. But I was interested and this book answers obvious questions on how these women, for whom there "was no one left" made a life for themselves. Of course not everyone could cope with the title "old maid" and would be prepared to marry mere torso's so that they could have the desired ring on their finger and be addressed as "Mrs" and, more than likely become widows quite soon. A widow was infinitely preferable to being an old maid. How cruel people were then, if the lack of men WAS so obvious why did society condemn these women as unmarriageable? A vexed question. Virginia Nicholson writes well and movingly of the situation.
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VINE VOICEon 3 November 2008
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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on 3 September 2007
During the recent serialisation of this book on BBC Radio 4 I was reminded of three very remarkable amd memorable women teachers that I was fortunate enough to encounter at Secondary School over 40 years ago. Obviously at that time I was among many who referred to these elderly spinsters - the youngest of whom was 45 - rather unkindly, in the colloquialisms of the day as "past it", "never had a life", "frustrated", "left on the shelf", "needed a good seeing-to" etc., without ever realising the privations that they must have suffered nor the heavy personal loss that they once bore, be it of a much loved father, brother, uncle or fiance. Yet these women stoically "got on with it" and led fulfilling lives as single, professional women.

Now, through Vera Nicholson's book, which tells the story of the two-million surplus women, we know "why"....
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on 9 August 2008
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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on 19 February 2014
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. The fact is that we all have or have had aged relatives who fell into this genre. Reading the book reminded me so much of my two maiden aunts who lived together having loved and lost.
This book gives a facinating insight into the sadness of so many women after the war and also highlights the bigotry of so many men!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 April 2016
I enjoy the way Virginia Nicholson draws together disparate lives into a very readable account. More importantly, it's social history, giving a real feel and insight into the lives of ordinary women. This is an account of an exceptional generation, hopefully never repeated, where so many men lost their lives in WW1, the women of the generation were often left with no choice about marriage. They were destined to remain single.

Nicholson narrative of these 2 million or so women makes fascinating reading. Often inspirational, sometimes sad or comic but consistently readable. It's vivid and thoughtful with impressive source references and a bibliography for further reading.

I bought this used/very good from the book house for 1p. Prime next day delivery brought the total price to £2.18. A bargain.
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on 17 October 2007
Narrates with touching compassion a story too little understood or remembered in the modern day.

It's only flawed in the end by its unrelentingly optimismic view of human nature and almost total faith in progress, which appears to have a religious basis. All lost fiancees, who died in the war here were Boys Own style stalwarts, fair and true for example; with pen portraits that could have been lifted straight from publications of the period. In many ways this approach well suits the mood of the times, so it can be viewed as strength as well as a weakness, but it does grow somewhat wearisome towards the end.
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on 13 February 2014
A fantastic read. So very sad to think of all those women left without a hope of being married after the First World War. The book covers a wide range of different women's experiences and highlights the full and varied lives many of the women led after the trauma of losing their loved ones.
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