Spinster Is an Ugly Word
Recently, I watched a BBC video of Jane Austen narrated by Lucy Worsely. For almost an hour, Worsely explains what it would’ve been like for young women to live in the British social class of the 19th century. In short, Austen never had a chance at the life she dreamed of. Daughters were to be married off, but Austen mostly due to her father being a pastor couldn’t offer much in a dowry to any eligible man who had an interest in her. It was also a hard sell for women who wanted to write and sell fiction. As they weren’t taken seriously as a man would’ve been in her position. I suspect it wasn’t expected for women to dream of more than a husband and a family of your own. I wonder if she had married, would we still know Jane Austen the author who changed the world of literature.
At the relatively young age of 41 years, Austen died penniless, alone and a spinster. Never to experience the life and lavishness that the characters in her books did. From a quiet and unknown woman came stories that have and will continue to entertain and foster her reader’s appetite for the kind of life that she hoped and dreamed of but fell short because fiction isn’t reality.
Austen was so much more than just a spinster, she had written novels that would transform the world of literature and even beyond. Sadly, she was never able to see or enjoy the status her writing gained years after her death. I could say I have a lot in common with Jane Austen but I don’t. She didn’t live past her 41st year, she lived in the UK, and most importantly she in the 19th century. But as I watched this video, I realized how fortunate I am to live in the present. I don’t know where the ideas came from those women who in the eyes of that particular era had no potential beyond the roles as a wife and mother.
Dejected and Sad
That was the one emotion that fluttered its wings inside of me as I watched an actress play act out (in the documentary) what Austen might’ve been thinking or hope for. In her situation, hope was in low supply. She didn’t leave home to start university or, nor did she harbor dreams to live on her own, however, Austen did for a period of time. She worked on her writing and kept sending her manuscripts out to the publishers.
I’m single, and I am 41 years old turning 42 in less than two months. As I viewed this video, I didn’t see the similarities to Austen rather all the opposites. If I had been alive in the 19th century I might be more like Jane Austen relying on the kindness of others. Instead, I live on my own and I don’t rely on others to pay my rent, bills, groceries and any other extras. When I think about all I have compared to young women in the 19th century without a substantial dowry to catch the eye of an eligible man of the marriageable age. I don’t have a lot in savings, I have a school loan that I am slowly chipping away at. I would like to plan for the future but I don’t have plans for the single version of me. I have plans for the married version of me, and even that has grown smaller as I am trying to remain in the present, trying to enjoy myself now. I love living on my own and having my own space. In the last ten years, I have been able to see why it’s good to be single, and just do what I want and when I want.
Sometimes I feel this stigma of being single, even though statistics tell me that I’m not in short supply. But I am not a part of the hookup era, nor am I looking for a filler until the real deal comes in. I’m in this obvious meanwhile I wait phase, the place where you wonder, you dabble in things that you might not do when you’re otherwise married. This is my time to fly, to flourish but like Jane Austen, it is a hard place to occupy.
A lot of women like reading about the Regency era because it’s time period has this romantic element to it. It’s so foreign to our understanding. There was no rush, no time restraints as we experience them now. We have answers to a lot of what made life hard and difficult. I could list pros and cons to both periods. Most women want the romantic daydreams of their childhood even if no one is able to truly live up to those ridiculously handsome and debonair men.
And sometimes I have these tiny voices echoing all over the place reminding me that where I am and who I am isn’t enough when I know it is more than enough. Just being in a place and liking, even enjoying where you have been placed. Not worrying about society’s expectations. Don’t get me wrong it is important to keep those hopes and desires, but to many of us, it’s a heavy burden to carry as the years continue to pass. I’ve told God more than once to take the desires away, but they remain and so it tells me a couple of things…
Persist. Hope. Trust.
If you were in my interior like God is, you would know this not what I want to do. This is not natural to me because I have made living my life the very opposite of these three things. It’s slightly annoying but I think it’s a bit of an inside joke on me. I can’t see my potential but I am going forward blinded to what is possible. What is conceivable is that yes my prayers will be answered. If I have learned one thing about God it is that He isn’t in a rush. My perceived deadlines are just my impulse to want to control a situation that isn’t in my doable skills set. I don’t think I will next Jane Austen, far from it, but her tenacity to continue writing despite her situation is a token to me that hard work doesn’t go unnoticed to least of those.