I once found this wild book at a junk shop called The Spinster Book. It was first published in 1901—my edition is dated 1909—and this copy has a handwritten dedication from one woman to another dated June 10, 1910. The only thing the gift giver wrote, besides their names and the date, was the inscription: “A few more reasons.”
The Spinster Book is a book of knowing advice about courtship, love, and marriage, presumably by a wise older woman to younger, unmarried women. An an object, it’s wonderful—a lavender hardback with an illustration of a hand mirror in gold foil on the front. The title is printed inside the mirror, as if to say that you could gaze into the book and see yourself, and the reflection would be pretty.
But the truth is, reading the book, it’s hard to tell whether it was meant to celebrate women who aren’t married, or to comfort them. Author Myrtle Reed writes that people who assume that unmarried women simply couldn’t get a guy to propose are wrong and are jerks for thinking it, but in the same chapter she offers the hope of finding love later in life as a reason to not feel so bad about not being married (yet). Over the years I have been drawn back to the book again and again, fondly (and wrongly) remembering it as a piece of proto-Choice Feminism, and then left scratching my head.
This morning I came across some found poetry I made from The Spinster Book years ago, so I went and got it off the shelf and reread parts of it. The language is flowery and a bit convoluted, but I think its main argument is that most marriages are bad because the set-up was inherently unfair to women—the author mentions the humiliation and helplessness associated with having to ask your husband for money, for instance—and also that many people are not being honest when they profess their happiness with their partners. But reading between the lines, it seems that to Reed the ideal of Love still reigned supreme, and the possibility of finding someone to make a life with remained a worthy goal.
A quick look at Goodreads just now shows me that most people who have come across this book latter-day also don’t know whether it’s parody, serious, a dating guide, or what. I did find this fine review by Hannah Eiseman-Renyard that shed some light on Myrtle Reed herself. “Although she never states in as many words that she herself is a spinster, Reed was writing the book at age 27 – five years past a woman’s usual marrying age. By the standards of her time, she was now a spinster, and was presumably preparing herself for the future. The advice I saw as laughable – that being a spinster isn’t so bad as a woman might yet find herself a nice widower – was, presumably, Myrtle Reed’s actual hope.”
Whatever the book is really about, and whoever it was meant to comfort and advise, I find I’m much more interested in thinking about the woman who gave her friend a copy of it all those many years ago. Were the two women using the book to look for reasons to stay single, or reasons to keep believing in love? Or both?
A Few More Reasons
If realism were actually real,
We should have no time for books and pictures.
Broken, hesitant chords set some lost song to singing in her heart
Like one whose presence is felt before it is made known.
The achievement sometimes takes years.
It is to be the light in the darkness—
The delight and torment of the world!