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Never MarriedSinglewomen in Early Modern England$
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Amy M. Froide

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780199270606

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199270606.001.0001

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Spinsters, Superannuated Virgins, and Old Maids: Representations of Singlewomen

Spinsters, Superannuated Virgins, and Old Maids: Representations of Singlewomen

(p.154) 6 Spinsters, Superannuated Virgins, and Old Maids: Representations of Singlewomen
Never Married

Amy M. Froide (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter traces the emergence of the negative stereotypes of the spinster and the old maid. Examining various genres of literature from the Middle Ages to the 18th century, it focuses on three phases in the development of ideas about singlewomen. In the Middle Ages, singlewomen were largely depicted as nubile, young women, but in the 17th century contemporaries began to recognize the older and lifelong singlewoman, and created plans for housing and caring for such women. Beginning in the 1680s and only increasing over the 18th century, singlewomen came to be seen as pathetic, failures, or even loathed, diseased, and bestial creatures. This negative depiction originated in Protestant England and then spread to the continent and America. The influence of Mary Astell is also discussed in this chapter.

Keywords:   Mary Astell, ballads, marriage, Protestant nunneries, old maid, pamphlets, singlewomen, spinster, virgin

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