Book Review–Live Alone and Like It: The Classic Guide for the Single Woman


[amazon template=image&asin=0446178225]Many years ago, I reviewed books (and sometimes products) for a feminist blog. The woman managing the project would send out a list of available items each month, and all of the reviewers would vie for the best things. One of the books I ended up with was a reprint of advice for single women written by Marjorie Hillis in the 1930s. Today I’ll share that review.

Potential readers should know two things about this book. First, the author was an editor for Vogue. Second, it was a bestseller in 1936. Those two facts should hint at for whom it was written and warn that much of it is outdated.

This book’s mixed messages caused me to have mixed feelings about it while reading. On the one hand, it empowers women by telling them they can live alone and not only survive, but also thrive. On the other hand, it implies time and again that any woman living alone is only waiting for something better (a man) to come along.

The most interesting part of this manual is its historical perspective on single women. It is evidence that women did live on their own – even in 1936. Conservative propaganda would have us believe that prior to the tumultuous 1960s, all women were either married, living with relatives, or boarding in some sort of respectable dormitory. This book proves that women were on the road to liberation long before the women’s movement of the 1970s.

Less positive is the class assumption the author makes about “live-aloners” (as single women living by themselves became known after the publication of this book). For example, live-aloners apparently want, need, and are able to afford a maid (sometimes a “colored” maid), at least on occasion. There is no mention of who does the cleaning and serving at the maid’s house if she should happen to live alone. In any case, this maid business shows the target audience is women aspiring to or firmly entrenched in the upper classes.

Equally problematic are assertions made about men, especially regarding money. “There are still a few chivalrous gentlemen who believe that the man should be the provider,” the author states on page 101, and “the men guests always pay” for taxis to and from the theater, even when the single woman does the inviting, she says on page 46. Such ideas may have been prevalent sixty years ago, but hardly seem productive or true in the twenty-first century.

Sure, some to the advice given in this book is helpful: Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Make your home pleasant and comfortable. Have several passionate interests. Friends are important. Live within your means. Save some money. However, this advice seems helpful to most human being, whether female or male, single or married, living alone or with other people.

Practical and specific guidance for women wanting to learn how to be content living alone would have been more useful. Truly helpful topics might include securing doors and windows against intruders, repairing clogged plumbing, negotiating with a landlord, and recognizing symptoms that indicate it’s time to see the doctor. Instead, the reader is advised to invite people over who live in worse places than she does, told how many negligees and bed-jackets a woman living alone should own (two and four, respectively), and counseled that a woman who is too sick “to fix yourself up” is “better off in a small hospital ward” than home alone. This advice is useless to most contemporary women who live solo.

I don’t understand why this book was reprinted. Most of the advice beyond basics that apply to nearly everyone seems impractical and obsolete. I can only suggest this book to people who want to have a good laugh and then contemplate how far women who live by themselves have come.

About Blaize Sun

My name is Blaize Sun. Maybe that's the name my family gave me; maybe it's not. In any case, that's the name I'm using here and now. I've been a rubber tramp for nearly a decade.I like to see places I've never seen before, and I like to visit the places I love again and again. For most of my years on the road, my primary residence was my van. For almost half of the time I was a van dweller, I was going it alone. Now I have a little travel trailer parked in a small RV park in a small desert town. I also have a minivan to travel in. When it gets too hot for me in my desert, I get in my minivan and move up in elevation to find cooler temperatures or I house sit in town in a place with air conditioning I was a work camper in a remote National Forest recreation area on a mountain for four seasons. I was a camp host and parking lot attendant for two seasons and wrote a book about my experiences called Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. During the last two seasons as a work camper on that mountain, I was a clerk in a campground store. I'm also a house and pet sitter, and I pick up odd jobs when I can. I'm primarily a writer, but I also create beautiful little collages; hand make hemp jewelry and warm, colorful winter hats; and use my creative and artistic skills to decorate my life and brighten the lives of others. My goal (for my writing and my life) is to be real. I don't like fake, and I don't want to share fake. I want to share my authentic thoughts and feelings. I want to give others space and permission to share their authentic selves. Sometimes I think the best way to support others is to leave them alone and allow them to be. I am more than just a rubber tramp artist. I'm fat. I'm funny. I'm flawed. I try to be kind. I'm often grouchy. I am awed by the stars in the dark desert night. I hope my writing moves people. If my writing makes someone laugh or cry or feel angry or happy or troubled or comforted, I have done my job. If my writing makes someone think and question and try a little harder, I've done my job. If my writing opens a door for someone, changes a life, I have done my job well. I hope you enjoy my blog posts, my word and pictures, the work I've done to express myself in a way others will understand. I hope you appreciate the time and energy I put into each post. I hope you will click the like button each time you like what you have read. I hope you will share posts with the people in your life. I hope you'll leave a comment and share your authentic self with me and this blog's other readers. Thank you for reading.  A writer without readers is very sad indeed.

I'd love to know what you think. Please leave a comment.