10/31/2005

Unclaimed Treasures

When I was small, a very nice old lady, just call her Miss M, used to live at the top of our street.
I can't recall how the occasion arose, but I remember my mother describing her as an 'unclaimed treasure'.
That was the phrase used to describe the generation of British women born in the 1890's and 1900's who stayed unmarried all their lives, whose prospective husbands had been slaughtered in the mud and slime of the Western Front .
Their singleness was not one of choice, but had been forced upon them by the doings of Kings and Kaisers. They bore their solitude bravely, as was their wont, but one can't help but think that many of them cried themselves to sleep.
The phrase was brought back to mind be reading this piece by Maureen Dowd, entitled 'What's a Modern Girl to Do? (and a not particularly graceful hat-tip to Jed Babbin - as a former Air Force officer, one might have thought he could have been more gentlemanly).
The article is a reflection on another kind of enforced singleness, that of choice, in particular as an expression of feminist political and cultural choice. Although it's peppered with Dowdiana, the principal emotions one feels when reading it are not scorn or a desire to critique, but sadness and pity.
Sadness, that Maureen perhaps feels dreadfully let down that feminism, a philosophy she bought into lock, stock and barrel, has failed her; pity, because perhaps she too cries herself to sleep with loneliness.
And what makes her plight even worse than that of old ladies like Miss M is that she didn't have to.

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