Saturday, October 01, 2011

Language doesn't count, I guess

In the novel In the Shadow of Gotham, which is set in 1905, there is a reference made to
"those do-good Christian reform places run by spinster ladies with too much time on their hands",
and how a young ex-prostitute was probably given a job by
"a self-righteous old lady who got to feel good".
The person to whom this was said
"stifled a smile at hearing these imagined traits. Mrs. Wingate was a spinster, to be sure, but I felt she would have more than shared Mamie's sentiments about self-righteous do-gooders."
Wait a minute. Mrs. Wingate was a spinster?

Has that ever been possible? I know the word used to be neutral and now is decidedly not, but did it ever apply to widows?

I don't think so... And it's too bad that in a novel praised for the author's "ability to see the New York City landscape and culture as it was in the early 1900s" (Steve Steinbock, EQMM, Dec 2011) it's sad to see that words aren't included in "culture".

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At 1:53 PM, October 01, 2011 Blogger Jan had this to say...

I'm guessing it's not "spinster" but "Mrs." that's being used loosely here, as it sometimes was in the past (see OED). This honorary "Mrs." crops up as late as Angela Thirkell's novels -- you may have seen it there.

At 5:50 PM, October 01, 2011 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

I don't think so. This woman is one of the wealthiest people in the town, an influential aristocrat. It's true she's childless, so I suppose it's possible, but it doesn't seem likely to me.


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