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The Book Blogger Awards 2017

Leave Me Alone!

Live Alone and Like It: A Guide for the Extra Woman
Hillis
1936

Submitter: Obviously this book has social historical value.  In fact our first print copy is checked out.  It’s the conflicted tone of the text, combined with
the drawings, that are so entertaining.  We’ll stick with the one copy.

Holly: Yes, it is kind of rude!  Old fashioned, for sure.  Were single women really called “the extra woman” back then?

0 Responses to Leave Me Alone!

  • “Staying at home alone is as different from settling down with a book and a husband in the armchair opposite as a game of solitaire is from a game of poker.”

    Hmm… Maybe it’s just me, but she makes it sound like a single woman at home alone is mere steps away from desperately inviting total strangers into the house just to make the awful silence go away. Although in 1936 it’s quite possible that the awful silence was filled with terrible assurances that, with every year that goes by, you’ll become less attractive and less likely to fulfill your familial obligation to marry and make babies. Actually, that way of thinking hasn’t completely gone away yet…

    • Well, I’m 30 and everyone’s telling me that.

      • I’m going to be 34 and get both that and the people who have told me to “Just go to a bar, find a man, and get knocked up, because you don’t need a husband to be a parent.”

        The “best” though was from my mom’s friend who said to me, “Jami, give up singing, get a full time job, settle on a guy, get married, and have a bunch of kids like a NORMAL woman!”

        I’d rather die alone and childless then give up singing.

      • I’m 26 and I’m already getting that. My mother, I think, has given up on me ever getting married, so now she is telling me that I don’t even need a man anymore in order to have babies – just do invetro-fertilization!

        I also got called an old maid at Christmas time by my grandfather, which was followed up by being called a future cat lady by my mother.

        It’s rather ridiculous.

      • Jenn, I have to say I’m lucky there. My mom wants me to succeed at singing, so she’s glad I don’t have kids. It’s just her friends, one of my coworkers, and random strangers pressuring me to give up and get pregnant. The “best” one was from a father I was checking out books too. He’s the one who told me to just hook up with a random stranger at a bar after he saw how well I got on with his kids. With his wife standing there listening no less!

        I don’t get why people still think women are only suppose to give up everything and have babies. I’m sorry, but even if I never succeed, I’d rather have my dream of making a living singing (it’s not even about being famous) then give up and have some stranger’s child!

    • I’m trying to figure out what exactly is wrong with settling down with a book with NO husband in the opposite armchair. 😉

  • Wow. If not for the explanation, I don’t know if I would have gotten what “extra woman” meant.

    I wonder if single men were expected to have just as much trouble entertaining themselves. I kind of doubt it.

    But the big question is, what’s with the illustration for chapter five? I never knew seals would come up to you for food in the park. Or is that supposed to be a giant bird with whiskers?

  • “That doesn’t mean I’m no Greta Garbo” is my new catchphrase.

  • Another book that I have in my own collection. I love this one, it’s fabulous! Here’s my favorite excerpt – “the pleasures of a single bed” http://www.missabigail.com/advice/selection25.html

    • Your website reminds me a bit of one of my favorite bloggers, Donna Lethal –

      http://www.donnalethal.com/

      – though she’s more about old beauty books.

      BTW – Does the book have a chapter on how to reclaim one’s single bed when it’s been taken over by a spoiled rotten and totally codependent dog?

      • Thanks, I hadn’t seen donnalethal.com before – will definitely check that out! I don’t think there’s any dog-on-bed content but I’ll have to check 🙂

  • I must know if there is any explanation for that last drawing. Sharing your picnic lunch in the city with a seal. Really?!

  • …what do the etiquette guides say about a lone female who thinks nothing of picnic lunches with a certain harbor seal?

  • alternate caption: “the harbor seal, being male, will of course pay for the taxi back home.”

    • Absolutely brilliant. This quote is going to haunt me, probably when I’ve imbibed far too much tequila and will need a ride home. Now on to “how to sex harbour seals…”

  • Why did they call them the ‘extra woman’? Sounds like a really bad commercial “Now with 40% extra woman!” And what’s wrong with being home alone? I revel in having my own space!

  • This seems like a fairly progressive book for it’s age. At least as far as the scans show it doesn’t seem to be too condemning of the single woman for her singleness. I wonder if we would have seen this same kind of publication 20 years later. Certainly other titles from this site have been less feminist!

  • its, not it’s.

  • Funny–I have a copy of that book sitting on my desk as I try to decide whether to repair and keep it for the library! We already have one reference copy in our special wit and humor collection…, but this is just so charming. The pictures are a true delight. The illustration for the chapter “The Pleasures of the Single Bed,” shows a woman in a ruffled negligee propped up in a bed full of ruffles and flounces, smoking a cigarette! And then there is the chapter on whether or not an unattached woman is permitted to have an affair, giving the advice that, “Whether or not a woman has had her Moments, if she has a grain of common sense she keeps it to herself, since, if she has, most people would be shocked, and, if she hasn’t, the rest would be superior.” The author concludes that having by having an affair, “the Woman Pays….She pays, as a matter of fact in a great many ways–in a thousand little shabbinesses and humiliations, in the almost inevitable bitter ending, and in nervous wear and tear.” The author goes on to further advise not even thinking of having an affair before the age of 30, and says that, “The sad truth is that whatever you decide, you’ll think you regret it. You’ll hate the shabby end of romance, and you’ll detest missing it altogether.” The best solution, she advises, is to just keep so busy you won’t have time to think about what you might be missing out on. Ahh… the more I read, the more I think this is a keeper–especially for all our immigrant population who read all kinds of books like this, trying to figure out how to become an American.

    • So, in other words, it says basically the same thing that women were always told (and in some corners of society still are) when they thought about expressing themselves in a “male” field.

      You don’t want to have an advanced degree– It’s so much work!
      You don’t want to have a real (read: lucrative) career– It’s so stressful!
      You don’t want to have an affair (read: have sex with whomever you like)– It can only end in tears!
      In summation: your vulnerable lady emotions cannot possibly allow you to support a real adult life.

      • Well, let’s face it at the time the affair thing makes sense. There was no “pill.” Condoms were likely harder to get. STDs weren’t as easily treated. If they got pregnant they had to go to elaborate lengths. Singer/actor Michael Crawford’s mother is an example. When her husband, the man Michael thought for years was his father, was killed she found comfort in the arms of one of her husband’s friends and ended up pregnant. She had to take off for parts unknown to have him, sending her mom a coded message when he was born “Parcel arrived safely, tied with string” – code for “it’s a boy.” Then she had to convince people he was her dead husband’s son.

        Now adays while it’s still frowned on there’s not as much stigma if a woman has a child out of wedlock.

  • This was reprinted recently (pastel pink cover, natch). I’d seen variants of the title used as a gag in several old Warner Bros cartoons and was tickled to finally read it.

  • It’s a humor book, so as far as I can tell from the little excerpts, it probably wears well. It would be a different story if it were meant seriously. I keep wanting to make a reference to Dorothy Parker!

  • Y’all – she’s writing letters in the park and _sealing_ the envelopes.

  • Where was this book when I needed it? I was having so much trouble with the dinner party/theatre/pay for taxi situation that I just ended up getting married.

    (I would absolutely love to read this book, I love old etiquette books, there are a few things there that should be brought back.)

  • Frank Crowinshield is a relative of mine. I wonder what he had to say?

  • Did anybody else notice there’s a 2008 version of this book with the author credit going to Marjorie Hillis Roulston, still? It’s got a new subtitle, though: Live alone and like it: The classic guide for the single woman.

    Which is too bad because I sort of prefer “extra” to “single” myself.

  • @moklspa–that means you’re related to Sally Quinn by marriage, sort of.

  • I’m sorry to say that I LOVE the idea of this book. Don’t get me wrong. It is very dated, but I really like that the woman is smiling or looks sophisticated in all the pictures, that she is compared to Greta Garbo (glamorous!), and that people were starting to be cool about women staying single as a life choice.

    This, to me, is a great stepping stone to where we are at now.

  • This actually isn’t a humor book. The situation after WWI was quite serious…hundreds of thousands of European men were killed during the war, leaving hundreds of thousands of young widows and single women without eligible mates. (The classic literary example of the “Surplus Woman” is Muriel Spark’s character Jean Brodie.)

    “Live Alone and Like It” is actuallyquoted in amazing 2008 book “Singled Out” by Virginia Nicholson. Parts of the book are heartbreaking, but the story is important.

    If you weed “Live Alone and Like It,” please pass it along to an archive! I would personally love to see a copy of this one!

  • I love the sound of this! I must find myself a copy immediately. Do not weed, please, it’s too much fun.

    I live in a coastal city with lots of seals (Cape Town, South Africa) and it’s a foolish person who’d let a hungry seal that close to her nibble-able fingers and toes.

    The illustrations remind me of those in “The Parent from Zero to Ten” which is a hilarious send up of new parenthood. I must check the illustrator’s name, although I think TPfZtT is later…

  • ah, The Internet informs me that The Parent from Zero to Ten was published in 1958 and was illustrated by the author, Anne Cleveland, so the similarity is accidental.

  • This book wins my SEAL of approval!

  • ‘extra’ or ‘spare’ woman/man is the unattached one you can invite to a party, hence our heroine getting a lot of invites. She has to go out every night, otherwise how do her cigarettes get lit?

    God, people were stylish & cool then compared with today’s spoilt overgrown children.

    • Yes, in Ye Olden Days (roughly until WWII) it was simply impossible to have a party and not invite equal numbers of women and men. The universe would explode or something. So if you wanted to invite a single woman, you had to find a man to make up the numbers. Not necessarily somebody to set her up with–it could be her cousin or someone old enough to be her father–but the numbers had to match up. The same thing had to be done in reverse if there was a single man you wanted to invite, but that wasn’t seen as much of a problem since a single woman would be so grateful to be invited that you could round her up at the last minute. (Also because there were more single women than men, with the wars and everything, but etiquette books I have from that era come right out and say that you shouldn’t worry about extra men when making up your guest list, because it’ll be easy to find extra women to make up the numbers, but that you should be very cautious about inviting extra women because then you have to find extra men, and that’s harder. Of course, if people followed this advice, it goes a long way to explain why single women were desperate enough to be asked to go somewhere that they would take a last-minute invitation.)

      • Also, I forgot to say, the books also emphasize how very lucky you are if you have in your social circle a confirmed bachelor who likes to go to parties, since you can call on him any time you need an “extra man.” (No equivalent claim is made about confirmed spinsters.)

        This detail reminds me of my great-aunt, who now has a whole harem of gay gentlemen at her (very upscale) retirement home. They’re sort-of out, but they still think they need to take a female date when they go to the theatre or whatever, so she can go out on the town whenever she wants, and, as she says, “they don’t bother you when they take you home.”

  • Would LOVE to read this book. From the little i have read here, at 44, I am doing everything completely wrong!

  • I do like that it says “the men guests” instead of “the male guests.”

  • At least she’s enjoying a delicious cigarette, but even back then a smoker was relegated to a garbage can in the alley. Artist who did the drawings was a semi-famous designer (Seventeen Magazine, etc.)

    • “Plinth” you are being sarcastic aren’t you? Seeing as how she’s sitting on one, rather than a garbage can. The illustrations are fantastic…that is all.

  • Well, the amazing librarian where I worked has found this and has put in an ILL request for me! YAY!

  • The book’s design reminds me very much of New Yorker magazine — the font, the cartoons. I googled Cipe Pineles, the illustrator, and she was a leading and unconventional magazine art director — Vogue, Glamour, Vanity Fair, House and Garden, but no New Yorker from what I’ve found so far.

    Pineles also was an advocate for women’s rights.

    I’d have to agree with those who say this is worth saving, if not in the library, then some archive somewhere (or send it to me). It may be dated, but I imagine it was quite progressive at the time. I love it.

  • Did you know they’ve just re-released this book?!
    http://www.angusrobertson.com.au/products/search/1987817/

  • Interesting, Celia. Thanks

  • This is a historical treasure but obviously not useful for research and reference otherwise. Pineles was a really wonderful illustrator, who doesn’t get her due in discussions of the illustrators/designers of the period.

  • Gee,no wonder women feel weird about things like this,it’s drilled into a woman that she “needs” a man. This is far better to see,but the “lone female” thing I can do without. Like everyone is supposed to marry and produce children! Some people just aren’t cut out for that hard job…
    I can see the book is trying hard to make it look glamorous.
    Don’t listen to people who call “older” single women “cat ladies” or “old maid” that’s just dumb old people talking…

    • I usually just inform people I’m a dog person and will one day have a house full of them instead of cats.

  • Oh, I would love to read this book!

  • How I have navigated all these years of being a single woman without the help of this book I do not know. Hopefully now I will be able to understand how I can cope without a husband in the armchair opposite, even if I am as strong as a horse!

    Seriously though I’m buying this book…

  • When I checked our consortium’s catalog, I found that several libraries have the 2008 edition — same author, same title, with the subtitle “The classic guide for the single woman.” I wonder if libraries are buying this for its historical value.

  • So I got this in ILL yesterday and I’m in chapter 5, so I can now solve the Mystery Of The Sandwich Eating Seal!

    From page 62. “Have you spent a spring Sunday out at Bronx Park, when millions of tulips or iris are in bloom and more kinds of lilac bushes than you know existed? Or been to the Bronx Zoo, where even a grown-up should go once or twice? Or lunched beside the seals on a summer day when parasols dot the terrace of the Central Park cafeteria?”

    She goes on to talk about plays, getting cheap tickets, etc.

    Even though some things in this book might not exist and I live in California, not New York, I find it utterly fascinating and not too outdated in the least. Sure, there’s probably not hostess pajamas anymore and “out for a gay time” has a whole new meaning, but still, it’s a GOOD book.