Glossary – Spinster

When the word spinster entered the English language in the mid 14th century, it referred to a woman who spun flax into linen thread or wool into yarn for a living. The job was commonly taken up by unmarried women at home.

By the 18thcentury the word had come to mean an unmarried woman who had passed her ‘best before’ marriageable age – when she transformed from a maiden into an old maid. Jane Austen’s character Charlotte Lucas from Pride and Prejudice is identified as almost a spinster at the age of 27, “Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.”

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