Does advice for the single women of 1936 have any bearing today? Cazz Blase reviews Marjorie Hillis’ guide to independent living
My attention was originally drawn to Marjorie Hillis’ book Live Alone and Like It by a Radio 4 adaptation in 2002. Put together by Mary ‘The Archers’ Cutler, the radio version used chunks of the book, but was also part speculation as to how the book had come to be written in the first place, and the combination was intriguing, entertaining, enjoyable and uplifting enough to make me want to find out more.
Hillis, (1889-1971), worked for Vogue for over 20 years, according to Virago Press, beginning there as a captions writer and working her way up to become assistant editor. As the publisher put it: “She was one of a growing number of independent, professional women who live alone by choice.” This book, which was number eight in the bestsellers list for 1936, was written as a guide for the ‘extra woman’ or ‘bachelor ladies’ who, after the book’s release, inevitably became known as ‘live-aloners’. Although it was written in 1936, some things, it appear, never change. Which is possibly why Virago re-published it in 2005, adorned with a suitably pastel pink, chick-lit style cover.
As Frank Crowinsheild wrote in the original introduction to the book: “We have witnessed, during recent years, the mustering of an entirely new kind of army, a host of capable and courageous young women, who are not only successfully facing, and solving, their economic problems, but managing all the while to remain patient, personable and polite about it.” Or, as Hillis herself says: “The old-fashioned notion that single women are objects of social charity was killed in the war.”