Old Maid Archetype?

This middle aged lady, looking dowdy and severe could well be dubbed an archetypal old maid, bitter and shrivelled, typecast as a sad lonely old thing. Popular imagination is less likely to explore the possibility that she could just as easily be a hard working mum, with no time to spruce up for a picture, that may have been a spur of the moment indulgence.

I see her as neither of the above options. I am going to dub her a spirited independent woman, who made her own way in the world. She worked hard against many obstacles but persevered and succeeded. Although unmarried she was not in any way wanting. She was constantly surrounded by friends, nieces and nephews who appreciated the uninterrupted time she was able to give them. She was adored by her siblings and friends as she was able to step in to help them at a moments notice, an integral support to them all. By the relative freedom of time in life, she offered opportunities to friends and family that otherwise would not have been open to them.

This is not a portrait of my Great Aunty Kit, (but it could have been), it is a description of how valuable her life was, how loved she was, despite the fact she never married or had children. She may have been typecast by society, as most unmarried women once were, but the reality is that the contributions of these women were as big as they were unseen. RIP Aunty Kit, you are still loved and remembered despite your departure so many years ago.

11 comments
  1. m5son said:

    She strikes me as pensive and intelligent. She may have been many things, but I like your version quite a bit.

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  2. I agree she looks severe and spinsterish at first glance. Her face is long and sharp, with thin lips and no make-up. She has glasses and her period hairstyle doesn’t especially flatter the shape of her head. But she has earrings, and her coat is a boldly patterned, almost flashy. And would a bitter, retiring woman bother to stop into a photo booth? I like your idea that if we move past the initial stereotyped appearance we can find a vital personality. 🙂

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    • Great feedback Matt. I thought she was wearing glasses also but it is just a mark on the photo. I guess even an “old maid” could have been a groover. Just not in the sterotyped depiction.

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  3. The photos I have of my mother’s grim Swedish forbears make this woman look positively giddy.

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  4. That post reminded me of a beautiful poem by Judith Wright-The Sisters (or could be Two Sisters).cheers Sue

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  5. Thanks Sue for showing me this beautiful poem.

    The Sisters by Judith Wright

    In the vine-shadows on the veranda;
    under the yellow leaves, in the cooling sun,
    sit two sisters. Their slow voices run
    like little winter creeks, dwindled by frost and wind,
    and the square of sunlight moves on the veranda.

    They remember the gay young men on their tall horses
    who came courting; the dancing and the smells of leather
    and wine, the girls whispering by the fire together;
    even their dolls and ponies, all they have left behind
    moves in the yellow shadows on the veranda.

    Thinking of their lives apart and the men they married
    thinking of the marriage-bed and the birth of their first child,
    they look down smiling. “My life was wide and wild,
    and who can know my heart? There in that golden jungle
    I walk alone,” say the old sisters on the veranda.

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