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Michael Myers
01-07-2019, 12:55 AM
"Bachelor" works well for my MC's unmarried brother, but I'm stumped for his unmarried sister. "Spinster" is far too derisive, and "bachelorette" sounds sexist and out of period.

The plot has both bachelor and <label> sharing the old family house together in the 1850s as a matter of financial convenience. Yet village rumors abound . . .

-Riv-
01-07-2019, 01:01 AM
"Bachelor" works well for my MC's unmarried brother, but I'm stumped for his unmarried sister. "Spinster" is far too derisive, and "bachelorette" sounds sexist and out of period.

The plot has both bachelor and <label> sharing the old family house together in the 1850s as a matter of financial convenience. Yet village rumors abound . . .
What is the period?

Michael Myers
01-07-2019, 01:16 AM
1850s

Ari Meermans
01-07-2019, 01:22 AM
Spinster isn't derisive so much as it's outdated. Were I writing about the 1850s, though, I'd use it: the title is true to the period. And it wasn't really the term women objected to so much as the status it conveyed—marriage was about all a young woman had to aspire to because of prevailing social norms.

kikazaru
01-07-2019, 01:30 AM
"Spinster" or "old maid" would be appropriate (if derisive) for an older woman, but a woman of marriageable age, might be called a "maiden lady" but imo she would have harsher epithets hurled at her for cohabiting with a man without benefit of marriage.

Michael Myers
01-07-2019, 01:33 AM
Both bachelor and sister are between late thirties and early forties. Perhaps just lady? Or does that label imply she's married?

Ari Meermans
01-07-2019, 01:39 AM
"Spinster" or "old maid" would be appropriate (if derisive) for an older woman, but a woman of marriageable age, might be called a "maiden lady" but imo she would have harsher epithets hurled at her for cohabiting with a man without benefit of marriage.

Okay, now I'm confused. I read the original post as the unmarried brother and sister are living together in the old family home. That would have been the most acceptable living arrangement available to her.

But, yes, "old maid" has always carried a strong whiff of derision.

Michael Myers
01-07-2019, 01:58 AM
Yes, and for precisely that reason. Her choice is her own whether or not to get married. A rather independant-minded woman. The brothers honor her wishes (themselves bearing the same family trait) and seek to protect and preserve her dignity given the circumstances.

Curlz
01-07-2019, 02:15 AM
Who is labelling? The neighbour who doesn't like unmarried women may refer to her as spinster and be intentionally derisive. Her best friend may just call her by her name.

Michael Myers
01-07-2019, 02:36 AM
At present, the third person narrarator. And/or a male character, older than she (and much richer, civilized, from The Big City.) "Ah, you must be the young <label> making all this fuss about my railroad bridge."

She cares little for those who refer to her with "improper" labels. His mode of address is her test of him.

Pennsylvania, maybe.

frimble3
01-07-2019, 03:14 AM
At present, the third person narrarator. And/or a male character, older than she (and much richer, civilized, from The Big City.) "Ah, you must be the young <label> making all this fuss about my railroad bridge."

'Young woman' or 'young lady'. 'Woman' being straightforward, 'young lady' sounds like a diminutive, the term you'd use for a child. And, if she's in her 30's and not married, 'young' is him being diplomatic.

If someone else were describing her and her brother, I'd go with "Mr. X, and his sister, who keeps house for him". Which everyone will understand means, "He's not married, and she's got no other options."

I agree with Ari Meermans, this would be a perfectly respectable thing for them to do. She's living with her family, in the family home. What else can she do? Take a room in a boarding house, and live with strangers, some of them men?
Go out and try to earn a living, with the limited skills and job options available? Unlikely, and more likely to incite the scorn of the neighbours.

Note the number of historical works, fiction and nonfiction, that involve live-in aunts.

Michael Myers
01-07-2019, 03:28 AM
All good inputs. Thanks everyone. Now on to the research stacks . . .




BTW, this is AW at its finest.

Night_Writer
01-07-2019, 05:01 AM
Bacheloress.

kikazaru
01-07-2019, 05:14 AM
Okay, now I'm confused. I read the original post as the unmarried brother and sister are living together in the old family home. That would have been the most acceptable living arrangement available to her.

But, yes, "old maid" has always carried a strong whiff of derision.

No it was me that was confused, I completely missed "sister" in the OP. Sorry about that!

Tocotin
01-07-2019, 06:01 AM
From what I've seen in period literature, it might be simply Miss [Last Name].

Alessandra Kelley
01-07-2019, 06:10 AM
From what I've seen in period literature, it might be simply Miss [Last Name].

That’s what I was thinking too, maybe with a little emphasis on the “Miss,” as if to subtly emphasize her unmarried state.

JJ Litke
01-07-2019, 06:48 AM
'Young woman' or 'young lady'. 'Woman' being straightforward, 'young lady' sounds like a diminutive, the term you'd use for a child. And, if she's in her 30's and not married, 'young' is him being diplomatic.

Yes, completely agree with this assessment. If he were trying to be more condescending, focusing on her youth (putting emphasis on “miss” when addressing her, or even saying girl if he were being a real jerk) would be the most effective way to do that. And the thing that people of an older generation are most likely to fall into without even thinking about it. I know you said a non-derisive term, so all the more reason why not focusing on her marital status is a good bet.

Tocotin
01-07-2019, 07:22 AM
I'd like to point out that "Miss" before the last name is not solely an indicator of her unmarried status, it is also a title in itself. If she is the eldest daughter in the family, she'd be called "Miss Last Name", even if she were old, and there would be nothing derisive or condescending about it. (The universally respected Miss Thorne in Trollope's Barchester Chronicles is an example of this.)

Siri Kirpal
01-07-2019, 07:49 AM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

What Tocotin said about "Miss." Also "Spinster" was not derisive or jerky during that period. But yes, Miss Last Name or Miss First Name, if she was not the eldest daughter, was the ultra polite way to go.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Michael Myers
01-07-2019, 08:53 AM
Hi Siri. :hi:


. . . if she was not the eldest daughter . . .

At this point, assume she is first born of the family, but her married brother, the second child, got all the breaks. Does that make a difference?

Alessandra Kelley
01-07-2019, 11:55 AM
Hi Siri. :hi:



At this point, assume she is first born of the family, but her married brother, the second child, got all the breaks. Does that make a difference?

Hard to say. The standard form of address was that the eldest daughter, whether or not she had elder brothers, was “Miss [Lastname]” and any younger daughters were “Miss [Firstname].”

It did not imply any judgement of position, status, or morals. It was just the social convention.

WeaselFire
01-07-2019, 04:10 PM
1850s

Maiden.

Jeff

angeliz2k
01-07-2019, 08:41 PM
Obviously, this will depend on who's speaking and their agenda, as has been discussed in the thread. Those who are well-disposed towards her or polite will say "unmarried lady" to her face or to others. Those who are a little less polite might call her "unmarried" to her face but refer to her as a spinster to others. Those who are irritated with her or ill-disposed towards the concept of unwed ladies might call her "spinster" or even "old mai"d to her face. Even though "spinster" wasn't necessarily derogatory, it also had all kinds of social baggage to go with it. "Old maid" would be derogatory.

But then there's the fact that marital status is unlikely to be discussed up-front (because of the "social baggage" I allude to above). Again, politeness and attitude become a factor. A polite person would probably not allude to her unmarried status, either because it's a bit like pointing out that she has a big birthmark on her face (just a little embarrassing, oh my) or out of pity (well-founded or not). Or maybe they know her well and understand her situation, in which case they wouldn't bring it up at all. Someone who wants to take pot-shots at her will bring it up, or allude to it in a snarky way, most likely indirectly. Only someone quite rude would flat-out confront her with being a spinster to her face.

Oh, and social status is also a factor. If she's a woman from a good family, then of course people will be much more polite about the fact that she's unmarried, if only for the sake of her brothers and parents. Being unmarried, she is assumed to be a burden on her family, but if her family is comfortable, then that's less of an issue. If she is from a less well-off family, then there's less leeway, in part because she's assumed to be a burden on a family that perhaps cannot take the burden--and partially just because of class.

FWIW, I have a (very) minor unmarried woman of about thirty (my age!) in my Civil War WIP. We get reactions to her spinsterhood from a 13-year-old boy and his older, widowed aunt. They both refer to her as a spinster in exposition but not to her face. The boy finds her an oddity, and the aunt is condescending (and also super pissed because this spinster woman has sent the boy out into a battle). But this is subtext and exposition; the dialogue doesn't address it directly, even though the aunt/widow is spitting mad.

Layla Nahar
01-07-2019, 09:21 PM
I think 'spinster' would be good for a woman in her late 30s / early 40s at that time period.

(I think the aunt in 'Anne of Green Gables' was referred to as a spinster.)