Moonlight Ambulette recently wrote about Lolly Willowes, a novel published in 1926 by Sylvia Townsend Warner. I had never read it but thought it sounded exactly like what I wanted to read, so I got one from abebooks.com and had them send it to me via speedy mail. (I was desperate. Another book I was reading self-destructed 1/3 through. More on that one when/if I finish it.) It's every bit as good as she says (no surprise; MA has great taste) and it occurred to me that Lolly Willowes belongs to a type of book I love: the spinster novel, or novels about women who don't find happiness in love and have to approach life from a different direction. It's probably an inevitable novel type; so many women writers are, if not spinsters, women who feel at odds with traditional expectations for them.
Elizabeth McCracken's The Giant's House is another great novel of this type -- it's about a librarian's unrequited love for a boy giant. Rachel Cusk's The Country Life -- in many ways the funniest novel ever -- is another, about a woman with a mysterious past who gets a job taking care of a hilariously sharp-tongued disabled boy. And of course there's Zoe Heller's What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal about the awkward friendship between two women, one of whom falls in absurd love with a teenage boy (the movie of this book, though starring Judy Dench, was not as good). Also, Eudora Welty's The Optimist's Daughter (Welty is the Queen of Spinsterish Writers), Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, and much of the oeuvre of Anita Brookner, just off the top of my head. Though I'm not technically a spinster, being married, I do identify quite powerfully with these characters, perhaps in the same way children with two living parents identify with literary orphans.
It seems to be a favorite type of novel among British women writers, actually. Now, why would that be?