Jump to content
 
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...

Hollywood and Spinsters: Lonely Women & Dangerous Household Tools?


whistlingypsy
 Share

Recommended Posts

Last night while watching two of TCM?s romantic film offerings, a curious notion occurred to me. In both ?The Enchanted Cottage? and ?Now Voyager,? Dorothy McGuire and Bette Davis play lonely spinsters who occupy themselves in their free time with ?handicrafts.? McGuire?s character, Laura Pennington, is seen engraving blocks of wood that she means to turn into woodprints. Davis? character, Charlotte Vale, is seen engraving boxes of ivory that she means to turn into cigarette boxes. I don?t see this as a ?social commentary,? since I have only observed this phenomenon in these two films, but this seems a peculiar oddity all the same. I?m a huge fan of both movies so I ask with great affection: Do you think Hollywood made a connection between lonely women and dangerous household tools?

 

Message was edited by: whistlingypsy

Link to comment
Share on other sites

While I can't speak to the "dangerous tools", I do know that in former times spinsters were expected to "make themselves useful" in some way since they were dependent on their family for support and not being the mistress of the household (therefore not the one responsible for overseeing housekeeping, meals and child-rearing), handicrafts or some other industry provided a useful occupation to fill their days.

 

Remember, without Turner Classic Movies to watch, time surely must have dragged slowly for these lonely souls.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I thought your observations were funny and pretty astute, Whistlingypsy.

 

Though she could hardly be characterized as a "spinster", once Lord Nelson (Laurence Olivier) goes off to his historical destiny in That Hamilton Woman (1940), we do see Vivien Leigh stabbing a needle at an embroidery hoop holding some cloth--though I must admit that I usually wonder how that particular craft project came out, given the fact that Lady Hamilton was pretty edgy when she was distracting herself with it, and she did swoon soon after when getting some particularly bad news from Hardy (Henry Wilcoxon) about ol' Horatio.

 

Something tells me that she didn't stick with this hobby.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks Moira, That Hamiliton Woman is another movie that I have seen but never noticed. I would need to change my definition of "spinsters," but I wonder if these small domestic portrayals can be found in other such films?maybe Elizabeth Bennett does needlepoint while waiting on Mr. Darcy in Pride and Predjudice?perhaps Cathy does needlework while waiting for Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"?perhaps Cathy does needlework while waiting for Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights."

 

After Cathy (Merle Oberon, who isn't a spinster either) marries poor, hapless Edgar Linton (David Niven) in the William Wyler version of Wuthering Heights (1939), we do see her working intensely on what appears to be a needlepoint fire screen. When she is greeted with the news that Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) has returned to Yorkshire she freezes in mid-stitch--almost as if she has pierced her finger with the needle! Cue the wind across the moors...

 

On the true spinster front, there is a scene in the Joan Fontaine-Orson Welles version of Jane Eyre (1944) in which we see Jane (Joan) trying to take out her frustrations on an innocent piece of needlepoint once Blanche Ingram (Hillary Brooke) shows up at Thornfield Hall to distract Mr. Rochester (Orson) from his full time job of brooding.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I saw the title of this thread and immediately thought of the diaper-wearing/mallet wielding astronaut... :-)

But keeping with the movies, I was reminded of another Dorothy McGuire role in Three Coins in a Fountain where she and the others are usually plucking away at typewriters. The spinsters hands are no longer in idle pastimes, but earning a living.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am really surprised by the number of replies my original post has generated. I intended this to be a somewhat clever and humorous observation on what I saw as a coincidence of two different films, but I wasn?t certain that my original idea came through in my muddled explanation. I did not intend to comment on the socio-economic conditions of 19th-century women. I realize that part of a woman?s education, during the period, often consisted of keyboard instruction, some languages and of course needlework. The sole purpose of the ?sampler? was to demonstrate to a potential husband that the young woman was an accomplished seamstress. I also realize that a woman of a certain age who found herself unmarried would likely have utilized needlework to help support her family. This was not what occurred to me when I watched either film on Thursday evening.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The primary difference between these two characters and those found in other films mentioned would be the time period. McGuire?s and Davis? characters both live in the early 20th-century, and the situation for women has, one hopes, improved greatly. Davis? character is the youngest child of a prominent, and wealthy, Boston family. McGuire?s character is working as a maid, but both characters have traveled and seen something of the world. The most striking element that these characters seem to have in common, they are, in the words of Herbert Marshall?s young guide, ?terrible homely.? The characters, for different reasons, have locked themselves away from the world with their handicrafts.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Now Voyager opens with Charlotte Vale using a sharp tool to remove excess material from an ivory box in hopes of revealing a beautiful image within. The next moment, Charlotte hears her mother?s voice, and ?oops? the chisel slips and the image is destroyed. This is a terrifying and funny moment because it reveals the nature of her relationship with her mother and the nature of her mother?s character?she is a terrifying woman! Charlotte later shows Dr. Jacquith around her room revealing her secretive activites: smoking, medicinal sherry, books her mother forbids and her tools?can she be trusted with sharp objects???

 

The Enchanted Cottage does not show Laura Pennington using a sharp tool until much later in the film. Oliver Bradford has arrived at the cottage after being wounded in the war and he discovers her in the garden creating an image for a woodprint. Oliver shows only perfunctory interest in her activity dismissing it as an activity beneath those with which he once occupied himself. Her sole explanation is that this is something she likes to do and ?everybody needs something they like to do.? Her activity is oddly reminiscent of Charlotte?s in that she also uses a sharp tool to remove excess material from a block of wood in hopes of reveling a beautiful image within. The result is likewise similar because both women are rudely awakened by the voice of reason.

 

Perhaps I am reading too much into these two brief scenes, but I see these women using their art as an attempt to ?remake? themselves. They seem unable to release their physical beauty and therefore they release the beauty trapped in ivory or wood?just a thought.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Miss Haversham is a perfect example of a spinster who has locked herself away from the world. She clings to the past, and her beauty, by keeping her world just as it was the day she was left at the altar. She is also not to be trusted with dangerous tools; in her case the tool is fire.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guys I have never seen an episode of Desperate Housewives but suffice to say these women are wild, dangerous, unhinged and giving to crazy antics. I have read that the stars of this show knit between scenes......I for one would love to learn to knit, crochet and I dally with the idea of making a quilt and have in fact for years but haven't started though I have saved material for it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As you can tell by my "name", I love to knit. I find it especially soothing and relaxing, but there are a lot of examples in the movies of knitters who were, to put it politely, unhinged. Madame LaFarge, Margaret Hamilton's busybody in "Nothing Sacred". Those needles can be dangerous......

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

© 2023 Turner Classic Movies Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Cookie Settings
×
×
  • Create New...