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The Single Woman and the Fairytale Prince

ISBN: 978-0-7456-4049-5
200 pages
October 2008, Polity
The Single Woman and the Fairytale Prince (0745640494) cover image
The number of one-person households is rising steeply all over the world and a growing proportion of these 'new singles' are women. It is estimated that one woman in three lives on her own. This development reflects general social trends, ranging from rising divorce rates to the growing professionalization of women and their dissatisfaction with a traditional model that offers them a future organized solely around 'husband-baby-home'. At the same time, the attractions of that model still linger and the fairytale prince is by no means a figure from a story or a remote past. Even in an age in which the internet promises that love is 'just a click away', many women still wait for their prince to come.

Jean-Claude Kaufmann's sympathetic study of the lives, aspirations and sometimes despair of the 'new single women' is based mainly on an analysis of a sample of the hundreds of letters sent to Marie-Claire magazine after it published a first-hand account of the single life. Funny, touching and at times profoundly sad, the letters paint a collective portrait of the single woman and her life that is both intimate and socially significant. Kaufmann concludes by situating their stories in a broad comparative context and considering the possible impact of novel phenomena such as the recent vogue for 'mail-order brides'.

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  • FOREWORD TO THE NEW EDITION
  • INTRODUCTION
  • PART ONE: IS THERE A MODEL FOR PRIVATE LIFE?
  • 1. LIVING ALONE: A LONG HISTORY
  • Intolerable Celibacy
  • Great Buffalo Woman
  • Celibacy Becomes Legitimate
  • A Maid in Men’s Clothes
  • Introspection
  • The World Turned Upside Down
  • The Nineteenth Century: The Main Trend Begins
  • Grisettes and Phalansteries
  • The Break
  • Dark Times
  • The American Model
  • The Scandinavian Model
  • Crazy Times
  • Uncertain Times
  • 2. A LIFE DIVIDED
  • The ‘Accusing Finger’
  • ‘Weird’
  • Uncomfortable Places
  • The Family: What Can Be Said and What Cannot Be Said
  • The Laughter of Girlfriends
  • Betrayal
  • A Cycle in Three Stages
  • 3. A LIFE SHARED
  • Back to History
  • Premonitory Experiments
  • The Personalization of Feelings
  • A Model for Private Life
  • The Mother-Children Group
  • The Model Undermined
  • 4. PRINCE OR HUSBAND?
  • Facts and Fairies
  • The Prince with a Thousand Faces
  • ‘Like a Love Story’
  • The Prince Settles Down
  • When the Carriage Turns Back into a Pumpkin
  • The Prince Plays Musical Chairs

  • PART TWO: PORTRAIT OF A SINGLE WOMAN
  • 5. INTROSPECTION
  • ‘The Disease of the Infinite’
  • From Laughter to Tears
  • Double Reflexivity
  • From Diaries to Blogs
  • The Mirror and the Clairvoyant
  • 6. AT HOME
  • Fixtures and Fittings
  • Bed
  • Meals
  • Wrapping Up and Regressing
  • Freedom from Domesticity
  • The Lightness of Being
  • 7. THE OUTSIDE WORLD
  • Going Out
  • Other Ties
  • The Family
  • Work
  • Being Oneself in the Outside World
  • 8. MEN
  • Arms
  • Sex
  • Man-Hunters
  • A Gloomy View of Life
  • Married Men
  • 9. THE INTERNET REVOLUTION
  • A Sudden Change of Epoch
  • Love is Just a Click Away
  • The Dark Side of the Web
  • Real Life
  • Men and Women: Sex and Commitment
  • ‘Don’t Give Up’
  • An Experience in its Own Right
  • PART THREE: THE AUTONOMY TRAJECTORY
  • 10. BEING ONESELF
  • The Concept of Trajectory
  • The Irresistible Injunction to be Oneself
  • Oneself
  • Widows
  • Young People
  • Women Who Have Broken off Relationships
  • Predisposing Factors
  • The Impulse to Remain Single
  • The Lesser of Two Evils
  • Two Trajectories, Two Identities
  • 11. WAITING
  • Dinosaurs of Love and Galloping Horses
  • The Ravages of Love
  • For Want of an Alternative
  • Sentenced to Hard Labour
  • Comforting Habits
  • Extreme Isolation
  • Negative Individualism
  • 12. ‘WOMEN CAN DO ANYTHING!
  • Flight as Therapy
  • The Logic of the Shell
  • The Paradox of Appearances
  • Women Can Do Anything
  • Autonomy with Company
  • CONCLUSION
  • EPILOGUE
  • DOSSIER. THE GLOBALIZATION OF SINGLEDOM: THE FIGURES
  • The Irresistible Rise in the Number of One-Person Households
  • Interpreting the Figures
  • Late Marriage
  • A Short World Tour
  • Mail-Order Brides
  • A NOTE ON METHODOLOGY
  • Stages in the Research
  • The Letters
  • Constructing Hypotheses
  • The Informants
  • BIBLIOGRAPHY
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    Jean-Claude Kaufmann is a Sociologist and Director of Research at the CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research) in the University of Paris V, Sorbonne.
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    • A highly original book about one of the key social changes of our time: the growing numbers of people - in particular, the growing numbers of women - who are living on their own.

    • Explores the tension between the desire of many woman to lead independent, professional lives, on the one hand, and their longing for a meaningful and fulfilling relationship with Mr Right - the ‘fairytale prince’ - on the other.

    • Ties in with the kinds of themes addressed by television and popular culture - e.g. Sex and the City, Bridget Jones, etc.

    • Includes up-to-date analysis of internet dating and ‘mail-order brides’.

    • A beautifully written and very accessible book about the changing nature of personal life today, written by one of the leading sociologists in France.
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    "Kaufmann is a wise and clever microsociologist, inspired by Erving Goffman, by fashion magazines, and by kittenish and cougarish women. He is the voice of the annoyed, the vexed, the fearful, and the comforted."
    Contemporary Sociology

    “Freedom and autonomy have their glories and their miseries. Jean-Claude Kaufmann has composed a thoroughly researched inventory of both, while analysing in depth the present-day condition of women and its impact on the male half of humanity. As women replace self-effacement with newly gained self-confidence, the lynchpin is driven out of the family and the private sphere, and the hard-to-reconcile drives to autonomy and companionship result in the increasing fragility of commitments and fear of loneliness for both women and men. In masterly fashion, Kaufmann records the ongoing transformations in the human condition that follow. His findings hit at the very heart of the harrowing dilemmas which most men and women confront these days and struggle to resolve.”
    Zygmunt Bauman, Universities of Leeds and Warsaw

    “Anyone seeking to understand the fastest growing trend in personal life – more people living alone – should read this book. Jean-Claude Kaufmann moves elegantly between broad-brush historical overviews of changes in family life and fine-grained scrutiny of the narratives of women ensnared in the drama of these new demographics. Paradoxically, the opening up of personal choices for everybody seems to close down the options for many women, who are finding it harder to find the partners they long for.”
    Lynne Segal, Birkbeck College, author of Why Feminism?

    “This is a brilliant book on the everyday effects of the rise in female singledom. Kaufman provides fascinating insights into the pressures that single women experience today, from society's disapproval of female autonomy as a threat to traditional family models, to the hopes and disappointments of the modern dating world.”
    Veronique Mottier, University of Lausanne

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