Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Live Alone and Like It: The Classic Guide for the Single Woman; Marjorie Hillis

Written by Josie Schoel
Live Alone and Like It is a cute, pocket-sized book replete with a bubble gum pink cover and girly-girl sitting prim and proper in her bed, drinking a cosmopolitan. How very Sex in the City, right? Not so much. This book was originally published in 1936, when it was radical for a woman to eat in a restaurant by herself, let alone set up house that way. Because of the huge gap of time between then and now—and all that went down during this time, such as, I don't know, the civil rights movement and women's liberation—the majority of the advice Ms. Hillis has to offer the single girl is pretty much moot.
Live Alone and Like It is a cute, pocket-sized book replete with a bubble gum pink cover and girly-girl sitting prim and proper in her bed, drinking a cosmopolitan. How very Sex in the City, right? Not so much. This book was originally published in 1936, when it was radical for a woman to eat in a restaurant by herself, let alone set up house that way. Because of the huge gap of time between then and now—and all that went down during this time, such as, I don't know, the civil rights movement and women's liberation—the majority of the advice Ms. Hillis has to offer the single girl is pretty much moot.

Although meant to be humorous, the introduction, written by Frank Crowninshield, the man who made Vanity Fair the mega-magazine that it is, is the most alarming. He writes of girls and their hobbies, "Another hobby might consist of not talking about things she doesn't understand to people who do, or about things she does to people who don't.” Ouch. Because of this kind of misogyny, the book is marketed as kitsch, and it is inherently difficult to critique kitsch. In our culture at present, both kitsch and irony work in a way that undercuts social responsibility, leaving us all somewhat powerless.

All that aside, the book is kinda cute and there are a few little tidbits, as antiquated as they may seem, that could be integrated into the life of the "modern girl." Each chapter first explains a situation as well as the proper etiquette to accompany it. It then goes on to case studies about the certain women who did it all wrong versus the ones who did it right. There is a chapter on cultivating friendships, on not isolating, as well as a chapter on the importance of having a real "hobby." One of the more compelling chapters is titled, "Will you or Won't you?", which is about, as I am sure you can guess, whether or not the woman in question should have "sexual intercourse" with a gentleman caller. What is so interesting about this section is that Marjorie Hillis refrains from making a judgment call. She makes note that when a woman lives alone, she may be more likely to engage in sexual activity because, "No minister, doctor or scientist has ever had the restraining influence of a good healthy fear that Father or Old Sister might barge in." Although she does say that affairs should not happen before the girl is thirty, she really, ultimately, says that a woman should do as she pleases—totally revolutionary for 1936!

The only section in the book really of note is the part that covers money. Conveniently titled, "You'd better skip this one," this chapter addresses what so many of us really don't want to think about and what has, over the past few years, really been addressed as a feminist issue. The issue of saving. Just recently, Bust Magazine ran an article entitled, "Mad Money: Give Bad Situations the Financial Finger with a Fuck You Fund", which is a fund that girls should always have in case the going gets rough with a lover, a job, or family. It is a way to buy a ticket and hightail it out of a bad situation. Although Marjorie Hillis doesn't call her savings account an F-U fund, she does advocate the need for a woman to have money in the bank. Her reasons for this fund are a bit more consumer-driven than the ideology behind the F-U fund, but it is still an important thing to really consider. And, alongside the cocktail recipes and tips about cultivating the art of sleeping alone, it is definitely the best advice in the book.

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