The author and editor Kate Bolick found that “imaginary time-traveling”—projecting herself into the life of someone else—helped her feel closer to women she admired.
In 2011, Kate Bolick’s much-discussed Atlantic cover story “All the Single Ladies” made a case for the unattached life, decrying the lack of affirming cultural narratives for single women. In a new book, Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, Bolick combines memoir, literary biography, and cultural history to continue her examination of what it means to remain alone. Spinster studies the lives of five groundbreaking, independent women—Neith Boyce, Maeve Brennan, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Edith Wharton. As Bolick considers how these historical figures triumphed, faltered, and made tradeoffs, she explores the pleasures and consequences of long-term solitude, as well as her own competing desires for freedom and attachment.
When I spoke to Bolick for this series, she chose to discuss an overlooked short story by Gilman, one of the five “awakeners” depicted in the book. “If I Were A Man,” falls somewhere between Freaky Friday and Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”: the story’s female narrator, Mollie, wakes up one day to find herself inhabiting her husband’s body. We discussed different forms of projecting oneself into another person’s experience, and what’s revealed in our personal fantasies about freedom, relationships, and the future.