Essays · Movies

Anatomy of a Spinster: 6 Species of Cinematic Old Maids

Each one greater and more terrible than the last.
Cinematic Spinsters
By  · Published on May 11th, 2017

The Pure Recluse

Top: Julie Harris as Eleanor Lance — Bottom: Billie Whitelaw and Frank Oz as Aughra; Matilda Hunt as Miss Havisham; Cate Blanchett as Galadriel.

Eleanor Lance — The Haunting (1963)

By the end of The Haunting, Eleanor has achieved the recluse dream: she is one with the house and the house is with her. By way of spooky Gothic ghost gaslighting, Hill House becomes Eleanor, along with everything in it, including her long-misplaced sense of self. It’s the spiritual equivalent of merging permanently with your memory foam.

Aughra, the Keeper of Secrets — The Dark Crystal (1982)

Old as fuck, cranky as hell, Aughra lives in an isolated brain-shaped cave where she can read her star chart in peace (the dream). A cantankerous hermit, Aughra is an alchemist, astronomer, wise woman, and spinster role model for the ages.

Miss Havisham — Great Expectations (1946)

Mouldering in her wedding dress, conspiring against the happiness of those foolish enough to disturb her, Miss Havisham is untouchable, eternally unwed, and gloriously shabby.

Galadriel — The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001–2003)

Here I quote directly from the consummate spinster guru, Mallory Ortberg:

“But…didn’t Galadriel have a husband?”

No. She didn’t.

“Yes, she did — his name was Celeborn.”

No, it wasn’t.

“I’m sure it was. He was even in the movie for a minute.”

Think about it, though. Really think about it, and I think you’ll realize that Celeborn was a collective hallucination brought about by a brief fever dream, and not an actual husband to Galadriel. Galadriel had no husband.

The Aspirational

(L) Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond; (R) Patty and Selma Bouvier, voiced by Julie Kavner.

Norma Desmond — Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Norma Desmond (an icy and vicious Gloria Swanson) is everything: rich, bombastic, isolated, paralyzed by unapologetic self-love — magnetically leading her opponents to their deaths like it’s an afterthought.

Patty and Selma Bouvier — The Simpsons (1989-ad infinitum)

Ruthlessly self-sufficient and surly, the Bouvier twins are a beacon of belligerent and terrifyingly independent womanhood. They are incorruptible visions of what comfortable aloneness can look like. And while both enter (and leave) relationships, including a marriage on Selma’s part — I think to the inarguably innate force of their spinsterism, and return to Ortberg:

A woman who owns an iguana named Jub-Jub, who wears her hair in an enormous grey beehive and does not shave her legs, who thinks nothing of riding on a white horse stark naked behind her twin sister — this is a woman with the heart of a spinster, and no amount of secondary characters she dates can change that.

Eartha Kitt
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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).