New Movies: Rachel, Rachel

The spinster has always been a haunting and rather mysterious figure: no man quite knows her. Victorian writers characterized her as a religious zealot or an anxious nanny. In the post-analytical theater, Playwrights William Inge and Tennessee Williams toss her about like a sex bomb on a short fuse —guaranteed to explode somewhere in the second act. Sylvia Ashton-Warner's Spinster and Margaret Laurence's A Jest of God show the bomb defused. Both novels capture the faded maiden in dignity and pathos. She is as obsolete as an antimacassar—and as real as the...