The threat of loneliness was a shaping factor for female identities in 18th- and early-19th-century Britain. The caricature old maid of popular print culture, wilfully unmarried and deservedly neglected and isolated as she aged, was a powerfully negative stereotype aimed primarily at gentlewomen. The deterrent language of loneliness worked to regulate and direct their sociability to the appropriate end of extending family alliances. Throughout this period lifelong spinsters in gentry families increased in number and were increasingly socially visible. Their personal writing confirms that they understood aloneness in terms of their gentility. Being alone meant lacking, or being denied, the polite social interactions which affirmed rank and identity in their own and others’ eyes.