"a pet black spider"
I'm still following the silken ribbon of spiderweb to see if it leads to women, and here's a little bit that came up.
Paula Graham, in "Girl's Camp? The Politics of Parody" (in Tamsin Wilton, Immortal, Invisible: Lesbians and the Moving Image, 1995, 2005), writes of the play Red Sonja, in which the lesbian queen Gedren is associated "with the female genitals" and "has a pet black spider" signifying "voracious female sexuality" (p. 140).
This is far along from Jean Webster's time, but the association of a spider with the female sex is intriguing.
Labels: Literary Criticism