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Friday, October 13, 2017

A Secret Sisterhood by Emily Midorikawa & Claire Sweeney

Title: A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf
Author: Emily Midorikawa, Emma Claire Sweeney
Publisher: 17 October 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 336 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: biographies, memoir
My Rating: 4 crowns


Male literary friendships are the stuff of legend; think Byron and Shelley, Fitzgerald and Hemingway. But the world’s best-loved female authors are usually mythologized as solitary eccentrics or isolated geniuses. Coauthors and real-life friends Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney prove this wrong, thanks to their discovery of a wealth of surprising collaborations: the friendship between Jane Austen and one of the family servants, playwright Anne Sharp; the daring feminist author Mary Taylor, who shaped the work of Charlotte Brontë; the transatlantic friendship of the seemingly aloof George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe; and Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield, most often portrayed as bitter foes, but who, in fact, enjoyed a complex friendship fired by an underlying erotic charge.
Through letters and diaries that have never been published before, A Secret Sisterhood resurrects these forgotten stories of female friendships. They were sometimes scandalous and volatile, sometimes supportive and inspiring, but always—until now—tantalizingly consigned to the shadows.

My Thoughts

“... misleading myths of isolation have long attached themselves to women who write: a
cottage-dwelling spinster; an impassioned roamer of the moors; a fallen woman, shunned; a melancholic genius. Over the years, a conspiracy of silence has obscured the friendships of female authors, past and present. But now it is time to break the silence and celebrate this literary sisterhood - a glimmering web of interwoven threads that still has the power to unsettle, to challenge, to inspire.”

‘A Secret Sisterhood’ is an interesting book packed with loads of information, new insights and wonderful descriptions of friendship from times long gone. Reading more like a biography, it allows the reader to look at female literary friendships within the context of their writing.

Being a big Austen and Bronte fan, I was eager to see what new snippets would be brought to life. Thinking of these famous female authors (and understanding that writing is very much a solitary pursuit), one often sees them in isolation. This book reveals how much they were actively involved with others, sharing at times, revealing insights into their thinking. Either meeting in person or through their correspondence, one can learn a great deal more about the individual.

You do not have to be well versed on these writers, as a satisfactory amount of detail is provided by these authors. What they succeed in doing is portraying another aspect to these famous lives and how these friendships contributed to the writer’s lives. I learnt more about those I knew well eg. Jane Austen and was introduced to those I was unfamiliar with eg. George Eliot.

This is an extremely well researched book, impressively so. Dedicating three chapters to each of the writer’s, the authors shine a light on the importance of friendship to these famous women, through diaries, letters and other documents. The authors really do a fabulous job of inviting you into a ‘secret sisterhood’ and sharing details I knew little of.

If you are in any way intrigued by any of these literary heroines, or you are interested in literary history, then I highly recommend you take some time to discover this ‘Secret Sisterhood’.

“In piecing together the lost stories of these four trailblazing pairs, we have found alliances that were sometimes illicit, scandalous, and volatile; sometimes supportive, radical, or inspiring but, until now, tantalizingly consigned to the shadows.”

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

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