What better day to review a book that includes Jane Austen than on the anniversary of her death? I was so lucky to have a fascinating guest blog from Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney on the publication day of A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Bronte, Eliot and Woolf that you can read here. Today I’m sharing my review.
A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Bronte, Eliot and Woolf is published by Arum Press and is available for purchase here.
A Secret Sisterhood
The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Bronte, Eliot and Woolf
A Secret Sisterhood uncovers the hidden literary friendships of the world’s most respected female authors.
Drawing on letters and diaries, some of which have never been published before, this book will reveal Jane Austen’s bond with a family servant, the amateur playwright Anne Sharp; how Charlotte Brontë was inspired by the daring feminist Mary Taylor; the transatlantic relationship between George Eliot and the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe; and the underlying erotic charge that lit the friendship of Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield – a pair too often dismissed as bitter foes.
In their first book together, Midorikawa and Sweeney resurrect these literary collaborations, which were sometimes illicit, scandalous and volatile; sometimes supportive, radical or inspiring; but always, until now, tantalisingly consigned to the shadows.
My Review of A Secret Sisterhood
I have to confess that it has taken me some time to read A Secret Sisterhood as there is so much information to absorb I needed time to reflect and consider what I’d read. The style of the book is very accessible and balances quotation and research with original writing perfectly. At times this is more like reading a narrative than an academic study and it just goes to show what wonderful writers both authors are. Their own friendship shines through the pages.
The quality of research that has gone in to A Secret Sisterhood is impeccable. Whilst several facts are already well documented, Midorikawa and Sweeney present them with a fresh eye. They also include new material and occasionally some conjecture so that the reader is left to form their own opinion too. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book and the details of quotidian life really bring the text alive. I also really appreciated the understanding of feminism that underpins much of the book and the debunking of so many stereotyped views of these women. They come to life between the pages of A Secret Sisterhood so that they are no longer the conventional creatures we have known for so long.
A Secret Sisterhood is a must read for any fan of Austen, Bronte, Eliot and Woolf, but equally for anyone interested in history, society and literature. The bibliography and footnotes make for fascinating reading and again, it took me ages to read the book because I found myself following up some of these independently. A passing reference to Roger Fry had me looking up his paintings, for example. I think A Secret Sisterhood is a book to be savoured and returned to frequently over the years.
About Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney
Writer friends Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney are the authors of A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden friendships of Austen, Brontë, Eliot and Woolf. They also co-run SomethingRhymed.com, a website that celebrates female literary friendship. They have written for the likes of the Guardian, the Independent on Sunday and The Times. Emily is a winner of the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, Emma is author of the award-winning novel Owl Song at Dawn, and they both teach at New York University London.