A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf

A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf

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: th...

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Title:A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf
Author:Emily Midorikawa
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A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf Reviews

  • Dawn

    I received an ARC of this book from Goodreads.

    I primarily requested this title due to having a fascination with all things Jane Austen, but was pleasantly surprised to find all of the stories to be very interesting in their own rights. Very well-written with a cohesive theme of friendships between female author, readers will gain insight into how such friendships contributed to these authors' works. I was expecting the writing to be somewhat dry, but it was not at all. Highly recommend, especial

    I received an ARC of this book from Goodreads.

    I primarily requested this title due to having a fascination with all things Jane Austen, but was pleasantly surprised to find all of the stories to be very interesting in their own rights. Very well-written with a cohesive theme of friendships between female author, readers will gain insight into how such friendships contributed to these authors' works. I was expecting the writing to be somewhat dry, but it was not at all. Highly recommend, especially for readers who are looking for a new perspective on these beloved authors.

  • Cynthia

    I live for books such as these, books discussing how, why, and where excellent writers began and "A Secret Sisterhood" is one of the best I've come across. As you can see from the subtitle Midorikawa and Sweeney focus on Austen, Bronte, Eliot, and, Woolf. Eliot and Woolf have friends who were also well known writers Respectively Harriet Beecher Stowe and Katherine Mansfield. Because of the time periods involved and given that much, or all in Stowe and Eliot's case, these friendships often relied

    I live for books such as these, books discussing how, why, and where excellent writers began and "A Secret Sisterhood" is one of the best I've come across. As you can see from the subtitle Midorikawa and Sweeney focus on Austen, Bronte, Eliot, and, Woolf. Eliot and Woolf have friends who were also well known writers Respectively Harriet Beecher Stowe and Katherine Mansfield. Because of the time periods involved and given that much, or all in Stowe and Eliot's case, these friendships often relied on the mails to encourage one another. Unfortunately a lot of their correspondence was purposely destroyed by the writers or their families.

    Midorikawa and Sweeney were able to turn up some snippets of new original documents that shed light on these relationships. You can feel how desperate and also joyful they were to find a like minded person with similar problems of honing out time and place to write as well as someone to help hash out technical problems or to simply share the joys and sorrows of writing. Women are so often inaccurately portrayed as catty and/or competitive that it's nice to read about the devotion of these pairs. It's also difficult to have a sense of how isolated some of their lives were. This book was a joy to read.

    Thank you to the publisher for providing an advance reading copy.

  • Jen

    This book delivered exactly what it promised and I couldn't have been happier with it! I'm somewhat shocked and saddened that it took so long for this idea to not only occur to someone, but to also be written about and shared with the world at large.

    No, this isn't going to bring about World Peace, but it is one step closer to bringing women on par in society's eyes, with men. Not to knock men, they are great and all, but they always seem to get top billing and most of the attention, whatever th

    This book delivered exactly what it promised and I couldn't have been happier with it! I'm somewhat shocked and saddened that it took so long for this idea to not only occur to someone, but to also be written about and shared with the world at large.

    No, this isn't going to bring about World Peace, but it is one step closer to bringing women on par in society's eyes, with men. Not to knock men, they are great and all, but they always seem to get top billing and most of the attention, whatever the subject being discussed.

    I don't want to re-hash the synopsis or give away any of the interesting details that haven't been brought to light until now. I don't want to ruin it for anyone.

    I just want to say that I really appreciate the research these authors put into this book. They read letters and diaries archived and never published for the general public. They really dug deep to bring this book to the world. I appreciate that. It's not easy to do research on people who had their correspondence and journals burned after they died. Or to find out about people who were non-entities, so not much is known or maintained about them. My favorite author, Jane Austen, was the first entry in this book and I was happy with all that they found, but I still wanted more because #iwantitall.

    But about 40 pages in my eARC seemed to be notes and bibliography, so five stars, just for the amount of research they did. The fact that they were able to craft that all into a readable, entertaining book that also is incredibly pertinent to what is going on in the world today re: yes, women ARE people too, is nothing short of astounding to me.

    5 stars, all the way. Highly recommended!

    My thanks to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for an eARC copy of this book to read and review.

  • Kressel Housman

    I discovered this book while searching for a good biography of George Eliot, and because it also included Jane Austen

    Charlotte Bronte, it became an instant "must read." The subtitle seems to imply that the four featured authoresses were friends, but as any fan can tell you, Jane Austen lived some fifty years before Bronte and Eliot, and Virginia Woolf lived some fifty years after them. Rather, the book traces a close friendship each of the authoresses had with another woman writer. Woolf is

    I discovered this book while searching for a good biography of George Eliot, and because it also included Jane Austen

    Charlotte Bronte, it became an instant "must read." The subtitle seems to imply that the four featured authoresses were friends, but as any fan can tell you, Jane Austen lived some fifty years before Bronte and Eliot, and Virginia Woolf lived some fifty years after them. Rather, the book traces a close friendship each of the authoresses had with another woman writer. Woolf is the only one of the four whose work I haven't read, but I had read the work of her literary friend, Katherine Mansfield, so I felt I was almost as informed for that section as I was for the others.

    Jane Austen’s friend was her brother’s daughter’s governess, Anne Sharp. She had less wealth and status than Jane, so she lacked the freedom to pursue her literary ambitions the way Jane did. Because she was of a lower social class (and really, not that much lower, as Jane was living at her brother’s largess), her family essentially hid the friendship from her biographers, even destroying some of their correspondence.

    Charlotte Bronte’s friendship with the more radically feminist Mary Taylor was not hidden so much as it was discounted by biographers more interested in her relationships with her sisters. But it was because of Mary Taylor that Charlotte ventured to Belgium to study French. Thanks to her, we have the setting and romantic lead of

    , and the book also gives the origin of the confession scene. Because of this, the Charlotte Bronte section was my favorite, even though learning more about George Eliot was my initial reason for starting the book.

    George Eliot’s literary friend was Harriet Beecher Stowe, so theirs was the first friendship covered in which both friends were more or less equally famous. Unlike any of the others, though, this pair never met in person; their entire friendship was by letter. Though I did like the Charlotte Bronte section better, this one was my second-favorite. It included a few tidbits that are right up my alley: that Stowe called her husband “rabbi” because of his long white beard and that Marian (as George Eliot was called in her personal life) saw

    as her attempt to stand up against anti-Semitism much like Stowe’s book was a statement against slavery. From what I gather, Jews view Eliot’s book more favorably. I don’t think Uncle Tom is well-thought of now.

    Because of my lack of familiarity with the work of Virginia Woolf, this section didn’t quite send me into raptures, but it was still interesting because Woolf and Mansfield’s relationship was the most fraught with professional rivalry. As an aspiring writer myself, I know how inevitable jealousy is when befriending another writer. The two stuck it out anyway, and this book accentuates the positive, stating that previous biographers have overfocused on the negative.

    The main purpose of the book is to celebrate female friendships, and since it was about some of the smartest and most talented women who ever graced this earth, it was both an intellectual journey and an absolutely delicious treat.

  • Genna

    I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley. Full review to come closer to the publication date.

    A delightful look at female literary friendships that have been too-long overlooked. Featuring Jane Austen and governess playwright Anne Sharp; the pioneering feminist author Mary Taylor and her influence on the work of Charlotte Brontë; the transatlantic correspondence of George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe; and the oft misunderstood relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfie

    I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley. Full review to come closer to the publication date.

    A delightful look at female literary friendships that have been too-long overlooked. Featuring Jane Austen and governess playwright Anne Sharp; the pioneering feminist author Mary Taylor and her influence on the work of Charlotte Brontë; the transatlantic correspondence of George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe; and the oft misunderstood relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield.

  • Nancy

    Writers Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney were teaching in Japan when they met. They immediately connected and soon were regularly meeting and critiquing each other's writing.

    As they collaborated on writing A Secret Sisterhood, they found happiness in spite of the stress. Their unfounded feared was that their 'bond between equals' would be threatened if one achieved success before the other.

    When Margaret Atwood offered to write the forward for the book, it was proof that women writers do

    Writers Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney were teaching in Japan when they met. They immediately connected and soon were regularly meeting and critiquing each other's writing.

    As they collaborated on writing A Secret Sisterhood, they found happiness in spite of the stress. Their unfounded feared was that their 'bond between equals' would be threatened if one achieved success before the other.

    When Margaret Atwood offered to write the forward for the book, it was proof that women writers do forge friendships of encouragement and support, in spite of historic stereotypes.

    Jane Austen was mythologized into a happy spinster who hid her writing and relied only on her sister for support. Suppressed was her friendship with her rich brother's impoverished governess Anne Sharp, an amateur playwright.

    Charlotte Bronte's friendship with boarding school friend Mary Taylor had its ups and downs, but it was Taylor who inspired Charlotte to travel abroad to continue her education. The intrepid Taylor became a feminist writer.

    George Eliot, living 'in sin' with a married man, corresponded with clergyman's daughter and literary sensation Harriet Beecher Stowe. Over years, their closeness was stressed by life events, yet their regard for each other as artists prevailed.

    Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield are remembered as rivals, their mutual regard and friendship overshadowed.

    A Secret Sisterhood was an interesting book about the "rare sense of communion" between literary friends. One does not need to be well informed about the writers discussed for enough biographical information is included to understand the friendships in context of the authors' personal and professional lives.

    I enjoyed the book and learned something about writers I am quite familiar with and a great deal about those I knew little.

    I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

  • Laurie

    “A Secret Sisterhood” examines the relationships that early female writers had with friends. Most that is written about Austen and Charlotte Bronte shows them working in isolation (aside from the Bronte siblings); in fact they both had active friendships with other women both through correspondence and face to face, where they talked about their work. Eliot and Woolf have less of a reputation for loneliness, but still aren’t considered to be extroverts. But they, too, had their special friends w

    “A Secret Sisterhood” examines the relationships that early female writers had with friends. Most that is written about Austen and Charlotte Bronte shows them working in isolation (aside from the Bronte siblings); in fact they both had active friendships with other women both through correspondence and face to face, where they talked about their work. Eliot and Woolf have less of a reputation for loneliness, but still aren’t considered to be extroverts. But they, too, had their special friends with whom they could talk shop.

    Jane Austen was friends with her brother’s nanny (which was not looked upon well), who was a playwright when not wrangling kids; author Mary Taylor helped Charlotte Bronte; the outcast George Eliot (outcast for cohabiting with a married man for years) had a long correspondence with Harriet Beecher Stowe; and Virginia Woolf had a relationship both friendly and very competitive with author Katherine Mansfield. These friendships helped sustain the writers in their solitary work (even with people around them, a writer works alone) and provided sounding boards for their new writings.

    The authors, themselves friends since the beginnings of their writing careers and who first found success at almost the same time as each other, have done meticulous research and found previously unread documents on or by their subjects. It’s an interesting read, so see how these friendships affected their writing. Much has been made of the friendships of certain male authors- Byron and Shelley, Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins- and now at last we have the feminine side of that coin – and a foreword by Margaret Atwood. Four and a half stars.

  • Jennifer Muldowney

    Interesting,albeit difficult friendships between famous literary women. I’m so glad that my 3 daughters and I live in the modern age!

  • Susan

    This is an interesting joint literary biography of four famous authors: Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf, which looks at particular, literary friendships they had with other women. I am not that convinced by some of the literary friendships chosen for each of the authors, but then I have read individual biographies of all but George Eliot. Still, even if it is difficult to pick a ‘closest,’ literary confidante, this book certainly does highlight the importance of fe

    This is an interesting joint literary biography of four famous authors: Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf, which looks at particular, literary friendships they had with other women. I am not that convinced by some of the literary friendships chosen for each of the authors, but then I have read individual biographies of all but George Eliot. Still, even if it is difficult to pick a ‘closest,’ literary confidante, this book certainly does highlight the importance of female friendship; their encouragement, criticism and, in some cases, competition.

    It is interesting that two of the pairs featured were both successful authors (Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield, as well as George Eliot and Harriet Beecher-Stowe). Indeed, Charlotte Bronte, and her chosen friend, Mary Taylor were also both published – Taylor eventually producing, “Miss Miles,” a book still in print today. However, Jane Austen wrote many letters to Anne Sharp, the governess of her niece. Anne Sharp was, to me, perhaps the most interesting, as she is a silence, female voice. A woman who, due to circumstances, had to take paid work as a governess and a companion; who enjoyed writing theatricals for her charges, but never had the leisure or opportunity to become a published author. As such, it is cheering to see how much pleasure Jane’s publication afforded her.

    If you have not read biographies of any of these featured authors, this book does a good job of giving a potted history of their life and work. Their letters, and relationships, with their literary confidantes, help to highlight their various challenges, indecisions, literary jealousy, personal concerns and competitive feelings. Not all of these relationships are easy ones – there are often arguments, misunderstandings and problems. Charlotte Bronte was criticised by former school friend, Mary Taylor, for not tackling political and social issues. Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield were both close confidantes and yet found their relationship difficult at times. For George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe; these two most successful female authors of their time, were able to write openly, as they were on opposite sides of the world and so Harriet could ignore her fellow authors unmarried state, which made her socially so unacceptable in literary London.

    These literary connections, these reliance and friendships, literary debts and support, are interesting to read about. Overall, this is a testament to female friendship and to the network of support that women’s friendship, so often disregarded and overlooked, gave to these great, female authors.

  • Roman Clodia

    Comprising brief dual-biographies of 8 women, the premise of this book is that female literary friendships have been written out, submerged or forgotten from the lives of four women authors: Austen, Eliot, Charlotte Bronte and Woolf.

    Reading the book, I'm not especially convinced by this argument: the relationship between Bronte and Mary Taylor is well covered in the standard biographies, as is the sometimes conflicted relationship between Woolf and Katherine Mansfield and, indeed, other Bloomsb

    Comprising brief dual-biographies of 8 women, the premise of this book is that female literary friendships have been written out, submerged or forgotten from the lives of four women authors: Austen, Eliot, Charlotte Bronte and Woolf.

    Reading the book, I'm not especially convinced by this argument: the relationship between Bronte and Mary Taylor is well covered in the standard biographies, as is the sometimes conflicted relationship between Woolf and Katherine Mansfield and, indeed, other Bloomsbury women. While I didn't know about the connections between Eliot and Harriet Beecher-Stowe, or the friendship between Austen and Anne Sharp, the governess of her niece, Fanny, I'm not sure that knowing that they were friends changes anything.

    women have friends, whether they're writers or not and, while it's true that there is some continued mythologising about masculine literary friendships (Byron and Shelley, Wordsworth and Coleridge, Fitzgerald and Hemingway), it tends to be because of the

    connections being made in their writing, not just the fact that they are friends. The only possible literary cross-fertilisation here is that between Woolf and Mansfield, already part of literary history via the interconnections of the Bloomsbury Group.

    Having said that, this is a lively and well-researched read that offers up compact 'friendship' biographies in just 3 chapters each. I, however, expected something more than the mere fact of these friendships to be the subject of the book: a more probing interrogation of the impact of these friendships and their effect on the writings of these women. To be fair, this isn't claiming to be an academic book or to be making intellectual interventions in the histories of gender and writing. So an interesting read but also a bit of a wasted opportunity that might have done something more radical with the material.

    Thanks to the publisher for an ARC via NetGalley

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