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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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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