A Secret Sisterhood
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.

A Secret Sisterhood Details

TitleA Secret Sisterhood
Author
ReleaseOct 17th, 2017
PublisherHoughton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN-139780544883734
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Biography, History, Feminism, Writing, Books About Books

A Secret Sisterhood Review

  • Roman Clodia
    January 1, 1970
    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. Of course 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 literary 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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  • Susan
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Cynthia
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Nancy
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Anna
    January 1, 1970
    I will admit that at first the tone of this book struck me as a little twee and overly whimsical. The authors likened their shared dreams of being writers to those of 19th century novelists and thus seemed to be projecting their emotions in a slightly discomforting manner. As I read on, though, I got used to this and unbent towards the book. ‘A Secret Sisterhood’ turned out to be a sensitively written, thoughtful, and moving account of four literary friendships. Each is constructed from survivin I will admit that at first the tone of this book struck me as a little twee and overly whimsical. The authors likened their shared dreams of being writers to those of 19th century novelists and thus seemed to be projecting their emotions in a slightly discomforting manner. As I read on, though, I got used to this and unbent towards the book. ‘A Secret Sisterhood’ turned out to be a sensitively written, thoughtful, and moving account of four literary friendships. Each is constructed from surviving letters and journals, illuminating how women dealt with the constraints placed on their lives and artistic endeavours by society over the past two hundred years. The four friendships are presented in chronological order, which also happens to ascending order of available evidence. The letters between Jane Austen and Anne Sharpe haven’t survived, making this the most speculative section. By contrast, plenty of letters and journals survive to show the complexity of the bond between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the four friendships was the support and critique the women gave to each other’s literary ambitions. The authors repeatedly point out that collaborative literary friendships between men are often celebrated, while those between women tend to get forgotten. This book is an attempt to start redressing the balance. Once accustomed to its style, I found it enjoyable and informative.
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  • Jen
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Kressel Housman
    January 1, 1970
    I discovered this book while searching for a good biography of George Eliot, and because it also included Jane Austen and 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 and 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 Villette, 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 Daniel Deronda 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.
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  • Lee
    January 1, 1970
    LOVED THIS!!! I usually don't read nonfiction, but I am so glad I picked this up. The inclusion of diary entries and quotes was seamless, and I really enjoyed seeing how the literary friendships of famous women writers informed the two authors' friendship.
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  • Genna
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Girl with her Head in a Book
    January 1, 1970
    For my full review: https://girlwithherheadinabook.co.uk/...As a final read for Brooding about the Brontës, this felt like a perfect pick.  Midorikawa and Sweeney are a pair of female writers and friends who chose to investigate the supportive connections between various well-known writers, including Charlotte Brontë.  This is a fascinating angle to the Brontës since they are typically regarded as such an insular family since the point to Secret Sisterhood is to look into the lives of writers wh For my full review: https://girlwithherheadinabook.co.uk/...As a final read for Brooding about the Brontës, this felt like a perfect pick.  Midorikawa and Sweeney are a pair of female writers and friends who chose to investigate the supportive connections between various well-known writers, including Charlotte Brontë.  This is a fascinating angle to the Brontës since they are typically regarded as such an insular family since the point to Secret Sisterhood is to look into the lives of writers who found commonality outside of their family setting.  Midorikawa and Sweeney examine not only how these women helped each other to find creative impetus but also how they weathered professional rivalry.  With even the most modern pair of friends within the book (Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield) dating from around a century ago, it was also fascinating to see how attitudes towards women writers have shifted and changed over time.  Margaret Atwood's foreword describes how female writers traditionally held the role of helpmeets to their male colleagues and even when they were successful, their word was dismissed as that of 'scribbling women'.  Both Atwood and Sisterhood's two author lament that while male literary friendships have been championed and celebrated (Wordsworth and Coleridge, Dickens and Collins, Byron and Shelley), those between women have been swept to the sidelines.  Jane Austen's relations appear to have suppressed evidence of Austen's friendship with governess Anne Sharp, Charlotte's bond with her sisters eclipsed her friendship with Mary Taylor for most biographers and the fact that George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe corresponded only via letter meant that the importance of their rapport was marginalised over time.  Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield's friendship was misinterpreted as rivalry by commentators even while male writers could tear strips from each other and still be classed allies.  Midorikawa and Sweeney's book was described as an 'act of literary espionage' by Financial Times and over the course of the book it becomes clear that this is true - only exceptional research could have revealed these threads of connection in such detailp.The opening section focuses on Jane Austen and Anne Sharp and is probably the trickiest since there is so little material upon which to draw.  While the two were certainly close and Anne Sharp has even been posited convincingly as the inspiration for Anne Elliot in Persuasion, Anne Sharp herself remains a shadowy figure.  She was governess to Austen's niece Fanny Knight and seems to have inspired some jealousy in Austen's sister Cassandra although the two did remain friends for years after Jane's death.  As the proud Austens tried to expunge any of the more homespun aspects of their famous relative's life, being friends with a governess was something that did not make the cut.  They also liked to pretend that Jane and her sister never had anything to do in the kitchen either.  This lack of primary evidence means that we only see Anne Sharp through the eyes of subjective third parties rather than hearing her true voice.  This is regrettable because her passion for play-writing and putting on theatricals must have influenced Austen's writing.Still, if this is one friendship which feels muffled over time, the other three pairings have far more life.  Mary Taylor has always been one of my favourite figures within the Brontë mythology and her blunt commentary on Charlotte's life and works is always a welcome contrast to the sycophancy and histrionics of the more well-known Ellen Nussey.  Despite Mary Taylor's emigration to New Zealand, she and Charlotte kept up their correspondence with Taylor providing an early opinion on Jane Eyre - pretty, but no political purpose.  It seems to have been her who encouraged Charlotte to try the far more political Shirley and indeed there are crossover echoes between it and Taylor's own novel Miss Miles.  Mary Taylor was that precious friend who loves you but also tells you what you need to hear rather than what you want her to say.  For someone so morbid and prone to indecision as Charlotte, Taylor seems to have been precised the type of companion that she needed.  My favourite quote from Taylor came from her letter to Ellen Nussey though when Nussey was having a meltdown about Charlotte getting married.  Describing Nussey's protests as 'wonderful nonsense', Taylor says stoutly that if it is so unusual a thing for Charlotte to make a decision with her own happiness in view, she ought therefore to make more of a habit of it.  Taylor always seems to have been a woman on a mission and it is unsurprising therefore that she never had a great deal of interest in hitching herself to the Brontë bandwagon and preferred instead to find her own path.  Charlotte Brontë may have had friends with more high profile literary careers (Harriet Martineau and Elizabeth Gaskell are two such examples) but none of them ever pushed her in the way that Mary Taylor did.George Eliot (or Marian Evans Lewes) never actually met Harriet Beecher Stowe but reached out to her via letter through mutual friends.  There were regular long gaps in their correspondence and Stowe took nearly a year to respond to the first letter but it was clearly of importance to them both.  George Eliot was a 'fallen woman' who was 'living in sin' with G.H. Lewes meaning that the other female writers of the day were reluctant to have anything to do with her.  There is a sense of Eliot crying out for a creative connection; it is stunning to read of a writer as talented as Eliot confessing her despondency over her own work.  Yet the relationship between them never quite became what the two of them clearly so wanted.  Eliot was hurt when Stowe failed to pass on a message of condolence following the death of Eliot's stepson, taking nearly two years to write back.  Stowe was similarly offended when Eliot declined to endorse Stowe's essay about Lord Byron's incestuous relationship with his sister; clearly the unmarried Eliot felt ill-equipped to comment on other people's unorthodox personal lives.  Calling the friendship between these two a 'sisterhood' feels like a stretch given their physical distance but it nonetheless underlines the need for collaboration and community among writers.  For two women who never met, they were still highly significant in each other's lives.Woolf and Mansfield shared a friendship which was more complex still.  Try as I might, I really cannot take to Virginia Woolf and the chapters describing her relationship with Katherine Mansfield did little to alter my opinion.  The bitchiness of the Bloomsbury set means that the two writers often founds themselves picking up unpleasant comments that the one had said about the other and they were both very ready to criticise the other's output which further complicated the dynamic.  Then there was the incident where Woolf wrote a story which was published to acclaim but which seemed to have pilfered an idea which had originated with Mansfield.  I found myself thinking that I would not particularly want Virginia Woolf to be my friend.  Yet when Mansfield died, Woolf was devastated, even if this was less from true affection as it was from the loss of a creative sounding-board.  Or source of inspiration.  Despite the spikiness of their bond, Woolf had enjoyed the competition and its abrupt end was painful.Across the chapters though there were further threads of connection between the women.  Charlotte Brontë mused on Jane Austen, spiritualist Harriet Beecher Stowe believed that she had contacted Charlotte Brontë's spirit during a seance (George Eliot disagreed), Virginia Woolf wrote an essay on George Eliot.  I think of the significance that so many of these writers have had for me personally.  Even outside the bonds of conventional friendship, female writers are naturally drawn together.  Yet for each of the subjects of this book, maintaining friendships was difficult whether due to ill health, jealousy, geography or personal circumstance.  Midorikawa and Sweeney muse on this in the context of their own friendship as two writers, trying to learn from the travails of those who have gone before them to overcome better potential obstacles.  A Secret Sisterhood takes a bird's eye view on the bonds between women and creative partnerships in particular, making the book far more than biography but also a meditation on female writing, but it catches fire in how it grants a glimpse of these glittering literary giantesses.  We catch sight of them in the intimate moments of friendship which brings them to life again not as the opaque cult figures which they have become but the human women they truly were, filled with a desire to express themselves to the world.
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  • Laurie
    January 1, 1970
    “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.
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  • Kristen
    January 1, 1970
    I really respect the premise of this book--reclaiming important (female) literary relationships. BUT I'm just not convinced that the evidence suggests what they claim. I'm certainly sympathetic that much of the evidence has been destroyed but, unfortunately, that means that this type of book just can't be written. OR needs to be written differently. I just grew tired of the extreme speculation of what each woman was thinking when they recieved the letters and/or wrote their books. There just is I really respect the premise of this book--reclaiming important (female) literary relationships. BUT I'm just not convinced that the evidence suggests what they claim. I'm certainly sympathetic that much of the evidence has been destroyed but, unfortunately, that means that this type of book just can't be written. OR needs to be written differently. I just grew tired of the extreme speculation of what each woman was thinking when they recieved the letters and/or wrote their books. There just is not enough support. Maybe it's because I'm chin deep in my own research about friendships but I wasn't learning much about history or friendship. So, I have to put it aside for awhile.
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  • Jennifer Muldowney
    January 1, 1970
    Interesting,albeit difficult friendships between famous literary women. I’m so glad that my 3 daughters and I live in the modern age!
  • Dawn
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Jo
    January 1, 1970
    A Secret Sisterhood was an absolute treat to read. I must just mention the stunning cover, which for me, sums up the beauty of this book. A Secret Sisterhood eloquently and succinctly describes in much detail, four female literary collaborations: those of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf. I was absolutely staggered at the sheer amount of research that was undertaken in order to write this book. It is packed with so much information, hidden gems and beautiful descrip A Secret Sisterhood was an absolute treat to read. I must just mention the stunning cover, which for me, sums up the beauty of this book. A Secret Sisterhood eloquently and succinctly describes in much detail, four female literary collaborations: those of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf. I was absolutely staggered at the sheer amount of research that was undertaken in order to write this book. It is packed with so much information, hidden gems and beautiful descriptions of female solidarity from long, long ago. This book is a treasure trove of hidden secrets. Very little is known about the friendships that these women had with other women writers, as during their lifetimes their achievements and literary accomplishments were very much downplayed, with male writers receiving much of the recognition. Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney have created a book that highlights these achievements, the strength of women, and how women seek and give strength to other women in the writing profession. This is very much in evidence today, so it is so very refreshing to find that our female literally heroines were doing the very same.We learn about these much loved writers' private lives and their close friendships, that were often seen as scandalous, from the information that has been painstakingly gathered from lost letters and diaries. In doing so, what happened in the past is made incredibly relevant for today's audience. These women writers had such a close support system. We learn that feminism is not such a new concept, as these women were feminists well before the term was even used.This is such an uplifting book and one that I enjoyed immensely. If you love to read novels by these four literary heroines, and are interested in literary history, then this book will really appeal to you. In fact, for anyone interested in literature, or for those who just fancy an absorbing non-fiction read, then you really will enjoy this wonderful treat of a book.With thanks to the publisher who sent me a hardback copy for review purposes.
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  • Hannah
    January 1, 1970
    I liked the premise of this book more than the book itself. I think it would have been a lot better if the sources were cited within the actual writing instead of in the notes section in the back. Unless you flip back and forth it's impossible to know what came from a primary source and what is the two authors' own voices.
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  • Mark
    January 1, 1970
    There are multiple reasons to like this book. First, Emily Midorikawa and Emma Clare Sweeney have produced a fine work of literary biography. Second, although even light readers of 19th and 20th century literature may be familiar with the names of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, they will be introduced to other women writers with whom they may be somewhat less familiar, namely, Anne Sharp, Mary Taylor, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Katherine Mansfield.The third reas There are multiple reasons to like this book. First, Emily Midorikawa and Emma Clare Sweeney have produced a fine work of literary biography. Second, although even light readers of 19th and 20th century literature may be familiar with the names of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, they will be introduced to other women writers with whom they may be somewhat less familiar, namely, Anne Sharp, Mary Taylor, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Katherine Mansfield.The third reason to like this book is that it redresses and important imbalance. While literary friendships between men—for example, Coleridge and Wordsworth, Byron and Shelley, Dickens and Collins, Hemingway and Fitzgerald—“are the stuff of legend,” as Midorikawa and Sweeney say, that is not the case for women. However, A Secret Sisterhood reveals, in fact, that supportive and inspirational friendships are common across both genders. And it is noteworthy that the friendship pairings described in the book—Austen and Sharp, Brontë and Taylor, Eliot and Beecher Stowe, and Woolf and Mansfield—crossed unique and difficult boundaries and still survived.Jane Austen crossed the hitherto “mighty class divide” by befriending a servant of a relative’s family and treating her as an equal in the endeavor of writing literature. Charlotte Brontë’s self-effacing demeanor (simply because she was a woman) would seem to be at odds with Mary Taylor’s fierce feminist views, yet they were drawn to each other in a lifelong friendship. George Eliot crossed international and cultural boundaries when she praised the bold, antislavery novel of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Despite never meeting, and at a time when the only form of contact was surface mail that took months to send and receive, the friendship of these two women survived deeply-opposing religious and moral views. History has likened the interaction between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield as that of bitter foes, but their complex friendship and literary rivalry overlaid a strong and genuine friendship.Though conventional biographies may mention these friendships, they will likely ascribe to them equal weight with numerous other aspects and experiences of these women’s lives. The great service that Midorikawa and Sweeney’s book performs is to recount these stories with a laser-sharp focus on specific friendships. It is fair to call this a scholarly work, since the authors’ research required an intellectual reading-between-the-lines of personal letters and an intense peeling-back of layers of the friendships. Midorikawa and Sweeney’s synthesis of sources is clever and credible, and intriguing enough to provoke serious food for thought.This book is immensely enjoyable. The writing is objective and lucid, and the lively pace of the narrative is perfect! Even if you have read biographies of these women (as this reviewer has), be prepared to be pleasantly surprised by new information as well as known information viewed through a different lens. In piecing together such lost stories, the authors say it best: “…we have found alliances that were sometimes illicit, scandalous, and volatile; sometimes supportive, radical, or inspiring—but until now, tantalizingly consigned to the shadows.” Midorikawa and Sweeney succeed in stellar fashion in bringing their legendary subjects’ friendships out of the shadows and into the bright light.
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  • Linda Hill
    January 1, 1970
    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 gon 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.https://lindasbookbag.com/2017/07/18/...
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  • Gwen
    January 1, 1970
    Having seen it this as a hardback in the shops, I immediately snapped it up when I saw an audiobook version. As with all non-fiction, there were downsides to 'reading' this as an audiobook - I missed being able to check references (once a History student, always a History student), particularly at points when I found myself raising an eyebrow at the large amounts of speculation.And this is perhaps my biggest frustration with the book - particularly in the chapters about Austen and Brontë - there Having seen it this as a hardback in the shops, I immediately snapped it up when I saw an audiobook version. As with all non-fiction, there were downsides to 'reading' this as an audiobook - I missed being able to check references (once a History student, always a History student), particularly at points when I found myself raising an eyebrow at the large amounts of speculation.And this is perhaps my biggest frustration with the book - particularly in the chapters about Austen and Brontë - there are a lot of gaps in surviving correspondence, which inevitably means that in order to keep up the narrative the authors add in embellishments. There are suppositions that frankly don't need to be there, and which are a little irritating at points.However, as an introduction to biography, and the authors, it's a nice easy read. The overwhelming theme seemed to me - authors and their friendships aside - how difficult and frustrating life as a middle class unmarried woman was. All of our authors have this in common for the majority of their biographies, and for several, teetering on the brink of poverty made their abilities to write particularly difficult. Having never read anything by any of those profiled except Austen, I really enjoyed the social history element covered (I can't comment on the accuracy of the assertions about the friendships being hidden, although I would perhaps query whether George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe were indeed friends, given that they seemed to have very little in common and were decidedly at odds on a number of their values. Ditto Virginia Woolf and Katharine Mansfield, who definitely fit into the 'with friends like these, who needs enemies?' camp...) I will certainly be looking to pick up books by some of the authors featured, and reading their works with a greater insight into the context in which they were written.
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  • BookBully
    January 1, 1970
    Who could resist this title/subtitle? Not I for one. A SECRET SISTERHOOD: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf delivers, for the most part. Co-authors and good friends, Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney, obviously researched their subjects well digging deep into the lives of these four authors.In some cases a friendship was ignored by early biographers, as was the case with Jane Austen and Anne Sharp, a struggling playwright who was pr Who could resist this title/subtitle? Not I for one. A SECRET SISTERHOOD: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf delivers, for the most part. Co-authors and good friends, Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney, obviously researched their subjects well digging deep into the lives of these four authors.In some cases a friendship was ignored by early biographers, as was the case with Jane Austen and Anne Sharp, a struggling playwright who was primarily known as a governess. Charlotte Brontë's longtime friend, Mary Taylor, had a greater influence over the author than was previously acknowledged. The friendships between George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe's and Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield often toggled between encouragement and jealousy. The authors start slowly - Jane Austen's section is the weakest of the four - but gather speed and confidence as the book goes on. I was particularly interested in the Eliot/Stowe friendship which was based entirely on letters. Also, watching the interplay between Woolf and Mansfield was fascinating. Recommended especially for fans of these four authors and readers who enjoyed A CHANCE MEETING by Rachel Cohen.
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  • Tiffany
    January 1, 1970
    I enjoyed A Secret Sisterhood. Often, literary history only focuses on the relationships/friendships between famous male authors or male authors and female in the form of encouragement, critique, or connection, this book turns all of that and focuses on the relationships on several female authors and the encouragement and support they received from each other. I enjoyed the in-depth research and documentation that supported the majority of the authors' writing. Every now and then, they did slip I enjoyed A Secret Sisterhood. Often, literary history only focuses on the relationships/friendships between famous male authors or male authors and female in the form of encouragement, critique, or connection, this book turns all of that and focuses on the relationships on several female authors and the encouragement and support they received from each other. I enjoyed the in-depth research and documentation that supported the majority of the authors' writing. Every now and then, they did slip into the "what if" and "can you imagine" world, but for the most part it was not too distracting. I would recommend this to others who find any of the discussed authors work interesting, and for those wanting to know more about female friendships during the time periods examined in the work. Thank you, NetGalley and the Publisher for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Theresa
    January 1, 1970
    I received this book as a Christmas gift and I had never heard of it. It was a wonderful look into the literary friendships and relationships between four pairs of female writers, including Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, and Katherine Mansfield. These relationships were mostly hidden from the public eye and developed through correspondence or behind the scenes. It was encouraging to read about the mutual support offered among these pairs, and to reflect on the encou I received this book as a Christmas gift and I had never heard of it. It was a wonderful look into the literary friendships and relationships between four pairs of female writers, including Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, and Katherine Mansfield. These relationships were mostly hidden from the public eye and developed through correspondence or behind the scenes. It was encouraging to read about the mutual support offered among these pairs, and to reflect on the encouragement and support I have enjoyed with my own writing colleagues. We think of the writing life as a necessarily solitary one, and yet it is something that comes to fruition much better with worthwhile interactions with other writers, at least for me and for these writers. Worth looking at!
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  • Anne Goodwin
    January 1, 1970
    When you imagine the lives of our literary foremothers, do you think of them scribbling away in isolation or inspired and supported by like-minded friends? Writer friends Emily and Emma have delved into the archives to revitalise the hidden friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf. For each of these literary greats they have uncovered a secret sister, a friendship valued, despite the inevitable envy and rivalry, for the mutual understanding and the willingnes When you imagine the lives of our literary foremothers, do you think of them scribbling away in isolation or inspired and supported by like-minded friends? Writer friends Emily and Emma have delved into the archives to revitalise the hidden friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf. For each of these literary greats they have uncovered a secret sister, a friendship valued, despite the inevitable envy and rivalry, for the mutual understanding and the willingness of each to speak her mind.Full review coming soon to http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/annecdo...
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  • Peter
    January 1, 1970
    A Secret Sisterhood is a very interesting book on many levels. It also has a format that I found at once engaging, informative, breezy, too informal and yet innovative. Now, that is a mouthful and thoughtless jumble from me, I know. Briefly, then: the book offers the reader a clear insight into an area of discussion that has been understudied for too long, or, as the dust jacket comments, too long “consigned to the shadows.”This book strips away the sanitized early biographies of Jane Austen, Ge A Secret Sisterhood is a very interesting book on many levels. It also has a format that I found at once engaging, informative, breezy, too informal and yet innovative. Now, that is a mouthful and thoughtless jumble from me, I know. Briefly, then: the book offers the reader a clear insight into an area of discussion that has been understudied for too long, or, as the dust jacket comments, too long “consigned to the shadows.”This book strips away the sanitized early biographies of Jane Austen, George Eliot, Charlotte Bronte and Virginia Woolf and reveals how an individual woman for each writer played a formative role in their growth. The analysis and commentary is always interesting, often incisive and yet, at times, breezy and apparently lacking scholarship. Do not be deceived. While the pages of the book are without footnote or apparent support there is a very clear, thorough, and impressive section of notes that reveals the depth and breadth of Midorikawa and Sweeney’ reasearch. It is my own stumbling from more weighty biographies and expectations than these authors that is at fault.This book is a must-read for any person who likes Austen, Bronte, Eliot or Woolf. The book opens up further the art of micro-History. We need more of this style of research and we certainly needed this book to help all readers understand and further appreciate the struggles that female writers endured, and still endure, to this day.
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  • Gary
    January 1, 1970
    Breaks apart the stereotypes of women authors. This book contains excellent writing, great stories, and most of all, a new perspective on some of the greatest women writers. They had many social ties. They had close friends among the other great women writers. The books written by men about women writers will henceforth be looked on with an appropriate wariness.
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  • Pearl Grace
    January 1, 1970
    Fascinating! The pairs, their relationships- it’s all so intriguing. I appreciate how the book imparts a positive image on the women’s friendships. Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Virginia Woolf, Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison are all mentioned in here. All the greats and their connections to each other. It was so interesting.
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  • Hannah Wattangeri
    January 1, 1970
    Whilst this wasn't an exciting book to read there were elements of it I found interesting and intriguing. It was definitely good to get a glimpse into lives and relationships of these famed female authors. I particularly liked the theme and idea of the book which highlights the importance of female friendships, alliances and support. Hopefully I will follow up on some of the biograhies listed
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  • Cayla
    January 1, 1970
    Thought-provoking read into the friendships of some of the most influential female writers. My mind wandered a bit and I'm not sure if that was due to the subject matter or writing, but if you have any interest in these authors, you should enjoy this! Thanks to Bookreporter for the free copy!
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  • Jossalyn
    January 1, 1970
    for jane austen book club;interesting exploration of pairs of women writers who had relationships with other women writers.saw these authors at a book event, and they told interesting stories about finds made during research.
  • Karen
    January 1, 1970
    Think male writers in literary history have all the fun? Think again. I just got done reading A Secret Sisterhood which examines the friendship between women in many past literary circles. A fascinating read where I learned a lot about some of my favorite authors (especially Charlotte Bronte).
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