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A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Bronte, Eliot and Woolf
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A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Bronte, Eliot and Woolf (Paperback)

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`In digging up the forgotten friendships chronicled in A Secret Sisterhood, Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney have done much service to literary history.'

Margaret Atwood

`A Secret Sisterhood will help make women's literary friendships of the past relevant to the present.'

Michele Roberts

`A Secret Sisterhood offers a clever new perspective on established literary figures.'

Tracy Chevalier

In their first book together, Midorikawa and Sweeney resurrect four literary collaborations, which were sometimes illicit, scandalous and volatile; sometimes supportive, radical or inspiring; but always, until now, tantalisingly consigned to the shadows.

Drawing on letters and diaries, some of which have never been published before, and new documents uncovered during the authors' research, the creative connections explored here reveal: Jane Austen's bond with a family servant, the amateur playwright Anne Sharp; how Charlotte Bronte 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.

A Secret Sisterhood uncovers the hidden literary friendships of the world's most respected female authors.

BiographyBiography: generalBiography: literary Publisher: Aurum Press Publication Date: 01/03/2018 ISBN-13: 9781781317860  Details: Type: Paperback Format: Books
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Emily Midorikawa lectures at City University and at New York University in London. She has taught at the University of Cambridge and the Open University, as well as writing for the Daily Telegraph, the Independent on Sunday, The Times, Aesthetica and Mslexia. Her memoir `The Memory Album' appeared in Tangled Roots. Emily is the winner of the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize 2015. Emma Claire Sweeney has lectured at City University, New York University in London, the University of Cambridge and the Open University. Her work has won Arts Council, Royal Literary Fund and Escalator Awards, and has been shortlisted for several others, including the Asham, Wasafiri and Fish. She writes for newspapers and magazines such as the Guardian, the Independent on Sunday, The Times, and Mslexia. Her debut novel Owl Song at Dawn was published by Legend Press in July 2016 to great acclaim.

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Customer Reviews

This is a book about friendship in all its human, genuine reality. Looking at the friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf with some lesser known (in the U.K at least) women, this is not a picture of constant devotion. Rather, there are misunderstandings, disagreements and complications in relationships which were sometimes difficult. The friendships cross many miles which frequently presented problems as correspondence was lost or significantly delayed, leading to bad feelings on both sides. The particular value in this book is the frequent revelation of little known or undiscovered documents which shed light on the friendships and the women involved. The existing biographies of most of these women are many and various, but this book by its very nature gives new insights into the lives of women who wrote, but also lived. The first pairing is Jane Austen and Anne Sharp, the first world reknowned author, the second a governess with such severe health problems that her employment was uncertain. Austen of course was not recognised for her prodigious talent during her lifetime, but the prospects for Anne were far worse as she lacked family and friends to provide for her; the obscure details that the authors were able to find indicate a very poor background. Her employment as a governess in the household of Jane’s wealthy brother Edward brought her into contact with Anne, yet they met infrequently in the years to come. This part of the book is a little disturbing; medical procedures of the time were a little basic. The second pairing is Charlotte Bronte and Mary Taylor, the latter one of the school friends that Charlotte made in her varied scholastic career. Mary alone would make the subject of a fascinating book, especially as the authors have found a picture of Mary in her adventurous life taking in many continents. George Eliot was at a difficult stage in her life when she was first in contact with the celebrated American author Harriet Beecher Stowe. While Marian’s (Eliot’s) step son grew weaker and died, Harriet decided to take on the cause of Lady Byron which antagonised many of her readers. The distance between America and Britain led to delays in the post, but the book suggests that the real cause of the delays were the women’s family and writing problems. This book has to fill some gaps in the available letters between the two, but manages to maintain a realistic narrative. The final section covers the friendship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield, whose relationship was shaped by the competing careers of two people whose writing was regularly challenging the usual genres. Virginia was a publisher as well as a writer, and her involvement with Katherine was of necessity complicated. This book shows both women at their best, but also at their worse as they were suspicious of each other’s output. This is an immensely readable book which spares no effort in revealing the varying fortunes of women who wrote, who lived real lives, and whose devotion to each other varied with their own changeable fortunes. There are some moments of confusion where the narrative goes back into the past of one of the women, this was particularly so in the Harriet Beecher Stowe section, but it does explain why the women acted as they did. This book is a relatively short one for all the material it contains, but an extensive set of notes, combined with a select biography and a solid index will allow any reader to pursue any points of especial interest. This is a useful book as well as an informative one; anyone with an interest in any of these authors will something new and fascinating in this unusual and often touching book.

- 23/03/2018
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