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

Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-544-88373-4
Midorikawa and Sweeney (Owl Song at Dawn) explore some lesser-known literary friendships in this evocative and well-researched ode to female solidarity. They describe, for instance, how Jane Austen cultivated a friendship across class lines with her niece’s governess, a woman named Anne Sharp with literary ambitions of her own. Charlotte Brontë and feminist author Mary Taylor met at boarding school and would ultimately overcome Taylor’s first (and typically teenage) assessment of Brontë: “You are very ugly.” George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe are shown through their letters to have been thoughtful and admiring supporters of each other’s work. The section dealing with Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield is perhaps the most fascinating, as their friendship survived a great deal of mutual professional rivalry. Midorikawa and Sweeney also capture their subjects’ settings in riveting detail, including Austen’s Bath, Eliot’s Regent’s Park, and, in particular, the Garsington Manor flower gardens that Woolf and Mansfield both loved (and wrote competing stories about). The authors (who are themselves close friends) astutely explain that the friendships they depict became lost to cultural memory due to prevailing stereotypes of female authors as “solitary eccentrics or isolated geniuses.” It is a delight to learn about them here, as related by two talented authors. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/07/2017
Release date: 10/17/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 224 pages - 978-0-544-88378-9
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-1-328-53238-1
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