Though frequently covered in biographies due to the widespread appeal of their works, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf, often suffer from being type cast as variations of female author stereotypes of the time: the spinster, the parson’s daughters, the loner, and the complicated artist struggling with bouts of depression. Often overlooked given that it shatters such illusions is the fact that all of these women had close friendships with other literary females that inspired and influenced their writing. Sometimes they were authors as famous as them, as Harriet Beecher Stowe was to George Eliot, or Katherine Mansfield to Virginia Woolf, and sometimes they were unpublished and from a different social rank as the governess Anne Sharp was to Jane Austen and sometimes, like Charlotte Bronte’s friend, Mary Taylor, they were more radical for their time.
Authors Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney delved into often overlooked diaries of those on the periphery of Austen, Bronte, Eliot and Woolf as well as the diaries and letters of the women themselves. In doing so, they discovered strong bonds these literary women shared with other female writers often ignored or hidden by their contemporary biographers and family. Richly detailed in a highly readable way with biographical background about the authors, Midorikawa and Sweeney provide a more rounded and defined portrait of each of these female authors. Removing them from their stereotyped molds, they showcase flesh and blood women, who struggled, fought, possessed biting wits, and were fiercely passionate about their writing. This passion for writing in all four women by necessity required the support of other female writers who understood such struggles and exhibited a strong intellect. A Secret Sisterhood is a treat for admirers of these four literary women as well as those who enjoy history and biography. Hopefully Midorikawa and Sweeney will collaborate on more such works in the future!
Thank you to the publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and to Netgalley for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!