We all need support, and perhaps never more so when we’re engaged in an otherwise solitary activity. A Secret Sisterhood has been written by friends and writing colleagues Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney and explores the relationships between four sets of writers. Starting with Jane Austen and her niece’s governess, they move on to Charlotte Bronte and her friend Ellen, the two literary giants George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe and finish up firmly in the twentieth century with Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield.
The germ of this book comes from Something Rhymed, the website celebrating writing friendships and set up by the authors, friends themselves. They’re both employed in scholarly professions and, so it’s befitting that this book is meticulously researched, dense with historical context and full of little-known facts to underpin their text.
The book is something of a mini-biography of all the authors featured, and cleverly illustrates how all the writers must have been feeling as their lives informed their writing. The fact that they were women is hugely relevant, as they all, to a greater or lesser degree had domestic responsibilities and were unable, unlike their male contemporaries, to simply get on with the writing at hand. It wasn’t until Woolf and Mansfield’s close but difficult friendship a century ago, that women could be free to write as they chose.
Although this isn’t a book to dip in and out of by any means, it’s still a pleasure to read. The cover is beautifully designed with its depiction of female intertwined literary lives. The extensive notes towards the end hint at the level of research needed to undertake a project like this. It’s a triumph of literary friendship indeed.
With thanks to Emily Midorakawa and Emma Claire Sweeney for a copy of A Secret Sisterhood