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

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  760 ratings  ·  167 reviews
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: th ...more
Hardcover, 331 pages
Published October 17th 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Average rating 3.69  · 
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 ·  760 ratings  ·  167 reviews

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Roman Clodia
Jun 15, 2017 rated it liked it
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
Apr 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Sep 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Sep 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
May 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Elliot A
As part of my ongoing research for my thesis I primarily focused on the section that dealt with Jane Austen’s friendship with Anne Sharp.

I was excited to read this book and had high hopes to find little pieces of information that could be truly beneficial for my thesis.

I ended up being disappointed. It did discuss the friendship that had not really been mentioned by anyone else, but the research and evidence provided is lacking. Barely any quotes are used and the ones that are included seem supe
Mar 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Being a huge fan, as so many others, of the writers featured in this book there was perhaps little chance I wouldn’t enjoy it. Having recently read biographies of Elizabeth Gaskell and Virginia Woolf I had some inkling of the relationships between Charlotte Bronte and her female friends, and Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield but as the authors point out, these are barely discussed in the early biographies of these authors. It is described as a ‘conspiracy of silence’ with the friendships so ...more
Kressel Housman
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 ...more
Mar 12, 2020 rated it it was ok
Disappointing and not based on a lot of facts. A lot of assumptions were made
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: writers, feminists
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.
This is a DNF for me, and yet I added the low star rating as a reminder for myself.
For those who have noticed the hypersexualization of our society combined with the tendency to rewrite history to reflect modern ideas (note they are neither ideals nor morals), this book is a good example of that 'intersectionality' of revisionism and over examination of past people for sexual details about their lives.
So when I started reading this, I found a lot of anger. It was as if Jane Austen and the rest h
Nov 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
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
Oct 13, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
(5) It must be difficult to research for a book such as this when so much relies on interpretation of a few lines, odd paragraphs, third party interpretations and the like. In order to fill out the blanks, assumptions and educated guesses have to be made. But you can’t state them as facts. I find it difficult when so much of this book describes emotions that the authors, with the very best intentions can not know . And then the conclusion is doomed. Unable to recommend to the normal crew.
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
Girl with her Head in a Book
For my full review:

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
Sep 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
“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 ...more
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 ...more
May 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
It took me some time to get into this book and I confess, I was tempted to give up early on. I am so thankful I stuck with it! I really enjoyed this book about four different literary female friendships as I learned more about some writers I didn’t really know! Well-written and researched. The epilogue is surprisingly moving.
Jennifer Muldowney
Nov 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting,albeit difficult friendships between famous literary women. I’m so glad that my 3 daughters and I live in the modern age!
Nov 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaways
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
Jun 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
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 ...more
Oct 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
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.
Mar 29, 2018 rated it liked it
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
Linda Hill
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: ebook, arc
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 ...more
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Anne Goodwin
May 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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 ...more
Jan 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Despite being really well written and meticulously researched, this is a niche market book, even for a literary lover and Bronte enthusiast like myself. Midorikawa and Sweeney put “skin on” Austen, Bronte, Eliot, Stowe, Mansfield, and Woolf: brave female writers in a male-dominated literary society. The authors explore the friendships that are little known to the world but we’re influential in their private lives. How influential is the question. It’s difficult to quantify how significant these ...more
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Emily Midorikawa is the author of A Secret Sisterhood: The hidden friendships of Austen, Brontё, Eliot and Woolf, co-written with Emma Claire Sweeney and with a foreword by Margaret Atwood. (The American title is A Secret Sisterhood: The literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontё, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf.)

Emily is a winner of the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. Her journalism has

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