A Secret Sisterhood by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney

Female literary friendships: A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Bronte, Eliot and Woolf by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney 


A Secret Sisterhood is a look at the friendships that some of the best known female writers had with other women who wrote and how these affected their lives. It sets out to show the importance of the support, rivalry, and inspiration that characterises famous male literary friendships to these authors, in friendships that have been often overlooked by biographers and critics. The writers, real-life friends, emphasise how these friendships are a major part of literary history and suggest by the end that more female literary friendships should be appreciated and studied, to compare with famous male ones like Byron and Shelley or Fitzgerald and Hemingway.

The book is very much literary history, focused upon the writers’ lives and mentioning a great deal of other writers and literary trends on the way. It is split into four sections, covering each of the writers named in the subtitle and their relationship with a particular other female writer in their life. Reading it does not require a huge familiarity with each writer, making it accessible to those with an interest in writers, but who don’t necessarily know a huge deal about the lives of the individuals covered already. There is quoting from letters and diaries to give detail of these friendships, but no literary analysis of the writers. Instead, it is very much biography, opening the way for people to look at these and other female literary friendships in the context of their writing and specific elements of their texts.

A Secret Sisterhood is an enjoyable book about lesser known literary history and an important one for showing that female writers do not have to either be reclusive and isolated, or tightly bound to a man without female support.