A Secret Sisterhood


A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontё, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf (co-written with Emma Claire Sweeney and with a foreword by Margaret Atwood), was published in 2017 by Aurum Press in the UK and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the USA.

It is available from Amazon in hardback, paperback, audio and e-book, and can be ordered from any good bookshop.  

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: the friendship between Jane Austen and one of the family servants, playwright Anne Sharp; the daring feminist author Mary Taylor, who shaped the work of Charlotte Brontë; the transatlantic friendship of the seemingly aloof George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe; and Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield, most often portrayed as bitter foes, but who, in fact, enjoyed a complex friendship fired by an underlying erotic charge.

Through letters and diaries that have never been published before, A Secret Sisterhood resurrects these forgotten stories of female friendships. They were sometimes scandalous and volatile, sometimes supportive and inspiring, but always—until now—tantalizingly consigned to the shadows.

Praise for A Secret Sisterhood:

‘Midorikawa and Sweeney have committed an exceptional act of literary espionage. English literature owes them a great debt.’ – Financial Times

‘[A] medley of vivid narratives’ – The Atlantic

‘Glorious insights into female rivalry and female solidarity and the delicate balancing act required to ensure one doesn’t override the other’ – The Herald (Glasgow)

‘[An] evocative and well-researched ode to female solidarity.’ – Publishers Weekly

‘Rich and revealing … these forgotten friendships, from illicit and scandalous to radical and inspiring, are revelations.’ – Kirkus

‘Important, illuminating and greatly enjoyable’ – The Telegraph (India)

‘As friends, fellow teachers and kindred scholars, [Midorikawa and Sweeney] carry the torch of feminist cultural criticism. Meticulous researchers, they leave no manuscript unturned.’ – New York Journal of Books

‘Extraordinary detective work … Readers interested in women writers and these authors in particular will find this work enlightening.’ – Library Journal

‘Enthralling, illuminating, and a treat for fans of any of the writers who are covered.’ – Booklist

‘A thought-provoking meditation on literary friendship… engagingly intimate glimpses of four of the world’s finest writers’ – San Francisco Chronicle

‘In digging up the forgotten friendships chronicled in A Secret Sisterhood, Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney have done much service to literary history.’ – Margaret Atwood, Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Handmaid’s Tale

A Secret Sisterhood offers a clever new perspective on established literary figures. While we may inherit family and circumstances, we get to choose our friends; and those these famous women writers have chosen reveal much that is fresh and fascinating about their lives and their work.’ – Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring

A Secret Sisterhood is a marvel. On the strength of a hunch, two friends embark on a research mission that winds up becoming a vital and necessary contribution to women’s history, literary history, and the literature of friendship. Beautifully written, rich with insight and feeling, this book is a must-read for anyone who knows that behind every great woman stands a great female friend.’ – Kate Bolick, New York Times bestselling author of Spinster

‘Genuine scholarship that reads like a detective novel … My nonfiction book of the year.’ – Amanda Craig, author of The Golden Rule

A Secret Sisterhood … helps to redress the marginalisation of serious non-fiction by and about women.’ – Karen Maitland, author of Company of Liars

‘Such an important, neglected topic: friendships between women writers and their influence on one another. It has long been downplayed – at last Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney are challenging this, with many fascinating revelations.’ – Jill Dawson, author of The Crime Writer

A Secret Sisterhood will help make women’s literary friendships of the past relevant to the present.’ – Michèle Roberts, author of Daughters of the House

‘Wise and exhilarating’ – Samantha Ellis, author of How to Be a Heroine

‘Brilliantly researched and eminently accessible’ – Emma Henderson, author of Grace Williams Says it Loud