Female friendships, especially the friendships between female writers can, according to cultural myth, be fraught. When success and respect are hard to come by, some female writers can be accused of jealousy and sabotaging each other’s career.
On October 28, at the Shakespeare and Co Bookstore, JASNA-NY and the Brontë Society co-sponsored a talk about the new book, A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney. The authors spoke of two specific friendships: one between Jane Austen and Anne Sharp, who was the governess in her brother Edward Austen Knight’s house, and Charlotte Brontë and Mary Taylor, who was her childhood best friend.
Among Brontë fans, the name of Mary Taylor is familiar due to the numerous Brontë biographies and biographical fiction that mention Taylor. For many Austen fans, the name of Anne Sharp and her friendship with Austen is less well-known. When the authors began their research, they were aware of the close bond Austen had with her elder sister, Cassandra, and her friendships with the Lloyd and Bigg sisters, but her other friendships, especially with female writers of the era, were less evident.
Austen met Sharp while the latter worked as the governess to the large Austen Knight family in Kent. A friendship between the two women grew, and Austen gave Sharp one of the highly prized presentation copies of Emma when it was published in 1816.
What I appreciated both about the talk and the book was that it reminded me of not only the power of female friendship, but that among women writers, there is a comradery that is often misunderstood and underappreciated. If nothing else, the book reminds me of the power of friendship, especially among women writers may be just the thing that change the dream of success into reality.
– Adina Bernstein