Sisterhood may be heaven, but it can equally, and sometimes simultaneously, be hell. This text guides the reader through the troughs and peaks of sisterly feelings from earliest childhood memories to muse on the nature of sisterhood itself.
Thus Christina Rossetti idealizes a complex and varied relationship, described and reflected on by countless poets, playwrights, journalists, social scientists - and by sisters themselves - over the years. As one of three sisters herself, Penelope Farmer sets her exploration of sisterhood in an autobiographical framework, describing lowing and not so loving sisters in the past and present generations on all sides of her family. With the help of writers in many fields and over many centuries, she guides us through the peaks and troughs of sisterly life, both between sisters and between sisters and brothers - from childhood, separation, love, marriage and parenthood, to old age an death itself. Famous literary sisters appear: the Brontes; Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell; the Mitfords; Mary Lamb and brother Charles; Vera Brittain. Alongside them the theatrical and musical ones: Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland; Maria Calls and her sister; Jacqueline du Pre and hers; Mozart and his sister. Then there are the well-known fictional sisters: the March sisters; Dorothea and Celia Brooke; the Schlegel sisters; Ursula and Gudrun from "Women in love". And many not so well-known sisters, both fictional and non-fictional, besides. We observe the sisterly bonds of bees, lions, elephants, gorillas and chimpanzees. We are guided by Richard Dawkins through the genetics of ant colonies. And, throughout, we are asked to reflect on the nature of sisterhood itself. Is a sister born not made? what is the essence of the sisterly bond? what relationship does that bond have to the myth of sisterhood constructed around it? - a myth leading to all those symbolic sisterhoods, of nurses, nuns, feminists and so forth, a section on whom concludes the book. Through poetry, prose, autobiography, memoir, science and anthropology, the author pieces together the world of sisters and sisterhood, creating a rich tapestry of evocative and often moving writing that will find echoes in the experience of all who have or are sisters, or even just those who would like to have had them.
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