callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,

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Such Devoted Sisters

This is more social history than biography, as the author plots the lives and the family ramifications of four women, daughters of a Methodist minister. Alice married John Lockwood Kipling and spent many years with him in India. Their son was Rudyard, named, in case you’ve ever wondered, after the lake where the couple first met. Georgiana (Georgie) married the artist Edward Burne-Jones and entered the William Morris aesthetic circle. Their daughter Margaret married the scholar and civil servant J W Mackail, and was the mother of the future novelist Angela Thirkell. Agnes (the best looking, to judge by the photographs) married Edward Poynter, artist and President of the Royal Academy. Louisa (Louie) married the wealthy ironmaster Alfred Baldwin and moved later in county and Conservative circles. Their son was the future Prime Minister, Stanley, known as Stan.

It’s remarkable that of a family of eleven children, three of whom died very young, four girls should be so upwardly mobile. The author’s thorough knowledge of Victorian domestic life enables her to fill in the otherwise unwritten background: health, medicine and invalidism, servants, clothing. A lot of people would be surprised by how much travelling, visiting and house moving went on, upheavals we would regard as daunting but which they took for granted. The sisters kept in touch throughout their lives, with occasional breaches and fallings out. One sister, Edie, is described as ‘invisible’. She lived with their widowed mother until she died, then moved to live with Louie and Alfred but seems to have been pretty much ignored by the rest of the family. The eldest son, Harry, expensively educated (for them) by his self-sacrificing parents, disappointed everyone and ended up rather a waste of space. The younger son, Fred, without Harry’s advantages, was ordained, like his father, and became President of the Methodist Conference. The girls had at the most three children each but Fred had ten, from two marriages. He sounds awfully nice and I’d like to know more about him. Of the circle of sisters I warmed to Georgie most and I think the author did, too. This is a fascinating read and one I found much easier than The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton’s fictional account of upper class life, which I’m still struggling with.
Tags: books, families, judith flanders

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