Though prefaced with pretentious remarks about ""deliving into a new area of women's history,"" Faber's chronicles of three...


LOVE AND RIVALRY: Three Exceptional Pairs of Sisters

Though prefaced with pretentious remarks about ""deliving into a new area of women's history,"" Faber's chronicles of three 19th-century American sister-relationships don't provide any cumulative insight into the nature of sisterhood in that social context. Still, Faber offers a good deal of intriguing material here, in plainly readable, sometimes chatty form--with an occasional sociological aside to sober up what ""might be described, just a little flippantly, as pure soap opera."" The most fully realized chapter is the opener: the impact of ""overbearing but caring Sister Katy""--writer/teacher Catherine Beecher, a grand character--on her much-younger sibling, Harriet Beecher Stowe. It was tough spinster Katy (utterly independent yet largely anti-feminist) who forced ""dreamy Hattie"" into real life; it was also she who took over the Stowe household to give Hattie the time to write Uncle Tom; and it was perhaps Katy, a prolific writer, who provided the ""necessary spur"" for her younger sister's career. The second section--on famed actress Charlotte Cushman and her less starry younger sister Susan--does indeed verge on mere soap opera, even with a gloss of simplistic psychological interpretation. Charlotte was plain; Susan was a beauty, preferred by Mother. Of aristocratic blood, but from a penniless, fatherless household, Charlotte began singing and acting to make money and ""save her family,"" always wanting to win her mother's approval. But despite international success, with daring ventures into ""unwomanly"" management, unwed Charlotte would remain the less-loved, especially when she pursued an unconventional lifestyle (her ""unfeminine garb and masculine gusto in the role of Romeo led to murmurings regarding an unspeakable tendency""); meanwhile, Susan, after a bizarre teenage marriage, enjoyed domestic benefits--but always had to take second billing to her ""overbearing"" sister/employer. And the final subject is Emily Dickinson, who proves rather too complex for a 60-page runthrough: while taking on the tangled Dickinson family dynamics, as well as the poetry, Faber tries to focus on Emily's mutually dependent relationship with pretty sister Vinnie (who was unlucky in love)--with sketchy, sometimes overreaching results. (Emily, ""perhaps only subconsciously. . . made her life itself a metaphor and, by her withdrawal, she showed that a genius who was a woman could not live normally."") In sum: an unsuccessful, uneven book that attempts to go beyond the usual YA bounds--but engrossing enough to entertain and to lead (in Dickinson's case especially) to further, fuller reading.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1983

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