A Circle of Sisters Alice Kipling, Georgiana Burne-Jones, Agnes Poynter and Louisa Baldwin by Judith Flanders

The Macdonald Sisters - Alice, Georgiana, Agnes and Louisa - started life among the ranks of the lower-middle classes, with little prospect of social advancement. But as wives and mothers they made a single family of the poet of Empire, Rudyard Kipling, the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones, Edward Poynter, President of the Royal Academy, and the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin. In telling their remarkable story, Judith Flanders displays the fluidity of Victorian society, and explores the life of the family in the nineteenth century. 

 The Macdonald Sisters:  From left: Alice Macdonald Kipling (mother of Rudyard) at 53, 1890; Georgiana Macdonald Burne-Jones, wife of the artist, in 1900 at the age of 60; Louisa Macdonald Baldwin, several years before her death in 1925 at 79 (she was Stanley Baldwin's mother); Agnes Macdonald Poynter in her 50's, sometime in the 1890's (her husband was director of the National Gallery).  Photos courtesy Helen Macdonald/National Portrait Gallery/From "Circle of Sisters"

'They were, in many ways, absentee wives and mothers; they accrued power to themselves by their fragility. They were vortexes around which family life whirled. No one could fail to be aware of them, but it was awareness of an absence, not a presence.'  Judith Flanders, A Circle of Sisters 
 The book cover of A Circle of Sisters is Green Summer by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, 1868.

Although, I have read two biographies on The Macdonald Sisters, it is this sweet novella about them that I loved most of all. Judith Flanders, retells the chronological life of not only the sisters and their families but includes their famous husbands to be! The presence of artists and the genius of creativity envelops every page. Perhaps, my most favorite aspect of, 'A Circle of Sisters' by Judith Flanders are the quotes of letters by Lady Burne-Jones, her husband Sir Edward Burne-Jones (Ned) and his famous Pre-Raphaelite mates William Morris, John Ruskin Dante Gabriel Rossetti, including Swinburne and The Prinseps.

How I wish I could crawl into the memories held within these pages. Not necessarily go back in time but let the words, the memories of these beautiful artists bring me to their world permanently.  Oh, to walk around the hallway of Rottingdean, Red House, and Kelmscott. To see little May and Jenny Morris tottle about the passages over creaky wooden floorboards disturbing Ned and Topsy in their studios! To see the wives, Georgie, Janey, and Lizzie, huddled together, seated in the kitchen or living room in their long dresses listening, talking, sewing catching up on their lives and how their rambunctious husbands are annoying them!


Kevin Marsh said…
Hello Kimberly,

Fascinating. This would make a splendid plot for a novel, the lives of lower middle class women and their influence on history.


Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Kevin,

hm, I agree, Kevin. It sounds like you might have another novel idea in your midst...just finish The Cellist first please :)
Pamela Britley said…
Hi Kimberly,
A great review. So heartfelt. I will definitely add this to my Goodreads list and go out and buy the paperback!
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Pamela,
Thank you so much. I'm glad you connected with it so much. Thanks for commenting and enjoy the book!
WoofWoof said…
Hi Kimberley, this is remarkable - I always knew of the connection between Kipling and Baldwin through their mothers. And Georgiana is one of the prominent women that hovered around the pre-raphs, but I didn't realise that she was a sister to the others! Am I right in thinking that Ned and G's marriage was not a happy one? He had at least one affair with a model and always looks sad almost haunted in the photographs. I think there was a friendship between Morris and G. I suppose as cheated spouses they had a lot in common. Your image of the wives all chatting together while the children play is nice but I get the impression that Jane Morris was the silent, stand-offish type. Anyway, thanks for the review and I'll look out for the book. It's a beautiful cover painting as well. I must read up about it.
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi WoofWoof,
Lady Burne-Jones was an interesting woman. Very accomplished herself, came from a good family background. She 'put up with' Ned's girl crushes, moods, cheating, etc. She was loyal and I believe truly loved him. Ned loved her he was just love sick in nature, I think. Something I'm sure goes back to his early loss of his mother. I would love to find out more about the 'friendship' betweem Morris and Georgiana. Wouldn't it be great if they did have an affair. Sadly, we will never really know unless something is 'discovered'! Whatever secrets Jane Morris had she sure took to her grave. Her men in her life, didn't exactly keep as silent as she had. You might be interested in another article I wrote and posted here about Georgiana Burne-Jones' early life, childhood, sisters, etc. Perhaps, you've even read it already but if not, http://kimberlyevemusings.blogspot.com/2013/12/echos-du-temps-passe-echoes-of-time.html