Review 1311: Literary Wives! They Were Sisters

Cover for They Were Sisters

Today is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in fiction. If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs. Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!

Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Eva of Paperback Princess
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi of Consumed By Ink

* * *

I jumped the gun on this book back in October because of the 1944 Club. I had already read the book when the club was proposed, so I published my review in time for that club, since it was written in 1944. So, you can read my review there. Suffice it to say that this was one of my best books of the year.

What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?

I like how balanced this book is in presenting marriage, especially as most of the books we’ve read for Literary Wives are about unhappy marriages. They Were Sisters is a good book for this club, because it depicts three very different marriages, although it spends most of its time on the two unhappy ones. The details of Lucy’s marriage are more implied. They married late after she didn’t expect to. She and William lead a calm, well-ordered life. They discuss their concerns with each other. When Lucy wants to provide a more stable environment for Judith, he is happy to oblige.

Lucy approves of Vera’s husband, Brian, but Vera’s marriage slowly disintegrates under the pressure of her boredom with him and his resentment of her series of admirers (whether they are actually lovers is not clear). They become more withdrawn from each other, and eventually Brian gives her a final opportunity to save their marriage. In this situation, Vera is depicted as at fault. Beautiful and spoiled, she is happy to use his money, but she cannot do without the admiration and constant entertaining. Theirs is a true mismatch.

From the beginning, Lucy thinks Charlotte is making a mistake in marrying Geoffrey. Charlotte is in love with him and at first thinks he can do no wrong. Later, she protects him even after he makes her life a misery and teaches their daughters to disdain her. This is a classic abusive relationship where he does everything to separate her from those she loves and to destroy her self-esteem. Nothing she does is right, although she only tries to please him. Eventually, she gives up and reverts to alcoholism.

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14 thoughts on “Review 1311: Literary Wives! They Were Sisters

  1. The Paperback Princess February 4, 2019 / 1:05 pm

    Your point about this one comparing and contrasting three different marriages is a good one. Provides a lot more fodder for discussion! Everything I’ve read in these posts makes me really regret not getting to read this one. I’m definitely going to order a copy ASAP.

    • whatmeread February 4, 2019 / 1:29 pm

      I would be happy to mail you my copy if you would send it back. I’m sorry I didn’t know you were having the problem sooner, because I read the book six months ago!

      • The Paperback Princess February 4, 2019 / 1:45 pm

        Don’t even worry about it! It never even occurred to me that the library wouldn’t have a book I was looking for. I think I’m going to want to own a copy so I’m totally great with ordering one.

  2. Naomi February 4, 2019 / 2:28 pm

    That was one of the things I liked, too – the differences between the sisters’ marriages (and their lives). And I think the author did a nice job in telling their stories in a way that it all makes sense that these differences would be the case. The way Lucy mothered the other two, the choices they made in their personal lives, etc.

    • whatmeread February 4, 2019 / 3:20 pm

      Yes, and the differences in their priorities. I can relate to Lucy’s feelings about being left out, because I was the oldest daughter in my family and had to do quite a bit of mothering to my youngest brother and a lot of house cleaning, too. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to have my youngest brother tell me he looked at me as a mother figure, because I was 13 years older than he was. But I was shocked to hear recently from my sister, who was just 6 years younger, that she also looked at me as a mom substitute. No wonder none of my brothers or sisters ever included me in things when we were teenagers and young adults!

      • Naomi February 5, 2019 / 11:54 am

        No wonder you related to that part of the book so well!

  3. Emily J. February 4, 2019 / 3:40 pm

    Great point about how many of the books we read are about unhappy marriages and unhappy wives. Conflict makes for a good story, so that makes sense, but I like how this one contrasted Lucy against the others. That drove some of the points home, and I wonder if Whipple wanted to make a point about how bad things could be for some women (like Charlotte) before some laws recognized it.

    • whatmeread February 4, 2019 / 3:55 pm

      That’s a good point. She may have.

  4. Ruthiella February 4, 2019 / 6:45 pm

    Great review! I have loved every Dorothy Whipple that I’ve read thus far. I’ve not read this title yet, however. I look forward to it.

    • whatmeread February 4, 2019 / 8:43 pm

      I think this is my favorite so far.

  5. Jane February 8, 2019 / 1:44 pm

    I read this at the end of last year and found it unputdownable, this is not a cosy world at all and very much (I think) brings home the importance of consistency for happy family life – all those poor children.

    • whatmeread February 8, 2019 / 1:46 pm

      Yes, I loved this book because it did such a good job with realistic situations.

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