The Sisters by an unknown author

I rambled recently about some lovely little lost classics which had been republished by the independent press, Ampersand. I have a couple more of these lurking in the TBR, to which I’m very much looking forward; but I was also intrigued to see the variety of subjects they cover, from new fiction through pulp, politics, crime and art, plus much more. One particular range which caught my eye was entitled ‘Lost and Found’ – there is only one book so far under this heading, and it’s a novella/short story which doesn’t appear to have seen the light of day since its original publication in 1829. “The Sisters” was published anonymously in “The Literary Souvenir” and it’s a 47 page long slice of dramatic Gothic which definitely deserves its republication.

The book is set in the North of the country (bringing instantly, of course, images of the Yorkshire Moors to mind), and as the story opens we are told of the collapse and decay of two great estates. The rest of the tale is how that decay was brought about, and how love of the sisters of the title led to the destruction of lives and locations. The sisters are Marion and Edith; the latter is younger and livelier, but the elder has depths and attracts the love of two local young men. Vibert is penniless but honest and true; Marcus is a proto-Heathcliff, dark and brooding and damaged. As my Offspring used to say, End Well It Will Not….

“The Sisters” is a dark and dramatic piece of writing, a fascinating transitional work which bridges the gap between Austen and the Brontes. It’s worth remembering that Gothic romances had been so popular in the 18th century (from Anne Radcliffe and the like) that Austen was able to spoof them in “Northanger Abbey” (written in 1803 but not published until 1817) That kind of Gothic work drew heavily on the apparent supernatural, and perhaps the genre reached its peak of notoriety with the controversial “The Monk”. However, as the world moved on towards Victorian times, a work like “Wuthering Heights” (published in 1847) had a different focus; there was still the hint of the supernatural but the book was much bleaker, more about dark human behaviour. “The Sisters” sits in that divide and reflects the shift in society’s behaviour and the changes to come.

By Edmund Morison Wimperis [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The excellent introduction by Joan Passey expands on this aspect of the story, and puts the work very much in context. She sees society on a cusp, and the decay and destruction which is prevalent in the story is a reflection of the differing social expectations; almost as if an old way of life was crumbling just as much as the old country houses. It all makes fascinating reading (and thankfully Passey sensibly warns against reading her introduction before the story).

But apart from its historical significance, “The Sisters” is also a great little read; gripping and dark, it’s worthy of sitting alongside its more famous siblings. Ampersand has published it as a very pretty little hardback, with their trademark, very nice on the eye, off-white paper and a lovely atmospheric cover image. I’m greatly enjoying exploring the publisher’s catalogue and I’m very keen to see what comes up next in the ‘Lost and Found’ section! 🙂

Review copy kindly provided by Ampersand, for which many thanks!

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