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The Three Sisters by May Sinclair

The Three Sisters (1914)

by May Sinclair

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Three sisters ... and two suitors
By sally tarbox on 12 October 2016
Format: Kindle Edition
Verified Purchase(What is this?)

This review is from: The Three Sisters (Virago Modern Classic) (Paperback)

Absolutely riveting novel, following Mary, Gwendolen and Alice Cartaret, daughters of an embittered and unlovely vicar. Brought by their father to a remote Yorkshire village after Alice started an embarrassing romance in their previous parish, life seems bleak and dull. Good, sensible Mary is her father's mainstay, while Gwenda is a free spirit, given to lonely hikes over her beloved moors. Alice, meanwhile, is a rather hysterical type, determined to make herself ill so that eligible young Dr Rowcliffe has to be called in to attend her. But the ramifications of their lives and loves have very unexpected outcomes...

Sinclair's writing put me just a touch in mind of Mary Webb. Although relationships - familial and romantic - are the basis of the story, this is by no means a happy tale but one that is shot through with suffering and unfairness.

While the picture on the cover of the Virago edition is of the Bronte sisters, and although the girls' looks and - somewhat - their personalities are similar to the Brontes, this is emphatically not a biography of them but a total work of fiction. The characters' lives and relationships have nothing in common with life in Haworth.

I got totally caught up in this story and couldn't put it down, ( )
  starbox | Oct 11, 2016 |
This is the story of the three daughters of a clergyman, living lives that are terribly constrained, in a vicarage in a small town on the Yorkshire moors. You might think, particularly if you looked at the cover of the Virago edition, that those sisters were named Charlotte, Anne and Emily. But they weren’t.

These three sisters were named Mary, Gwenda and Alice, they lived in the early twentieth century, but the parallels that May Sinclair draws make it obvious that their lives were not so very different to the lives of the Bronte sisters nearly a century earlier.

At first I thought that it would be a simple story. Mary was the sensible, home-loving sister. Gwenda was the free-spirited sister, who loved to walk on the moors. And Alice was the wilful, headstrong youngest sister. I was inclined to draw parallels with Meg, Jo and Amy, but as the story developed I came to appreciate these three sisters for themselves. And to find out that they were more complex creatures than they had first appeared.

The vicar was a bitter man, whose faith had been twisted out of shape. His first wife had died giving birth to his third daughter, his second wife had been unable to cope with the hardness of her life and died, and his third wife had told him some home truths and left him. Left wifeless, and unable to marry again, he believed that his daughters should keep house, do good works in the parish and live lives that were beyond reproach.

But all three dreamed of other lives, of marriage, of children, but most of all they dreamed of escape.

When an eligible young man, a new doctor, arrives in the town, he draws the attention of all three sisters. One is so desperate for his attention that she makes herself physically ill; one is so fearful for that sister that she withdraws and leaves hoe, even though her own feelings run deep and our reciprocated; and one pushes another towards another man so that she can seize the prize.

But a prize seized – a relationship founded – like that may not bring happiness and security. Independence is hard to hang on to when you know that your family needs you. And a second choice, a less obvious choice, can sometimes be the right choice.

May Sinclair spins a compelling story, full of rich descriptions of people and places, and with a wonderful understanding of her characters and their relationships. Her writing was clear, lucid, and terribly, terribly readable. The three sisters and their world came to life, and I turned the pages quickly because I so wanted to find out what would happen, what would become of them.

There are echoes of Charlotte, Emily and Anne, but I thought more of Thomas Hardy – who I understand May Sinclair knew.

My understanding of the three sisters grew as the story progressed and more of their characters were revealed. I found a sister to love and admire, a sister to dislike, and a sister who made my feelings turn around completely several times. Their stories were in the foreground but I saw the authors concern about the position of women in society, in the world, in the background.

The characters and the stories of the three men – the vicar, the doctor and the farmer – are well developed, but they are secondary.

The only thing that didn’t quite work was the author’s attempt to catch the subconscious as well and the conscious thoughts of her characters. It felt awkward; it really didn’t work.

But as a whole the story worked: Mary, Gwenda and Alice spoke to me, and their stories speak profoundly for many of their generation. And that is what will stay with me. ( )
  BeyondEdenRock | Aug 20, 2013 |
After a reading slump during Virago Reading Week, I was actually thrilled to come across a book that redeemed things for me! The Three Sisters is a novel that is loosely based upon the lives of the Bronte sisters, though the similarities are superficial. Alice, Gwenda, and Mary are the daughters of the Vicar of Garthdale, spinsters living lonely, bored lives on the moors. All of that changes, however, when a young, attractive doctor arrives in the village…

Originally published in 1914, this book is a strange hybrid of Edwardian values and Victorian conventionality. The time period in which this book is set is indeterminate (definitely not as early as the Brontes, though, since a brief mention is made of a car later in the story). The novel is loosely based on the lives of the Bronte sisters, though of course there are many deviations to it. However, I can easily see Emily Bronte’s personality in Gwenda, Charlotte in Mary, and Anne in Ally.

The story deals heavily with repression, personified in the character of Mr. Cartaret, the girls’ unforgiving and intractable father. The girls’ various (realized and unrealized) passions for Steven Rowcliffe are what drive the plot of this novel—leading Gwenda to run away from Garthdale so that her sister Mary may marry Rowcliffe and Ally to marry a local yeoman. All three women exude passion, but because of circumstances, it’s never allowed to fully come out. Another theme that this book deals with is that of self-denial, especially in the case of Gwenda. Psychologically, it’s interesting to watch how Mary’s marriage has an effect on all her sisters. Also, the book deals to a certain extent with obsession, personified in the character of Steven Rowcliffe. Living in a small village with very few marriage prospects, the arrival of a young, handsome, eligible doctor of course would of course lead the three Cartaret sisters to obsess over him—especially since all three women are of a passionate nature. It’s a very powerful novel, but so very understated in its own way. ( )
1 vote Kasthu | Mar 1, 2011 |
I read about this book and this author in the Bronte Myth by Lucasta Miller, and I decided it might be something I would like. I enjoy reading books about the Brontes and also spin-off novels about their lives. Miller refers to May Sinclair a few times as a woman who appreciated the Brontes and mentioned, The Three Sisters as a novel where Sinclair takes the basic story of three sisters living on the Yorkshire Moors with their recluse father and makes it her own. This book follows these sisters through a period of their lives and Sinclair shows us their interactions with each other, and the small community that they live in, and focuses alot on their relationship with their father who was very domineering and controlling. At times the writing felt a bit disjointed and I had a hard time figuring out exactly what time period it took place in, but these were the only minor problems I had with the book. I would recommend this novel to others and I'm going to be reading more novels by Sinclair in the future. ( )
  Renz0808 | Dec 7, 2010 |
A simple well written story.
Three sisters live with their difficult unpleasant father in a Yorkshire vicarage (no not the Bronte's) and live a confined life at ( I think)the end of the nineteenth century.
I got a bit waylaid by the lack of firm indication of the era of the story (finally worked it out by the advent of the motor car).
I still find it hard to believe that one man could control the lives of his daughters so much at the beginning of the 20th end 19th century and how dreadfully dull the lives of middle class young women was - no prospect of anything but marriage.
Enjoyable read. ( )
1 vote wendyrey | Oct 9, 2007 |
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North of east, in the bottom, where the road drops from the High Moor, is the village of Garth in Garthdale.
The Three Sisters was first published in October 1914, barely two months after the outbreak of the First World War and shortly after May Sinclair's visit to an ambulance unit serving in Belgium. (Introduction)
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From the cover:

"What day of the moth is it?"
"The Thirtieth," Mary answered.
"Then we've been here exactly five months to-day."
"That's nothing," said Mary, "to the months and years we shall be here.:

High on the moor above the Yorkshire village of Garth stands the vicarage, grey and desolate. Within, three sisters, Mary, Gwendolen and Alice, wait for something - anything - that will take them away from the paternal home, from their grim, repressive father; something that will bring romance and beauty into their dreary lives. Each has a different dream: Mary to ensnare a husband and bind him within a web of domesticity; Gwendolen to seek freedom and strong, intellectual companionship; Alice to find fullfillment through love and through maternity. To their isolated village come Steven Rowcliffe, an eligible doctor, and the three sisters turn upon him their obsessive gaze. . .
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385197039, Paperback)

This is a pre-1923 historical reproduction that was curated for quality. Quality assurance was conducted on each of these books in an attempt to remove books with imperfections introduced by the digitization process. Though we have made best efforts - the books may have occasional errors that do not impede the reading experience. We believe this work is culturally important and have elected to bring the book back into print as part of our continuing commitment to the preservation of printed works worldwide.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:35 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

This study of the Bronte sisters, published in 1912, showcases Sinclair's sometimes acerbic critical acumen. As the author herself notes, because all the best things about the Brontes have been said already, I have had to fall back on the humble day-labour of clearing away some of the rubbish that has gathered around them.… (more)

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