It's almost a pub quiz question - who or what connects pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones, the arts administrator Edward Poynter, prime minister Stanley Baldwin and writer Rudyard Kipling? The answer and the subject of this book is the four MacDonald sisters: Georgiana and Agnes being wife to the first two, and Louisa and Alice mother to the latter two.
I'm in two minds in reviewing this book - on the one hand I enjoyed it, on the other I can clearly see where it falls down, where it could have been improved. Few of the sisters emerge from these pages with any clear sense of personality, in particularly Edie and Agnes, and by the time Flanders is recounting the lives of the children and grandchildren I often became quite lost. I'm still not clear who Denis or Margaret belonged to!
Part of the problem is that none of the MacDonald sisters themselves led especially interesting or exceptional lives - whatever fame they have bequeathed to posterity is a result of the menfolk they were attached to, not for anything they themselves did. So you're left with a biography of four women who were only remarkable in the sense that they connected four well-known male personalities, none of whom are the focus of this book or who emerge with any kind of clear presence either. It's sort of a case of 'damned if you do and damned if you don't' - the sisters are what unites the men who led the interesting public lives, but you can't write a joint biography of them because their ties are only tenuous 'via marriage' relationships, and what's left isn't all that interesting.