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The Sisters of Sinai

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Margaret and Agnes were well educated, thanks to their austere father’s belief that they should have the same rigorous education as boys did. They mastered French, Spanish, Italian and German early on, and as a reward they were treated to a visit to each foreign country whose language they’d learned.

The sisters were delightfully eccentric; while living in Cambridge, England, “they had astonished their neighbours by taking exercise on parallel bars in their back garden—in their bloomers,” Soskice writes. They also bought one of the first motor-cars in Cambridge, which made them the source of much gossip. They refused to succumb to the typical habits of women of their class, “flitting about, gaily ornamented, from luncheons to teas, from dinner parties to balls with no fixity of purpose.” Instead, they devoted themselves to exercise, teaching Sunday School, volunteering in their church soup kitchen, and their avid intellectual pursuits.

Although they found happy marriages in midlife, both husbands died just a few years after they’d been married – a “cruel fate,” as Soskice writes, leaving the sisters with only each other yet again. As always, in periods of deep mourning, travel was their primary means of consolation. (Soon after their father died in 1866, the twins set off for Egypt.)

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