The four Macdonald sisters appeared at first to be completely unremarkable Victorians, daughters of a long-forgotten Methodist preacher. One married a successful ironmonger. One married an artist from a fairly good family, and another married an artist from no family at all. The fourth married an art teacher.

Or, in other words, one sister was the wife of Burne-Jones, another was married to the head of the Royal Academy and of the National Gallery. The third was Rudyard Kipling’s mother, and the fourth was the mother of Stanley Baldwin, thrice Prime Minister. But these were not the Peabody sisters, excelling their peers in reading and feeling, nor were they the Mitford girls, awash in a sea of wealth and beauty. They had scant money and none of their talents seem exceptional, and still things turned out as they did. Flanders explore the story of their interconnected lives, trying to discover the answer to the unknowable question: what made these seemingly unremarkable sisters the focus for so much success?