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Literary Sisters

I've always been fascinated by the relationships between sisters. I am an only child, though my parents had a baby girl on each side of me, both of whom passed away as infants. I would have been the middle child. The second of three girls. Ever since I can remember, I've wondered what my life would have been like had both of those girls lived longer than a few weeks. Would I have been more laid back as a second child? Would we have shared a room growing up, fought and bickered regularly, or would we have gotten along swimmingly? Would I have been like other middle children? Like Mary Bennet? Like Jo or Beth March? More importantly, would I have had someone to call now that we were all adults, when I needed to talk? To laugh about something one of our parents said or did. To reach out along that connection that made us not only siblings but sisters. And so, in the absence of the real thing, I've found myself gravitating toward especially well-drawn portraits of sisters in literature. There really are so many to choose from.
The classic relationships between Elizabeth and Jane in Pride and Prejudice and between Elinor and Marianne in Sense and Sensibility have, of course, long been favorites. The more reserved older sister, the more lively younger. They often seem to come that way, don't they? And I admit that so much of the draw for me is the sometimes wild difference in personalities, thrown into such touching relief by the bond that nevertheless binds them, by the loyalty that keeps them together when the world and men buffet them about. The quality of the relationship trumps others, outlasts others, and for that fact alone I find it compelling.
Another classic example is the relationship between Beauty and her two sisters in the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. Beauty is usually the youngest, in this case, and sometimes just as beautiful and winning as her sisters and sometimes misunderstood by them, even as they love her. It depends on the version of the tale you're reading. I love each one of the scenarios, though I am particularly drawn to the latter. In Robin McKinley's novel Beauty, she is the younger sister. The lesser sister. The one who is intelligent, but not beautiful. And though her heavenly sisters find her strange at times and befuddling all of the time, they love her and watch out for her. Because she is theirs.
More recently, I've become enamored of the sisters in Sarah Addison Allen's novels. She seems to understand what makes two women part of each other, whether they are sisters by blood--as in Garden Spells--or in spirit--as in The Sugar Queen. Claire and Sydney are as different as oil and water and they mix about as well. But after a long separation, and a lot of water under the bridge, they find they may understand each other better than they thought they did. Josey and Chloe are in no way related. But a chance encounter (and just a pinch of magic) bring them together at a time when they need each other and the way they grow as a result is especially gratifying to see. I am probably drawn to this last pair because, as fate would have it, I married into a family with sisters on either side of me. And that has always struck me as fitting. One of my favorite pictures of my sisters-in-law:
I've been part of their family for several years now and we've been brought together by so many things. I think of them simply as my sisters now. I love them because they are mine. The thought of not having them in my life is painful. I think that must be what these favorite literary sisters of mine feel for each other. And I find I very much like having a  little more real life insight into these books and characters I love.

Who are your favorite literary sisters and why?


  1. You know, my husband had an older sister that passed away at about 4 months old. He never had sisters growing up. I have two sisters, both younger, and I love it!

    I love the relationship of the March girls in Little Women. Specifically the relationship between Jo and Beth. It's so beautiful.

  2. I so know how you feel. I've got one brother, and no sisters. I was super sad when my FBIL ended his two year relationship with his girlfriend. I'd really thought that she'd be my FSIL. I had no idea the need in my life for a sister until then. I loved this post!

  3. They aren't literary sisters, but Kit and Dottie in A League of Their Own are fantastic.

  4. Sisters are complicated sometimes. I suppose it's that way with siblings. I think I fight MUCH more with my sister than my brother but then, that kind of brings you closer too. There's a weird part that genetics plays - that you can feel so alike yet be also feel so completely different.

    I liked the three sisters in HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE. And Julia Grey has a nice relationship with her sister Portia in Deanna Raybourne's series. Then there is the poem The Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti - there's a big sister who goes above and beyond for her sister's sake in that one.

  5. I loved this post! Losing 2 sisters is more sadness than I can stand, even if you never got to know them--especially not knowing them. I'm 41, and wouldn't last a day without my sisters, still.

    Your story makes me think of Jane Eyre; not having siblings, she found sisters in her cousins. Love that.

    Great post.

  6. I always loved the sisterly relationships in Sidney Taylor's All of a Kind Family series. And then there are the almost sisters in the Betsy, Tacy, and Tib series and Anne and Diana in all the Anne of Green Gables books.

    This was a lovely post.

  7. I am a middle sister! Some of my favorites are The Exiles, et seq, by Hilary McKay, Charlotte Sometimes, by Penelope Farmer, and the two sisters in I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith.

    Trying to think of Great Sisters of Fantasy--the sisters in McKinley's Beauty are rather nice...The two sisters in Tender Morsels't read Sisters Red yet...Oh--Clare Dunkle's Hollow Kingdom series has two very good sisters.

    And that's all I can think of. There seem to be more brothers than sisters in fantasy.

  8. I don't have a sister either! I have one brother. Last night, I was out with girlfriends and we were talking about how we wanted to have a twin sister when we were younger because we all read the Sweet Valley books so I guess Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield are a good example of literary sisters. I also love the examples that you gave - the March sisters, Jane and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, the sisters in McKinley's Beauty. I also liked Niamh and Liadan's relationship in Son of the Shadows.

  9. What a sweet thing to share! I'm an only child too, by the way. My dad had cancer before they found out they were pregnant with me, and told they couldn't have any kids. Then they found out they already had a stubborn little surprise coming along! :) Yet another reason to feel a camaraderie!

    I actually didn't ever wonder about having a sister, but a twin. It made me slightly obsessed with those Sweet Valley High sisters! I know. Not extra literary, but there you are. :) I always fancied myself as the sweet sister, Elizabeth, and wondered what I'd do if I was saddled with a wild sister like Jessica?!? Too funny that those are the sisters I compared myself to. All the others seemed either too ideal, or didn't cross my radar.

    Love this post! Thanks for sharing.

  10. P.S. Other than McKinley's telling, what other versions of Beauty and the Beast are you referencing? I've only ever read versions where the sisters are pretty snotty.

  11. This was a sweet post! I'm fortunate in having four sisters (but three brothers as well, so not a P&P dynamic). I love sisters in fiction too, especially the ones that seem to hate each other and then love each other in the same moment. It rings true to life for me. I'm reading Son of the Shadows right now, and it is interested to see how Liadan and Niamh interact. When we all grew up, those bonds are closer than any I know outside of my husband. It is a great privilege to have great sisters.

  12. This is a lovely post. I have a younger brother, but no sisters, so I too like to read about literary sisters and wonder how having a sister would be.

  13. i have 3 brothers, 1 elder & 2 younger... i love them a lot, but sometime i feel the need of having a sister, so i've "adopted" some of my bff as my sisters, the best of them is laura and she's there for me whenever i need her, she's like a real sister for me and i know she thinks the same of me, i'd give my live for her... i think that's why i love little women, pride & prejudice and sense & sensibility, because of the sister bondage...

    again, i loved your post!

  14. Anonymous5:19 AM

    What a beautiful post.
    I always wanted a sister, I have a brother and I adore him but he is not a girl. My four best friends are like sisters, I met them in kindergarten and we did everything together.

    Literary sisters: Alice and Riley in
    The Last Summer of me and You

  15. Angie, your blog is fast becoming one of my favourites - love your posts. :)

    I am hard-pressed to find literary sisters I love more than REAL literary sisters... the Brontes. I am a huge fan, and I used to belong to the Bronte Society in England. Heh. (Geek!) I even held the manuscript - srsly - of Jane Eyre in my HANDS. I read the line, "Readers, I married him" in Charlotte's own handwriting and chills went through me. I have read journals and letters by all of the Brontes and their bond was a truly wonderful thing.

    And not just Charlotte and Anne and Emily, but the older sisters who died too soon, Maria and Elizabeth (11 and 10 when they died, I think).


  16. Obviously, I meant "Reader, I married him." I swear I know that. Just a typo. Ahem.


  17. I don't have sisters, just brothers. However, my best friend I've known since I was 5.

    I really liked writing the relationship between Phil and Astrid in Rampant -- they were cousins who were more like sisters. I'd never written a sisterly relationship before, and it was such a cool dynamic.

    I'm writing actual sisters now, and it's not a spoiler to say they don't quite work like that.

  18. I just finished reading Henry's Sisters, which had a volatile but wonderful sisterly set in it.

  19. The sisters that immediately came to mind for me - aside from those you mentioned - were from Marillier's WILDWOOD DANCING/CYBELE'S SECRET set. Very different they are, but bonded and assured of their connection.

  20. My sister and I got along really well when were younger. But as we got older (like middle & high school) we fought ALL the time, and practically hated each other; however, I think it was largely due to teenage brattiness and the whole "borrowing" clothes without permission and her having to go everywhere I did. However, once I moved out and went to college, we got along so much better. I actually tend to miss her now that I don't see her as much. However, I've always felt I had to look out for her even when we didn't get along.

    Man, I'm kind of hard pressed to think of sisters in literature that are my favorites that haven't been mentioned. I really love Sarah and Becky's relationship from A Little Princess; I also like Briar, Daja, Tris, and Sandry's family relationship in Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic series. Some more interesting fairy tale sister relationships are explored in Gregory Maguire's Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and Wicked.

  21. I completely understand - my mother had me and then couldn't have any more kids, so proceeded to adopt 3 boys. I love my brothers, they're wonderful, but a girl....oh how I would have loved a sister. I have an aunt that's only 7 years older than me and we're fairly close, but somehow it's just not quite the same.
    I do love Jane and Elizabeth's relationship. I do like Cecy and Kate's relationship in Sorcery and Cecilia even though they're cousins.
    Lovely post - thank you.

  22. Darling post, Angie. As always, you say the warmest, most heartfelt things about your family. ^_^

    Literary sisters that immediately came to mind are Serena and Meteora from Except the Queen by Jane Yolen & Midori Snyder. One of these days my suggestion will get picked in your "What Should I Read Next?" thingy and you'll see what I'm talking about. ^_~

  23. Emily, Jo and Beth are winners for sure. Sometimes it's good to be in the middle.

    Sami, oh, that is sad. I do the same thing. Hope that my brothers-in-law marry excellent girls who will be like sisters to me. *fingers crossed*

    Dottie, ha! You've made me smile. Kit and Dottie are indeed great.

    Janice, ooh, good call with Julia and Portia. I adore them. And Goblin Market is one of my very favorite poems. Genius.

    Sally, that is heartwarming to hear. And thanks for the reminder about Jane. She did find sisters in her cousins. And I have a couple of cousins who take that place for me as well. Always treat me like a sister, even though we're not. They also treat my children like their niece and nephew, for which I am so grateful since they have no cousins or aunts and uncles on my side.

    Read the Book, yes! The All of a Kind family books! I loved those. In fact, they're still on my shelves and I will need to pull them out for my kids soon.

    Charlotte, I was thinking of the two sisters in the Hollow Kingdom series as well. They were great and good examples of the difference in personality but the dedication to each other.

    Chachic, Liadan and Niamh...such a good example. Liadan never gave up on Niamh, even when everyone else seemed to have forgotten her.

    Becky, wow. I'm so glad you snuck in there! And I loved SVH as well. I was certainly more like Elizabeth, but wondered what it would be like to be like Jessica...

    Read the Book, I guess I was mostly thinking of McKinley's two versions. Like so many of the others ways she reinvents classic fairy tales, I liked that she made the sisters sympathetic in both her novels.

    Melissa, yes, that is how I imagine it to be. When you're grown up and have all that common experience and memory linking you together. It sounds lovely then.

    Jessica, there's something alluring about it, isn't there?

    CaRiiToO, wonderful example. I'm glad you have her and that you enjoy reading about literary sisters as well.

    Emily, wonderful to have such long-lasting friendships. I am only in touch with one friend from kindergarten. And Alice and Riley are great. I love that book. Breaks my heart every time I read it.

    Kaz, wow. That is SO very cool. *geek* And you're right, the lives of the Brontes themselves are just as compelling as those of the characters they created. I've toured their home and trekked out to Top Withens and I wrote my thesis on Anne and TENANT and I know what you mean. :)

    Diana, that was my favorite thing about RAMPANT. The relationship between Phil and Astrid. Probably because I am so close to my girl cousins and so it resonated with me. So eager to read your upcoming sisters!

    Britt, I haven't heard of that one. Must go check it out.

    Chelle, yes, that fairy tale particularly is rife with possibilities for sisterly relationships. I loved Paula.

    Lan, I had completely forgotten about THE LITTLE PRINCESS. That's a good one. And I am sure it would have been no picnic sometimes during the growing up years with sisters, younger or older. But I love hearing that you look out for her and miss her when you've been apart.

    Raspberry, you're making me think I should do a cousins post. Cecy and Kate are just another great example of cousins who are like sisters. I never read the other books that came after SORCERY AND CECILIA. I should catch up.

    Christine, *grin* I imagine if you keep suggesting that one it will get picked one of these days. I'm glad to know it has some good sisters in it.

  24. Thanks for this beautiful post, Angie. I always refer to you as "my sister Angie." I seldom even think to tack on that "in-law" bit. Who needs it between sisters?


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