“For there is no friend like a sister, in calm or stormy weather, to cheer one on the tedious way, to fetch one if one goes astray, to lift one if one totters down, to strengthen whilst one stands.” —Christina Rossetti
Sisters. It is one of the most elemental bonds of all. And yet, a number of us—me included—have never experienced that close relationship. I have two brothers. They are wonderful, and I’ve learned a lot of important life lessons from them—how to throw a curveball, how to drive a stick shift, the important of sucking it up and NOT crying when you fall out of a tree.
But there’s a deep, primordial uniqueness, I think, to the closeness between siblings of the same sex. Much as I love my brothers, I was never, ever going to confide certain hopes, fears and dreams with them. Boys, the awkwardness of adolescence, love (not to mention pretty party dresses!)— sharing the most intimate subjects seems something coded in our DNA.
I had a best girlfriend growing up and she was, in effect, my surrogate sister. So although there were moments when a flesh and blood comrade-in-arms would have been welcome (think frogs in beds and two-on-one water balloon fights) I didn’t dwell on the lack of a sisterly sibling . . .
Until I read Pride and Prejudice.
I remember very vividly how the book affected me. The two eldest Bennets have such a strong and special bond despite—or maybe because of—their very different personalities. With her inimical skill at depicting nuances of character, Austen captured to perfection a portrait of two sisters-in-spirit as well as in blood. To this day, whenever I reread it, I feel a pang of longing for having missed having a sister with whom to share my secrets. (Though I do temper that wistfulness by reminding myself that I might have gotten Lydia instead of Jane!)
And then, as I read Austen’s other books, I found it fascinating to see how she developed other “paired” sisterly relationships. Jane, being Jane, saw the full range of emotional attachments and depicted them with her usual cutting edge insight and irony. In Sense and Sensibility, Elinor and Marianne are close, yet it’s a very different closeness than the one shared by Lizzy and Jane. Elinor is much more the classic “big sister” who feels responsible for caring for Marianne. She feels she must be strong and stalwart, so can’t share how much she’s been hurt by Love’s slings and arrows.
Persuasion shows sisterhood at the opposite end of the Lizzy-Jane spectrum. Anne Eliot’s older sister Elizabeth is vain and selfish, while her younger sister Mary is a querulous whiner who depends on Anne’s good sense to help order her life. The only thing that binds the three women together is blood. Emotionally they are as different as chalk and cheese.
So Jane Austen is probably the reason I chose to try my hand at writing a trilogy about three closeknit sisters. Being a romantic at heart, I chose to make Olivia, Anna and Caro, the heroines of my new “Hellions of High Street” series, in the Lizzy-Jane mold. They are best friends, but it was c hallenging—and fun—to figure out how to create the different relationships within the trio. Olivia, the oldest, tends to be the most serious, and tends to worry for all of them. Anna, the middle sister, accepts the expectation that she must use her charm and beauty to attract a rich husband, and thus take care of her family (though that plan quickly gets turned on its ear when Olivia meets the Earl of Wrexham!)
Caro, the youngest, was actually the most difficult to create. In the early books, she young, exuberant and, being a poet, is prone to High Drama. Having her slowly mature enough to be a heroine in her own right, rather than simply a foil for her sisters make me thinks a lot about the pecking order of families, and how we slowly but surely find our own self within that group dynamic. Her story comes out in two weeks—I hope you enjoy how she comes of age!
So how about you? Do you have sisters? Are you close, or are things “complicated?” And do you enjoy reading books that have sisters featured in them? Lastly, have you a favorite pair of sisters in literature? One lucky commentator who leaves a response here between now and Friday morning will be chosen at random to win a digital copy of one of the “Hellions of High Street” books—your choice!