Guest Blog: Favorite Sisters in Fiction
February 7, 2018
Hello everyone! Megan here, Laura's daughter! Some of you might have read my earlier guest blogs about Da Vinci's Tiger and Suspect Red, and I'm very pleased to be back on the blog discussing one of my favorite things: kick-butt women in books!
There are many perks to being a writer's daughter, one of which is the opportunity to be an early editor of sorts, or at the very least, an ear and partner in brainstorming. While she was shaping Hamilton and Peggy, and as the book became less about the famous men orbiting the Schuyler sisters, and much more about the sacred bond between Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy, Mom and I had a lot of discussions about other famous sisters in literature: what do we admire about the March sisters, for instance? Which set of Jane Austen sisters are most memorable? Why?
Inspired by these frequent conversations, Mom asked me to write a blog about my favorite sisters in fiction...so here they are!
#10: Laura and Lizzie, Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti
For the uninitiated, Goblin Market is a narrative poem written in the mid-19th century. It's spooky and weird and gothic and feminist and AWESOME. Two sisters, Laura and Lizzie, live by themselves. One night, while she is drawing water from a stream, Laura is seduced by goblin merchants, and eats a fruit offered to her by the goblins. Essentially, she becomes addicted to the fruit, but can no longer find the goblins, and begins to waste away. Lizzie goes after the goblins, determined to get more fruit to save her sister, but when she tries to pay with human money, they beat her up and try to force her to eat the fruit as well. She manages to escape, and feed Laura some of the pulp that was smashed on her. At first, the pulp seems to give Laura a seizure, but by the next morning, Laura is fully restored to health. The two sisters live to tell the tale, and pass it on to their children.
There are dozens of interpretations of this poem: that it's a reaction against the restrictive Victorian social norms of the era; that it's thinly veiled erotica; that it is an early feminist protest; that it's commenting on the evils of capitalism; that it's about drug addiction and opium; that it's religious in nature; and that it's anti-religious in nature. I encourage you to look it up and decide for yourself!
Whatever interpretation you choose, it's a wonderful testament to sisterly love and bravery.
#9: Arya and Sansa Stark, Game of Thrones
Unlike most of America, I actually haven't watched a whole lot of Game of Thrones. I did, however, read all 5 books in about a year, which admittedly, is a bit of a blur now. But I love Arya and Sansa's relationship, their perpetual devotion to each other despite a significant age difference, and their determination to be reunited. They're also so utterly relatable, despite the fantasy-world setting: one of them is more girly, and one of them is more of a tomboy. They don't actually get along very well when we first meet them--but that doesn't mean they wouldn't risk their lives for each other.
#8: Katniss and Primrose, The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games begins when Katniss, in one of the most quoted movie lines of the past decade, volunteers as tribute to save the life of her sister, Prim. And while Katniss and Prim could not be more different, they are both incredible heroines, fighting to protect each other and their family. Their relationship is the relationship that fuels the whole series--not the fight against the oppressive government, or the boys (both inadequate, if you ask me) vying for Katniss' love.
#7: Olga, Maria, and Irina, Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov
Olga, Maria, and Irina lean on each other and love each other--but in the heartbreaking end of this terrific (but devastating!) play, see none of their dreams come true. Unlike most of the women on this list, they never manage to triumph against the odds--the deck is very much stacked against them. However, over the course of the four acts, we see so many different remarkable stages of their sisterhood and roles. There's Olga, the eldest daughter, forced into the caretaker role against her will. There's the tempestuous middle sister, Masha.Then there's the baby of the three, the idealistic Irina. We watch them bond, argue, change alliances, and grow. We see them in youth, in marriage, in motherhood, in spinsterhood, and as older and wiser versions of themselves. Just like real sisters.
#6: Susan and Lucy Pevensie, The Chronicles of Narnia
What can I say about these sisters that hasn't already been said? They're brave, caring, intelligent, loving, and utterly devoted to each other--and the elder sister's refusal to believe the younger sister on multiple occasions rings true to many siblings I know! They're the two characters in the Narnia chronicles whom Aslan trusts most. And they peacefully rule a kingdom for over a decade. I know their brothers are there with them, but come on, we know Susan and Lucy are the ones getting stuff done.
#5: Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility
Anyone who thinks Jane Austen is stuffy has clearly never read Sense and Sensibility. Don't believe me? There's a scene near the beginning of the novel in which Marianne Dashwood literally runs around the grounds of her childhood home hugging all the trees goodbye. It's laugh-out-loud funny. Elinor and Marianne are exact opposites, but that doesn't stop them from loving each other and often getting furious at each other for not speaking up--or speaking too much! They both make mistakes constantly that undermine their happiness, but the other sister is always there. And then, of course, they both get a happy ending--thanks, Jane!
#4: The Twelve Dancing Princesses
Okay, so this choice is most definitely heavily influenced by the fact that as a young girl I was pretty obsessed with the stunningly illustrated version by Ruth Sanderson. But how can you NOT love TWELVE sisters who disobey their father's wishes, and go out dancing together every night!
#3: Celie and Nettie, The Color Purple
I don't think there's ever been a more inspiring pair of sisters created than Celie and Nettie. No matter what happens to them, these women band together with the women around them (even ones they don't particularly like), to support and sustain each other. Their reunion, after decades of hurt and longing and abuse, as stronger, braver women, is one of the most beautiful moments ever written.
#2: The March Sisters, Little Women
Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are probably the most iconic American sisters out there, beloved by generations of readers. Despite being written in a much earlier generation, the sisters are all immediately recognizable to modern readers: the beautiful and traditional Meg; the rebellious and tempestuous Jo; the shy and sweet Beth; and the artistic but somewhat selfish Amy. Jo March was actually a direct inspiration for Peggy in Hamilton and Peggy: she's bookish, smart, strong, willful, adores her sisters, and is resistant to the idea of marriage for fear it would break up the family and separate her from her beloved sisters/best friends.
#1: Jane and Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
Yes, I know there are five Bennet sisters, but I want to focus on Jane and Lizzie. For me, these are not just the most beautiful and perfect pair of sisters in all of Western Literature, but two of the absolute most wonderful characters created. They're not just sisters--they're best friends and a true team. And I'm not just saying that because I've watched the 2005 movie literally dozens of times. By all accounts, Jane and Elizabeth are fictional recreations of Jane Austen and her beloved sister Cassandra--which makes sense, given the deep tenderness and knowing winks in Pride and Prejudice about both the joys and frustrations of being best friends with a sister who is so different from yourself. Instead of quibbling with each other about their differences, they deeply admire each other: Elizabeth reveres Jane's enormous heart, and Jane often wishes she was as witty as her younger sister. There is an honesty and connection between Jane and Elizabeth that I don't think has ever been so lovingly depicted since.
(And for a fun fact: sweet, loving, beautiful Jane Bennet slightly inspired the characterization of Eliza Hamilton in Hamilton and Peggy!)
So there you have it! My 10 favorite pairs or groups of sisters! ...and trust me, the depiction of Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy in Hamilton...and Peggy! is just as well-rounded, lovely, funny, smart, and sweet as the books on this list. It's one of my absolute favorite things about Mom's new book, and I can't wait for you all to read it!