Our other book of the month, Stuart Prebble’s The Insect Farm, deals with the complex and often sinister relationship between brothers – here between our protagonist Jonathan and his disabled older brother Roger. This got us thinking about our favourite siblings in literature and their relationships, from the sweet to the stormy to the downright sinister.
- Miles and Flora in The Turn of the Screw, Henry James
When the governess in James’s novella The Turn of the Screw takes on a new position in an Essex country estate, she cannot believe that her angelic charges could be capable of the mysterious transgressions attributed to them. But she soon discovers that Miles and Flora, however innocent they may appear, possess a terrible and haunting knowledge, and that they are the conduit for the house’s old ghosts to make their presence felt. The children, the governess realises, ‘saw MORE – things terrible and unguessable and that sprang from dreadful passages of intercourse in the past.’ The original creepy horror children, Miles and Flora still bring us out in goosebumps, and will make you think twice about taking on babysitting.
- Lowell, Rosemary and Fern, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler
“I knew the winds of doom when they blew,” writes Rosemary of leaving her sister Fern to go and stay with her grandparents as a child at the beginning of Karen Joy Fowler’s 2014 bestseller We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Rosemary and her brother Lowell return to find that Fern has vanished, and the rest of the novel follows the siblings as they try to unravel the reason behind Fern’s disappearance, and confront why her loss might have always been inevitable. Fowler’s novel emphasises that the absence of a sibling can have as profound an effect on our life as their presence, and, with its revelation of Fern’s secret, asks the reader to interrogate what, exactly, makes us brothers and sisters to each other.
- Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
On their own, the Pevensie children aren’t all that great: Peter’s a bit of a bully, Susan’s a bit of prig, Edmund’s a bit of a sneak and Lucy’s a bit of a drip. But C.S. Lewis is brilliant at capturing the dynamic between siblings, the power plays and alliances, however fantastical the setting he sends them into. The Pevensies carry their bickering into Narnia with them, and even if only three of them are allowed into Lewis’s frankly hokey heaven (silly old Susan, having developed an interest in ‘nylons and lipstick and invitations’, isn’t allowed to join her brothers and sister in heaven at the end of The Last Battle), it is Lewis’s talent for conveying the combined love and resentment that we feel for our siblings that has made these books timeless classics.
- Tom and Maggie Tulliver, The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot
‘Family likeness has often a deep sadness in it’ writes George Eliot in Adam Bede; but it’s Tom and Maggie Tulliver from Eliot’s 1860 novel The Mill on the Floss who have made into our top five. Perhaps you’ve been either the long-suffering older sibling like Tom, or the adoring but perpetually rebuffed younger sibling like Maggie; Eliot, herself estranged from her brothers for most of her adult life, lovingly captures how different siblings can be and how love can bridge those differences.
- Scout and Jem Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
‘When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow’ begins Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird. We can’t imagine a list about siblings in literature could be complete without Scout and her brother Jem, who is thought to be based on Lee’s beloved lawyer sister Alice. We can’t wait to see meet the grown up Scout and Jem in Lee’s upcoming Go Set A Watchman, or see if they get on any better, and we’ve already got our ham costumes on in anticipation. The Insect Farm by Stuart Prebble will be published in the UK by Alma on 15th March 2015 and in the US by Mulholland Books on 7th July 2015.