Classic Literary Siblings
— Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor on
For National Siblings Day, we wanted to discuss some of our favorite literary siblings, as well as what makes each pair so special. From the most loyal of friendships to the most intense of rivalries, here are seven of our favorite sibling relationships in classic literature.
1. Jane and Elizabeth Bennett — Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
Although they are total opposites in temperament and personality, Jane and Elizabeth Bennett are the best of friends. Loyal to and caring of one another, their relationship is founded on mutual respect and openness. As the novel unfolds, they help one another navigate the challenging waters of adulthood and courtship.
Our favorite moment: Lizzy walks three miles alone through the country—an act which was considered socially inappropriate for a woman at the time—just to visit Jane, who is sick with a fever.
2. The Brothers Karamazov — Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov
Dmitri, Ivan, and Alexei Fyodorovitch Karamazov are as different as brothers can be. As the novel unfolds, they alternately clash and come together. Dmitri is epicurean in nature, gambling, boozing, and seducing his way through life. Ivan is the troubled atheist, gripped by manichaean meditations on the prevalence of human suffering. Alexei, the hero of the novel, is the golden child, devout in his adherence to the Russian Orthodox faith and liked by all.
Our favorite moment: In book V, chapter IV, Ivan and Alexei have a conversation about God and morality. Ivan, the skeptic, cannot fathom the possibility of faith in a world littered with evil. Alexei, the monk in training, cannot reason with Ivan but remains firm in his convictions. It is a harrowing but thrilling confrontation.
3. Polyneices and Antigone — Sophocles’s Antigone
Though one of them might be a corpse, this bond between brother and sister refuses to die. Antigone’s two brothers are killed on the same day, but one of them was fighting against the state, and King Creon doesn’t like that. He forbids Polyneices a proper burial; Antigone refuses to let her brother lie in the dust. Antigone goes against Creon’s wishes, and, long story short, her devotion results in her death by Creon’s hands.
Our favorite moment: when Antigone shoots down Creon’s edict: “And if in this thou judgest me a fool, / Methinks the judge of folly’s not acquit.”
4. Laura and Laurie — Katherine Mansfield’s “The Garden Party”
Close and loving, Laura and her brother Laurie mirror the mythological twins Artemis and Apollo in this creative re-telling of the Persephone myth. Sure, that’s a lot of allusions for one story, but their relationship is particularly close, especially compared to that of their other siblings. Even their names reflect each other!
Our favorite moment: As the story comes to its conclusion, Laurie shows a deep understanding for Laura when she stammers, “Isn’t life—isn’t life—,” and he simply responds, “Isn’t it, darling?”
5. Gregor and Grete Samsa — Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”
Gregor Samsa was once the only working person in his family, until one day he wakes up having transformed into a gigantic bug. Now an outcast to his family, his sister, Grete, takes care to make sure he is fed and cleaned up after, as a testament to their prior closeness. However, their relationship fades as she grows tired of her new role, and she begins treating him with as much disgust as his parents do. Kafka illustrates a distressing change in the relationship between siblings that were once close alongside a distressing physical change in his protagonist.
Our favorite moment: After having physically changed, his personality seems to as well when he falls in love with his sister’s music that he had previously not cared for.
6. Nikolai and Pavel — Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons
In Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, the brothers Nikolai and Pavel Kirsanov, both middle-aged, reckon with the lives they have led. Nikolai, the younger of the two, runs an estate in the countryside. Though he has suffered his share of tragedies, namely the death of his wife, he has a wonderful son, Arkady, whose return sparks the start of the novel. Pavel, on the other hand, squandered his once-promising military career in pursuit of a romance that eventually collapsed, and he now lives on Nikolai’s estate.
Our favorite moment: In chapter IV, Arkady brings his rebellious college friend Bazarov to dinner with Nikolai and Pavel. As the two young men present the newest intellectual trends, Pavel asserts himself against Bazarov, who turns out to be just as headstrong. Arkady and Nikolai, both even-tempered, look on in baffled amusement.
7. Roderick and Madeline Usher — Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”
The last remaining members of the Usher family, Roderick and Madeline, are as solemn as they are sickly. These two siblings while away their days in the baroque, decrepit Usher manor, engaging in various arcane pursuits of the scholarly and artistic kind. When the unnamed narrator arrives for a visit, the House of Usher—the manor itself and the Usher siblings—seem to be rapidly deteriorating.
Our favorite moment: In one of the story’s strangest, most chilling scenes, the narrator reads a heroic poem—the “Mad Trist” of Sir Launcelot—to Roderick. As Launcelot conquers each trial, Madeline begins to resurrect herself from her tomb in the manor’s basement.
Are there any other siblings from literature you'd add to this list? Leave them in the comments below!