All of the main characters (male and female) in Austen’s novels have sisters. In fact, in most cases, they have two or more sisters. However, what I have always found interesting is that except for the Bannet sisters and the Dashwood sisters, we barely see/read much affection among the siblings in the stories. In the case of the Bennet sisters, it is mostly the relationship between Jane and Elizabeth that speaks of their affection for one another. Jane is Elizabeth’s favourite. Although they have different dispositions, they are quite close. Elizabeth knows Jane better than anyone. She trusts Jane completely and tells her everything. She rushes to Netherfield to nurse her back to health, and openly fights with Darcy on Jane’s behalf.
“Had not my feelings decided against you—had they been indifferent, or had they even been favourable, do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept the man who has been the means of ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of a most beloved sister?”
As she pronounced these words, Mr. Darcy changed colour; but the emotion was short, and he listened without attempting to interrupt her while she continued:
“I have every reason in the world to think ill of you. No motive can excuse the unjust and ungenerous part you acted there. You dare not, you cannot deny, that you have been the principal, if not the only means of dividing them from each other—of exposing one to the censure of the world for caprice and instability, and the other to its derision for disappointed hopes, and involving them both in misery of the acutest kind.”
Although we get to see great affection between Jane and Elizabeth, we can also see that they care about their younger sisters. Remember Elizabeth’s conversation with Lady Catherine about her sisters being out in society?
“Are any of your younger sisters out, Miss Bennet?”
“Yes, ma’am, all.”
“All! What, all five out at once? Very odd! And you only the second. The younger ones out before the elder ones are married! Your younger sisters must be very young?”
“Yes, my youngest is not sixteen. Perhaps she is full young to be much in company. But really, ma’am, I think it would be very hard upon younger sisters, that they should not have their share of society and amusement, because the elder may not have the means or inclination to marry early. The last-born has as good a right to the pleasures of youth as the first. And to be kept back on such a motive! I think it would not be very likely to promote sisterly affection or delicacy of mind.”
Elizabeth is very aware and mindful of her sisters’ needs and although the three younger sisters embarrass her to no end, she always tries to protect them.
Another sibling relationship I have always been curious about is between Darcy and Georgiana. Perhaps because of their age-difference, or Darcy’s protective character, he is more of a father-figure for Georgiana than a brother. He takes care of her needs and makes certain she is safe. But he is not close enough to know her deeply. And we do not get to see/read them interact with one another much in the novel. We know Georgiana respects her brother and he obviously loves her. But they do not enjoy a very close relationship with one another.
In my novels, I love to delve deeper and explore the relationship between siblings, especially between a brother and sister. For example, in To Love and Cherish, I give Georgiana a voice and I get Darcy to actually listen to his sister and allow her to make her own decisions.
“I have ruined everything.”
“I doubt that very much, my dear,” Mr. Darcy said and, taking his sister’s hand, guided her to the sofa. “Sit with me and tell me what happened.”
And she did. For the first time in their lives, Georgiana spoke to Darcy, shared her feelings, her thoughts and her fears, not as a younger sister does to her much older brother, but as a young lady does to a trusted friend. To his credit, Darcy listened, never interrupting her, and never letting his feelings appear on his face. When she was finally finished, she looked up at him, her eyes beseeching the wisdom she knew he possessed.
“Allow me to congratulate you for how you handled Lord Barton,” Darcy said. “I am very proud of you.”
“I was uncivil to him, Brother,” Georgiana admitted, surprised by Darcy’s easy acceptance of it all.
“He deserved it. For him to have the presumption to come to you, without my permission, to show such arrogance, and to disrespect Julian and you! His behavior was beyond rude. You did well to send him away.”
“He said you knew of his intentions. And that you had already given your permission.”
“He spoke to me while he was staying at Pemberley. But I never gave him my permission to approach you. To be honest, not long after he arrived at Pemberley, I knew he was not worthy of you. He is too arrogant for his own good. And he could never make you happy.”
“He said that he would teach me how to be worthy of being his wife.”
“Julian was right,” Darcy said thoughtfully. “He tried to warn me about Lord Barton. He was of the opinion that he would never appreciate you. I took his warnings as the words of a jealous man. But he was right.”
“He seems to be right all the time.”
Darcy smiled. “Julian is an intelligent man. He has a talent for appraising character, and he does not suffer from the reserve that you and I have in abundance. This enables him to have an excellent judgment.”
“I know. And I… I have been proven wrong in every argument I have had with him.”
“Not in every argument, my dear,” Darcy said. “Your argument this afternoon was fair and just.”
Georgiana looked up at her brother, astonished by his words.
Darcy smiled at her surprise. “I am a proud man, Georgiana. But I hope I am not too proud to admit my mistakes. You were correct. We should have told you about Wickham as soon as we became aware of his being in Town. But, you must understand, our sole intention was to protect you against the scoundrel.”
“You made decisions on my behalf,” Georgiana said, shaking her head in disapproval. “Without consulting me.”
“It is a man’s responsibility and honor to protect those under his care. I grant you, we should have shared our information with you. But it was still mine and Richard’s responsibility as your guardians to make decisions pertaining your well-being.”
“And what about Lord Paisley?”
“He cares for you, Georgiana. I cannot fault him for wanting to protect you.”
“But do you not see how that makes me feel? Your refusal to tell me about Wickham makes me certain that you do not believe I can conduct myself in a manner befitting a lady or that you think I am so fragile that I may easily fall apart. Either way, it shows a lack of trust in my ability to think and behave as a sensible person.”
Darcy nodded and took a deep breath.
“Your arguments are fair. You are a sensible, intelligent young woman. I want you to know that I have never doubted that. I could never be prouder of you than I am at present.”
“Even after my less than ladylike display this afternoon?”
“Especially after your less than ladylike display this afternoon.” Darcy smiled. “You were very impressive, my dear. You seem to have inherited the Darcy temper after all.”
“I am afraid my Darcy temper may have cost me my happiness.”
“I would not be so hopeless if I were you, Georgiana. Julian is not so easily intimidated.”
“But he is easily disappointed. What man would want an opinionated, petulant woman like me?”
“Men of strong mettle prefer headstrong wives,” Darcy said. “And I believe it is time for me to go and apologize to my own opinionated, petulant wife.”
Georgiana smiled at her brother’s words. “Where is Richard?” she asked, suddenly remembering her cousin.
“He left a long time ago.” Darcy chuckled. “I believe he was too afraid to face you again.”
“Coward!” Georgiana shook her head in amusement.
Mr. Darcy rose from his seat and looked down at his sister lovingly. Noticing the melancholy still in her eyes, he smiled reassuringly. “All will be well, dear one. Julian will come back soon enough.”
“What if he does not?”
“Then he does not deserve you,” Darcy said as he bent down and bestowed a kiss upon his sister’s forehead.
In my third novel, To Desire and Deserve, my heroine, Lady Henrietta Paisley, sister to Lord Paisley, Marquis of Dartfort, and sister in-law to Georgiana, is a strong woman who is not afraid to voice her opinion. Unlike Georgiana Darcy, who is of a more timid disposition, Lady Henrietta is quite outspoken. She is loved, and somewhat spoiled, by her family, and lives life as she pleases. However, certain events cause her to enter a forced engagement to a man she finds equally challenging and irresistible. Luckily, she has the love and support of her brother, Lord Paisley, to carry her through the hard times. Henrietta and her brother share similar characteristics; they are both very intelligent and have a great sense of humour. Their relationship, despite their age-difference, is one of trust and friendship. Below, I share an excerpt where Lord Paisley and Lady Henrietta enjoy a tête-à-tête.
Henrietta addressed her brother. “I was just informing Lady Petershaw that should she need a carriage to convey her back to her parents’ house, that can be easily arranged.”
“Is that so?” Lord Paisley raised an eyebrow at his sister and then addressed Lady Petershaw. “Do you mean to return home, my lady?”
“No, my lord.” Lady Petershaw smiled alluringly at Lord Paisley, ignoring Henrietta’s glares. “I see no reason for me to leave. But I will if you wish me too.”
“You did not come at my invitation, my lady,” Lord Paisley replied, his voice and his façade not betraying any emotion. “And you will not leave at my bidding. I do hope, however, that we can all enjoy a pleasant afternoon.”
“That is precisely what I want.” Lady Petershaw’s smile grew deeper, more provocative.
“Very well, then.” Lord Paisley nodded and faced his sister, thereby dismissing the other lady. “Henrietta, my dear, might I have a moment of your time?”
Henrietta fell into step with her brother as they walked away from Lady Petershaw.
“In the future, my darling troublemaker,” he said softly, “you will remember not to make a scene in front of our neighbours.”
“I did not make a scene, brother.”
“Had I not interfered when I did, I am quite certain you would have made a spectacle.”
“You cannot tell me you are pleased that she is here.”
“I am not,” Lord Paisley said, shaking his head slowly. “But neither Lady Petershaw nor others need know my sentiments on the matter.”
“Her presence is causing Georgiana unnecessary discomfort, Julian.”
“Georgiana can conduct herself with grace,” Lord Paisley said, his eyes momentarily travelling to where his wife stood with her guests.
“So can I.”
Lord Paisley smirked at his sister. “In your case, my dear, being graceful is not a question of ability but a matter of willingness.”
“Do you expect me to allow her to hurt Georgiana?” Henrietta asked, wisely ignoring her brother’s jab.
“No one will hurt Georgiana.” Lord Paisley assured, and although his voice was soft, there was no mistaking his underlying temper. “I appreciate how protective you are of her. But we do not need any gossip circulating about Lady Petershaw, myself and Georgiana. Any reaction on our part will give gossipmongers reason to talk. And that will hurt Georgiana far more than Lady Petershaw’s unsolicited company at a family picnic.”
Henrietta nodded, seeing reason in her brother’s words. “Very well. I am sorry if I acted in haste.”
He smiled at her. “You are protective of your loved ones. I cannot fault you for that, my dear.”
Henrietta smiled at him, grateful for his assurance.
“Speaking of your loved ones,” he said, his smile growing mischievous as he pointed to a place behind her. “Here comes your future husband.”
Henrietta turned around and her breath caught as she saw Lord Carlisle driving the curricle. If possible, His Lordship looked even more impressive than usual as he handled the horses with admirable command. She stood mesmerized, watching him as he brought the curricle to a complete stop with great ease.
“The man certainly knows how to handle wild creatures.” Lord Paisley observed with a hint of irony that did not escape his sister’s quick wit.
Henrietta tore her gaze away from Lord Carlisle to face her brother. “I am not a wild creature, Julian.”
“You are a force of nature, my dear,” Lord Paisley said with an affectionate smile. “And you can easily scare away most men.”
“Is it my fault if most men are fainthearted fools?”
“No indeed. Fortunately, I rather suspect Lord Carlisle is neither fainthearted nor a fool. In fact, I think he is quite the opposite. And since I know how intelligent you are, I will give you some advice. Pick your battles wisely, my dear.”
Henrietta raised a delicate eyebrow at his statement.
“Lord Carlisle appears to be a gentleman of excellent understanding and amiability.” Lord Paisley explained. “But I must warn you to be careful in your dealings with him.”
Henrietta smirked. “Careful? Of what?”
“Do not play games with him, Henrietta.” Lord Paisley warned. “You may be sorry for it in the end.”
“I do not know what you mean, Julian.” Henrietta shrugged, but her blush said otherwise.
“Your little show of petulance this morning did you no credit.”
Henrietta raised her chin in defiance. “I was not hungry and his lordship kept insisting.”
“I think it is safe to say that neither yours nor Lord Carlisle’s actions were about the food.” Lord Paisley smiled knowingly at his sister. “You were in an unpleasant mood and tried to intimidate him and failed miserably. He was not intimidated. He was amused.”
Henrietta glared at her brother, knowing full well that he was right.
“I understand how you feel my dear,” he said gently. “You have found yourself, through no fault of your own I might add, engaged to a man you barely know.”
Henrietta looked away uncomfortably.
“And I know you have tender feelings for him.” Lord Paisley continued, his voice becoming softer as he spoke. “Which makes the situation far more uncomfortable for you.”
Henrietta blinked to stop her tears. “I cannot help my feelings.”
“Of course not.” Lord Paisley reached for her hand and held it in his. “But you must learn to regulate your behavior.”
Henrietta looked up at him. “This is not how I imagined I would become engaged.”
He pressed her hand reassuringly. “I know. If I could change the situation, I would. But even my name and influence will not protect your reputation if rumors spread. You have no choice but to marry him.”
Henrietta nodded gravely.
Noticing his sister’s mood, Lord Paisley shrugged his shoulders and smiled mischievously. “Let us look at the bright side of this whole affair. The man is going to be a duke. And from what I hear, he is quite rich. Let that console you, my dear.”
Not at all shocked by her brother’s humour, Lady Henrietta nodded. “Oh, Indeed. And let us not forget how handsome he is.”
“Quite right.” Lord Paisley agreed with mock gravity. “I should not at all be ashamed to be related to him. And I do believe that my valet approves of his Lordship’s attire.”
“Is that so? Has Mr. Wilkinson given his approval? That does put me much more at ease.”
No longer able to maintain their serious countenance, the siblings shared a quick glance at one another and both burst into laughter.
“That is much better, my darling,” Lord Paisley said. “Now, let us be serious for a moment. You are a very intelligent young lady. And if Lord Carlisle has a grain of wit about him, which I am persuaded he does, he has already noticed that about you as well. He will know your worth.”
Henrietta smiled bitterly. “Men do not fall in love with women who have more wit than beauty, brother.”
“Men of sense know that wit is beauty.” Lord Paisley countered. “Carlisle should be honored to have you as his wife.”
What do you think? Which of the sibling relationships do you like more in all of Austen’s novels?