This post originally appeared on the Austen Authors’ blog on 28 May 2021. Enjoy!
“Prepare for trouble. And make it double!” While fans of the Pokemon cartoon show might associate this famous line with Team Rocket’s most inept members Jessie and James, this line could easily apply to several of the sibling pairs in Austen’s novels. The world of Jane Austen seems rife with difficult duos that make life harder for the heroines and heroes. Let’s take a look at some of the most notorious pairs that gave our heroines a dose of double-trouble.
Isabella and John Thorpe
It’s hard to picture a more loathsome brother and sister. They are both name-droppers and gold-diggers. Isabella is as inconstant a friend as the weather, and her actions seldom line up with the words from her mouth. John swears like a sailor and is about as selfish as can be. Both siblings are rude, inconsiderate, and care more about their own interests than in respecting others. The pinnacle of their bad behavior is in Isabella’s dumping her engagement to James Moreland in favor of Frederick Tilney, only to beg Catherine’s help to win James back when she herself gets thrown over by Frederick. Good job, Catherine, for turning her down!
Henry and Mary Crawford
They are both openly selfish and make no apologies for it. Mary clearly has an agenda to land the richest husband she can, and though she likes Edmund better, she makes no secret of her disdain for his choice of profession and even rejoices when his elder brother falls ill, thinking that now her preferred man might inherit! Henry is no better; a known player, he admits to his sister that he wants to make Fanny fall in love with him for the fun of it. Meanwhile, he flirts with both of the Bertram sisters, eventually wrecking Maria’s marriage. Mary shows no remorse for his bad behaviour, even trying to pin the blame on Fanny for not having accepted his proposal. Lucky for Fanny and Edmund, they both escaped the charm of these terrible siblings.
Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst
If you thought these two reminded you of the ugly stepsisters from Cinderella, you wouldn’t be too far off. These ladies have no scruples about abusing their so-called friends behind their back and gossiping about others at every turn. They even go so far as to assist Darcy in separating their brother from the woman he loves. How Charles Bingley turned out so nice with sisters such as these is a mystery to me.
Maria and Julia Bertram
They may have older brothers who are kinder, but these two sisters were anything but nice to their cousin Fanny when she arrived. They constantly made fun of her for her lack of education and finery, and they only deigned to play with her when they needed an extra playmate. As adults, they shunned her the majority of the time, neither one of them really coming to appreciate Fanny in the way that her aunt and uncle Bertram and cousin Edmund did.
Lucy and Anne Steele
Okay, so Lucy definitely gave the most trouble between these two. Her nastiness seems to know no bounds! From forcing Elinor to be her confidante in order to stake a claim on Edward, making veiled threats, maneuvering to be Mrs. Ferrars’ favorite, and even throwing a last-minute barb at Elinor by letting the Dashwoods’ servant assume she had married Edward instead of Robert, Lucy is a real piece of work! But her sister Anne (also called Nancy) doesn’t get off the hook so easily. She is a Grade A eavesdropper whose loose lips got Edward disowned and he almost had to go through with marrying Lucy thanks to her. Besides being fairly stupid, she does nothing to help Elinor or Marianne or be a friend to them, either.
Who would you rank as the worst among these nasty siblings? Are there any other pairs you would categorize as a difficult duo?
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