10 May 2010


Sets of Four

There are some characters you can have a la carte and some characters you have to take as a set. Try to take them away from the characters they come with, and they aren't half as wonderful. I thought I'd honour a certain type of set--the four sisters--with a special post. =)

A few weeks ago, I learned that the Henricksens of HBO's Big Love, who almost made my Top 5 TV Families post, are planning to add a fourth sister-wife to their family. But since that hasn't officially happened yet, the following will be the second Shredded Cheddar Top 5 List they almost make. =P

My Top 5 Sister Act Quartets

1) Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy (Little Women by Louisa May Alcott)

They're usually the first to come to mind, aren't they? Indeed, they just might be the most famous sisters in all of fiction--and for good reason!

The four of them couldn't be more unlike. Without Marmee as their centre of gravity, they'd fly away in different directions and never miss each other: Meg, the pretty, domestic eldest sister who just wants her own home and family; Jo, the outspoken rebel who wishes to be a great writer; Beth, the shy musician who is such a little angel that Alcott treats her to an early death; and Amy, the artistic one who likes the things only money can buy and isn't ashamed of the fact. (Amy doesn't get enough credit for it, but she was really more of a rebel than Jo.)

With different talents and trials (Oh, how Puritan!), they are not just vibrant characters, but also archetypes of girlhood. In any corner of the world where there are girls who love books, you will find readers who can relate to the Little Women. And each one will always have her favourite--the character she identifies with most! There is something true about these four sisters which transcends different time periods and cultures. Alcott fiddled with other character sets in later books like Little Men and Eight Cousins, but never again captured the magic of these first four.

2) Marie, Wendy, Cindy and Connie (Just the Ten of Us, ABC)

Okay, there are a total of eight siblings in the Lubbock family--but nobody is going to argue with me when I say that the four oldest girls were the real stars of the show.

I suppose the writers were also aiming for the Little Women bar, though they tried to be more modern when they picked characters for the girls. Marie is the responsible, religious eldest daughter; Wendy and Cindy are the boy crazy twins, the former also acting as mastermind of all their schemes and the latter playing a ditz you have to see to believe; and Connie is the writer with feminist leanings who feels understandably awkward in her older sisters' collective shadow.

No, they're not also archetypes . . . but I think they managed to represent what a reasonable number of high school girls in the late 1980s wished they could have been. (For yes, by the end of the series, the singing group the Lubbock Babes did land a recording contract. Yay!)

3) Lena, Bridget, Tibby and Carmen (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares)

Okay, so these four girls aren't really sisters. In fact, if you recall that their parents met in a prenatal class and were the first sisterhood, then our heroines are properly considered cousins. But never mind that . . .

The premise of this series is that the girls can draw some magical strain of "girl power" from a pair of second-hand jeans that suits them all perfectly, though they are of very different builds. Which is an interesting reflection of one consuming thought in the minds of today's image-conscious teenage girls.

Brashares (a former ghostwriter for the Baby-Sitters Club series, FYI!) has created a group of characters meant to appeal to the widest possible cross-section of potential readers--not just for their personalities, but also for their body types. And as they learn to embrace the flaws in their personalities and in their families, they must also learn to embrace the flaws in their bodies.

Tibby, the sullen teenager, and Lena, the shy beauty, hide behind their clothes for different reasons--but the pants refuse to be just another mask for them. Then there is the very curvy Carmen, who has trouble getting along with her new super-skinny step-family: the magic pants give new meaning to her theme of "fitting in." But I'd say the novel fails when it comes to Bridget, whose fashion or body issues, if any, aren't addressed. That is probably rectified in the second novel of the series.

4) Sophia, Dorothy, Blanche and Rose (The Golden Girls, NBC)

If you had a problem with the "sisters" in the previous set, then you'll really have a problem with this group of "girls"! Not only are they not all biologically related, but the two who are, also happen to be mother and daughter!

What we have here that we'd never get with a younger set of four is a wealth of past experience each one can bring to the table. Literally, too: no episode is complete without everyone getting to weigh in on the latest issue around the dining room table. And each of them always has a different take on things . . .

Sophia came all the way from Sicily when she was a young woman, settling in Brooklyn, where she raised Dorothy and her other children; Blanche grew up a Southern Belle; and Rose seems to begin every other speech with, "Back in St. Olaf . . ." (Bwahahahahaha! Oh, good times!)

But the best thing--sitcom-wise--about their being "women of a certain age" is that characters from their "past lives" keep showing up to make the present more interesting. Grown children, ex-husbands, former suitors, all sorts of friends. The Golden Girls have not led full lives; they are still living them!

5) Sarah, Nancy, Bonnie and Rochelle (The Craft)

Now that we've totally killed the definition of "sisters," we definitely have room for these girls. How appropriate, since it was they who taught this Geometry geek, in the summer of 1996, that a circle has four corners.

This group isn't thrown together for episodic fun or problem solving, but for one big explosion. Although the three original members of the coven are pleased when Sarah comes to town and agrees to be their final corner, they are never truly in balance even when they are complete. But it would be too easy to blame the power-hungry Nancy for the implosion of their sisterhood. If anyone went rogue on her coven, it was Sarah.

I'd say the weakness of this set is that it the dynamic eventually boiled down to Sarah vs. Nancy. You can see it in the poster, in which the girls are wearing outfits that both reflect their personalities and their group unity, but also emphasise that the colour key that unlocks their secret is "black and white."

And that is probably why Bonnie and Rochelle are not fully developed characters: they didn't really need to be. All our other "sister acts" are set up so that each reader or viewer has his favourite; this quartet is set up so that everyone has to loathe Nancy and side with Sarah by the ending, or else wonder whether he is as twisted as Nancy is. So no balance here . . . but I was young in 1996, so they make the list.

Image Sources: a) Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, b) The Lubbock Babes, c) The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, d) The Golden Girls, e) The Craft poster


Sullivan McPig said...

I LOVE the Craft, although I will confess I always stop the movie before the last scene with Nancy as I think it doesn't fit with the "I bind you from doing harm" bit and is only to show us 'bad things happen to bad people'. Yeah right!
As for the other:
Little women: great book! Should probably reread it as it's been ages since I last read it.
Golden Girls: Sophia and rose were my favourites.

Don't know the other two

Holly said...

Great choices on all! I think the Golden Girls are my fave though :)

Belfry Bat said...

Oh, I love the Marches. Indeed, when I saw they were heading-up the list, my first thought was "Wait! There are more???"


I'll get back to this later.

(captcha: mistive)

Enbrethiliel said...


Sully: On the other hand, I think we can say that Nancy got what was coming to her, not because she was "bad" (though I'd say she was, LOL!), but because she killed Chris and deserved it back times three.

Sophia and Rose are my favourite Golden Girls, too! =D

Holly: Thanks! =) Who was your favourite?

Bat: Yes, there are more! ;-) I actually expected the first crop of comments to include a protest that someone's favourite foursome didn't make it.

Sullivan McPig said...

It's just that Sara says while binding Nancy: 'I bind you from doing harm, harm to other people and harm to yourself'
Well..... in my opinion Nancy is certainly harming herself in that last scene. I do not like inconsistancies like that.

Enbrethiliel said...


Good point. I now recall that. I suppose the writers would explain that plothole by saying that the spell just didn't work that time? =P Well, there have been huger plot holes . . .

Sullivan McPig said...

(but you should hear me ranting about those ;-)

Cozy Book Nook (Lesa) said...

I don't know the Lubbocks, didn't watch much Golden Girls and barely remember much about the Craft or the Pants. So of course my favorite sisters are the March girls.

I always related to both Jo and Amy-- but Amy may be my fave. When my friends and I acted out a scene for school, one friend was definitely a Jo-- so I was Amy. I like what you said about Amy being even more of rebel than Jo.


Connie said...

I've always wished someone would compare the ladies from other popular shows to the OG Little Women gang. The possibilities are endless. Sex and the City? Ya-Ya Sisterhood?

I love that you included Golden Girls, though!

mrsdarwin said...

I like this meme, since our family is about to expand to four sisters.

You've already got some Americana going on with Little Women, so what about the Ingalls sisters from the Little House on the Prairie books? Of course they aren't really all old enough to be full characters until the last two books or so (and even then the youngest is still pretty young), but I would rank them as the most famous sister quartet after the Marches.

Another quartet I liked was in the movie Bride and Prejudice, a Bollywood version of Pride and Prejudice in which the five sisters of the original are compressed into four.

Enbrethiliel said...


Lesa: I think Amy had the deck stacked against her, since Alcott was so obviously pro-Jo, but she is an underrated character. =)

Connie: As I was telling Belfrey Bat, there are many other "sister act quartets" (What a clumsy term, aye? LOL!) to choose from! I confess that I deliberately avoided the Sex and the City foursome, though I'm very familiar with them, because I had no idea what to say! As for the Ya-Yas, they completely slipped my mind! But yes, they're a good choice. =)

MrsDarwin: I bought the first Ingalls book, Little House in the Big Woods, a few months ago, but haven't got around to reading it yet. (Bad Enbrethiliel!) So I didn't know there were four sisters in their family. But I think that if I had got into that series when I was younger, the way I got into Alcott's March saga, they'd definitely be here!

And your own four girls can be my honourary sixth Sister Act! ;-)

mrsdarwin said...

I don't think the youngest Ingalls sister is even born until the fourth book or so (On the Shores of Silver Lake), so you'd only see three sisters in Little House in the Big Wood, and even then the main characters are the two oldest, Mary and Laura.

Maybe it's because I read the Little House books earlier, but the Ingalls sisters (or at least Laura) are ingrained into my psyche in a way that the March sisters aren't.

Enbrethiliel said...


Connie: I forgot to add that the sitcom Designing Woman, which I never got to watch, was deliberately based on Little Women. =) So there's another one! I'm sure someone else would be able to do a really comprehensive Top 20, with sisters in books/movies/TV programmes from other cultures as well.

MrsDarwin: Hmmmm. Well, groups of three sisters will also yield an interesting Top 5, but right now all I can think of are the sisters of Charmed!

Well, okay, I think there are three sisters in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, but the youngest one doesn't get much "screen time."

Oh, and there are the three sisters in the Anime Ranma 1/2! I think they're my favourites. =)

(And I'd better stop now before I end up with a whole new list . . .)