I just finished rereading Sense and Sensibility. John Dashwood, the eldest brother who, in his greed, impoverishes his stepmother and sisters got me to thinking. Of all the men I’ve encountered in my reading, which ones would I actually choose to call big brother?
The hero Ulysses is my idea of a great older brother -- much older. The amazing gifts he would bring on his infrequent trips home! His stories of exotic locations and fantastic adventures would fuel one’s dreams. I can see him -- huge, well-muscled, rough and unshaven -- sitting back to the fire, weaving tales of his adventures for a crowd of listeners. There he is, trapped in a cave by the huge Cyclops Polyphemus. The cleverness and daring by which Ulysses and his remaining men escape would make him a larger-than life hero for any girl to worship. From afar. He’d be much too wild and out-of-control to live with day in and out.
If you had a biggest brother like Ulysses you'd want someone steadier to stay home and watch over your interests. A responsible older man with good judgment. Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice comes to mind first, or Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility. (Until he married Marianne. She’d be a tough pill to swallow as sister-in-law, while Elizabeth Bennett would be a slam dunk.) But those are the easy choices. What about Sir Percy Blakeney, otherwise known as the Scarlet Pimpernel, dashing, intelligent, organized, with a tremendous capacity for compassion? He’d do whatever necessary, even risking his own life, to rescue you from trouble; going out on any proverbial limb when you needed help. Maybe sometimes he’d go TOO far, though. Were his amazing cleverness and luck to fail him he could end up losing his head to Le Madame Guillotine. Where would we be then? What a difficult choice.
I don’t see myself going to Mr. Darcy for advice on love. Here you need an older brother who knows his way around the dating world -- knows who to consider marriage worthy and which men you’d better not follow into a dark corner or empty carriage. He'd have to be a young man who's familiar with all the tricks, (probably because he’s used them himself at one time or another.) Young Laurie Laurence from Little Women might do. Brought up strictly, with a rebellious streak that got him into some real trouble, he knew the vices young people could fall into. He expected better from the four girls next door, however. That protective streak led him to scold Meg during her one foray into the world of society. Her dress was cut too low, there was rouge on her cheeks, and what would her Mother or sisters think of her now? A bit hypocritical, yes, but his heart was good, and you could trust him to keep you on the straight and narrow. (Assuming that was where you wanted be.)
On a more modern vein, John Farrel is a roguish international spy who always manages to take good care of Mrs. Pollifax, be it in Albania or South Africa. He’d be a useful big brother if your romantic adventures tended to result in you being kidnapped or held at gunpoint.
Finally, no ideal family could be complete without the typical trouble maker for a brother. He’s the one who cracks a bad joke when things get too tense at the dinner table and keeps all of you, including your dates, from taking yourselves too seriously. Not Tom Sawyer, though he’s the first scamp to come to mind. Actually, I can’t think of anyone to fit the bill in the classics. I have to go with Fred and George Weasley. Life is just more interesting with them around. Seldom malicious, their practical jokes are doled out equally, no one person exempted or immune. Genuinely affectionate and fond of their family, they can be counted on to come through in a pinch. And isn’t that what a real family is about?
So here are my choices, a motley crew of literary guys I’d like to put in my family. Now that I look at them all together though, I suspect I’ve assembled a group of brothers guaranteed to drive any girl crazy. I may have to revisit this list. What do you think?
Read Well, Friend
Sense and Sensibility insight edition, Jane Austin, Bethany House
The Odyssey, Homer
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austin
The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, Dorothy Gilman
Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling