Melina (melwil) wrote in new_atalanta,

Essay/Discussion: Twins, Part One

Happy Easter Monday everyone.

Here is the first essay/discussion of the new-style New Atalanta. This is part one of a two piece feature on twins in girls fiction. sangerin will be bringing you the second part next week.

If you have anything to add or discuss, feel free to comment. Or, if you feel you have more to say than the comment space will allow you, feel free to propose an article for future weeks.


“For twelve perfect years, Chloe and I lived and breathed each other.”

Girls' fiction is full of twins.

They're main characters and characters lurking around the edges. They're identical and fraternal. They're the best of friends or the best enemies. And, when written, they come with their own set of interesting and quirky themes.

Same, same, but different

“We were identical twins, but Chloe had turned out better.”

Twins in girls' fiction can be exactly the same, totally different or somewhere in between. Some – such as Jean Estoril's Joan and Sue Meredith, or Enid Blyton's Pat and Isabel O'Sullivan are very alike, to the point of characters and readers being unable to tell them apart.

“She and her sister were twins and so alike that Drina, looking at them, felt more bewildered than ever.” (Jean Estoril, Drina Dances in Exile, p43)

“Both girls had dark brown wavy hair, deep blue eyes and a merry smile, and the Irish lilt in their voices was very pleasant to hear.” (Enid Blyton, The Twin at St Clare's, p5)

These twins look the same, sound the same and share the same interests. They spend hours in each other's company, sharing both the highlights and the lowlights. Their closeness, though, can be exclusionary, separating the twins from the other characters around them.

Other twins look the same but, under the surface, are completely different. Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield are, of course, the best example of this in girl's fiction. They are completely identical – from their blond hair to their perfect, size 6 figure.

“Both girls had the same shoulder-length, sun-streaked blond hair, the same sparkling blue-green eyes, the same perfect skin. Even the tiny dimple in Elizabeth's left cheek was duplicated in her younger sister's – younger by four minutes. Both girls were five feet six on the button and generously blessed with spectacular, all-American good looks.” (Kate William, Double Love, p3)

In another popular girl's series, it is taken for granted that identical twins should strive to look as different as possible. The Baby-Sitters Club books contain two significant examples of this. The first appears in Mallory and the Trouble with Twins when Mallory baby-sits for identical horrors, Marilyn and Carolyn Arnold.

“The bracelets were the only difference between the twins. The beads on one bracelet spelled MARILYN. The beads on the other one spelled CAROLYN.” (Ann M. Martin, Mallory and the Trouble with Twins, p23)

Eventually the twins reveal that they hate looking and dressing the same. They feel that they are being treated as the same person, and the only solution is to change their hair and clothing.

“They're completely different. Mrs Arnold finally let Carolyn get her hair cut . . . And Marilyn is growing hers out. They never dress the same anymore, and everyone can tell them apart, so they're so much happier.” (Ann M. Martin, Mallory and the Trouble with Twins, p137)

This idea of identical but totally different is repeated later in the Baby-Sitters Club series when we are introduced to Abby and Anna Stevenson. These twins have different hair, different glasses, different clothes – even different medical issues.

“Although Anna and I are identical twins, we don't look completely the same. Anna's curly hair is short and mine is long . . .” (Ann M. Martin, Abby's Twin, p6)

Abby notes later that the similarities between the twins are less obvious – they like the same movies, or buy the same present without conferring. They are also linked by their shared experiences – such as the car crash in which their father died.

The last 'sub-section' of twins are fraternal twins who tend to look nothing like each other. One example of these are Nan and Di Blythe (the daughters of Anne and Gilbert Blythe.) In this case Nan takes after her father in looks and mother in personality and vice versa.

“The ten-year old Ingleside twins violated twin tradition by not looking in the least alike. Anne, who was always called Nan, was very pretty, with velvety nut-brown eyes and silky, nut-brown hair . . . Diana Blythe, known as Di, was very like her mother, with grey-green eyes that always shone with a peculiar lustre and brilliancy in the dusk, and red hair.” (L. M. Montgomery, Rainbow Valley, p18)

Another example is Connie and Ruth Batten from the Malory Towers books:

“Connie was bigger, fatter, sturdier and bolder-looking than Ruth, who was a good deal smaller, and rather shy looking. Connie smiled broadly and nodded to everyone. Ruth hardly raised her head to look round . . .” (Enid Blyton, Upper Fourth at Malory Towers, p17)

Who's Who? The Great Twin Swap

“I had Chloe's hair, Chloe's eyes, Chloe's face, but I looked like Chloe only when I wore her clothes.”

Of course, when identical twins appear in girl's fiction, it is inevitable that there will be a twin swap. When this happens, one or both twins will adopt the other's identity to trick and deceive the people around them.

Sometimes this is a deliberate ploy, with both twins in on the plan. Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield used the swap so they could date two of Jessica's boyfriends at the same time. Marilyn and Carolyn Arnold swapped to confuse and annoy their baby-sitters. Pat and Isabel O'Sullivan use it to their advantage when Pat is banned from walking into town.

“Isabel told Pat what had happened. 'And she says you're not to go down to the town till you do your bit,' she said. 'But you can, Pat – because no one will know if it's you or me going! I don't think anyone can tell the difference between us yet.” (Enid Blyton, The Twins at St Clare's, p29)

At other times the twin swap method is adopted by one twin without the knowledge of the other. Jessica Wakefield uses her twin's name whenever she thinks it can get her out of trouble. Another time, Elizabeth Wakefield pretends she is Jessica, in a failed attempt to work out her feeling about Jessica's boyfriend Ken.

Twin swaps rarely happen without consequences. Twins are racked with guilt when the swap doesn't work as well as they had hoped (or it works too well); or they send themselves to the wrong lessons, upsetting the adults around them; or they are found out when both twins are seen together. Regardless of the consequences, though, the twin swap remains a tried and tested theme in the world of girl's fiction.

To the Exclusion of Others

“I didn't care about anyone besides Chloe.”

“We weren't clones; we were twins, connected in a way that nothing could ever change. We'd always be together, no matter what curves (spinal or otherwise) life threw at us. And maybe that's what being twins is really all about.” (Ann M. Martin, Abby's Twin, p126-7)

It is acknowledged in girl's fiction that twins have a special bond, a relationship that no one else can really understand. From time to time this leads to the exclusion of other characters, who feel they cannot break past this bond. This is evident with twins such as Nan and Di Blythe, who keep secrets, and share adventures together – leaving them separated from their younger sister Rilla, who seems to feels she has little in common with the twins.

Ruth and Connie Batten are another example of this. When the girls arrive at Malory Towers, they do everything together – or more correctly Connie does everything for Ruth. The girls are not quite seen as a single entity, but their closeness – and their fierceness to anyone who tries to pull them apart – separates them from the other girls in the Upper Fourth.

The Drina books, however, have the best example of a pair of twins who are close to the point of excluding everyone around them. The twins, Sue and Joan, walk around with their fingers linked, talk in unison, are constantly referred to as 'the Twins' rather than as individuals.

“ . . the twins, Joan and Sue, were like one person, unhappy if separated at all.”
“ . . the twins would never bother to grow very friendly with someone else.” (Jean Estoril, Drina in Exile, p52)

Joan and Sue are unusual in the books I have referred to. Unlike other twins who are identical, their personalities are as alike as their looks. They are completely wrapped up in each other, therefore alienating them from other characters, with the result that our main characters (Drina, and later Rose) end up feeling more alone than ever.

Premonitions and Pain – I have to look after you

“One day we would be old, we would be thirty, and Chloe would thank me.”

Characters in girl's fiction often feel they need to stand up for other family members. Darrell River's looks out for her little sister, Felicity; Rilla Blythe is anxious about her brother, Walter; Walter, himself fights to protect the good name of his mother. This trait is amplified when it comes to twins, especially when one twin is going through something horrid.

Abby Stevenson feels this when her twin, Anna, is diagnosed with scoliosis. Abby turns into mother hen, coddling and protecting her sister, buying her new clothes and devising plans that she's sure will make her sister 'happy.' When Abby gets too persistent, her plans backfire, and the twins end up fighting.

“Anna and I didn't speak to one another for the rest of the week . . After all the effort and care I'd put into helping her, she'd told me I was no help.” (Ann M. Martin, Abby's Twin, p108)

Connie, in the Malory Tower's books, takes a similar approach to Abby. She believes that Ruth cannot do anything without her help – whether it is making her bed, or getting dressed. She extends this over protective care by talking for her sister, even when Ruth is asked a direct question. Despite the other girl's in the form questioning this behaviour, Ruth and Connie insist that this is the way it has to be.

“ . . .Connie was making Ruth's bed for her!
'I can do that,' protested Ruth, but Connie pushed her aside. 'I've time, Ruth. You're slow at things like this. I always did it for you at our other school, and I can go on doing it here.' She looked around at the others and saw them watching her.
'Any objection?'” (Enid Blyton, Upper Fourth at Malory Towers, p26)

The need to help each other intensifies when one of the twins is in a dangerous situation. The Wakefield twins often refer to their twin 'radar', an understanding and closeness that allows one of them to know when the other one is in danger. This knowledge allows them to stage a thrilling rescue, doing whatever they need to do to have their sister back safe again.

Fighting for Survival

“How could you do that?” Chloe said. “What is wrong with you?”

Even twins who are the best of friends can turn on each other. Girl's fiction is littered with fights between twins – some of them minor and easily fixed; others huge and with devastating effects.

An excellent example of the latter is the fight between Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield over the jungle prom. Both girls decide they wish to be crowned the Jungle Queen, using their position as organisers to fight for the role. Events turn nasty when Jessica slips alcohol into Elizabeth's drink, and Elizabeth takes to the road in a car containing Jessica's boyfriend, Sam. Elizabeth is in a horrific car accident, in which Sam is killed.

The dispute highlights one of the problems with being twins. Oftentimes twins are in direct competition with each other – whether it is for the better grades, the prom queen title, or the cute boy at school.

In Mary Anne and the Great Romance, the Arnold twins are featured again. This time they are fighting each other rather than their baby sitters. Marilyn and Carolyn fight for friends, for the affection of their parents, and ultimately for space away from each other.

“'Well if I'm so different from Carolyn, then I don't want her sharing my room.'
Before Carolyn could even say. 'It isn't your room, it's ours,' which I knew she was going to do, Marilyn had marched to her desk, opened a drawer, and taken out a roll of masking tape. Then she stepped over to the window, which was in the middle of the room, placed the end of the tape on the exact centre of the window, and ran the tape down the sill to the floor and across the rug to the opposite wall.
'There,' she said. 'This half is mine. That half is yours. No crossing the line, get it?'” (Ann M. Martin, Mary Anne and the Great Romance, p67)

Eventually, the girls (with Mary Anne's help) decide that they will be happier, and more friendly, if they are able to have their own room. They approach their mother, who agrees, providing them with a smaller room each, which they are able to decorate on their own.

Enid Blyton takes a different approach to a set of twins fighting for survival. Ruth Batten decides she hates her sister Connie, after her sister asks her to deliberately fail her School Certificate exam. Ruth, who is also frustrated by her twin's domineering presence, begins to fight back in the only way she thinks she can – by destroying items which Connie is particularly fond or proud of. Eventually Ruth is calmed when she learns that she is to be separated from Connie in the following year, although Connie tries hard to hang on to her domination of her sister.

In the St Clare's books, Blyton avoids the problem of the twins fighting when it comes to deciding on the head-girl for the school.

“'That only leaves the O'Sullivan twins,' said Miss Cornwallis, 'and I am sure we cannot choose one without the other. They are inseparable and always have been. The other twin would feel very much left out if we chose one of them.'” (Enid Blyton, Fifth Formers of St. Clare's, p157)

The solution to this problem is suggested by Mam'zelle. She argues that the school is getting bigger and the head-girl's job is getting larger – therefore it makes sense to have two head-girls. The twins can share the position, therefore avoiding a situation where one of them is left out in favour of the other.

We're Not Twins When We Don't Look the Same

“If Chloe lost any more weight, she would be thinner than me, and we wouldn't look the same.”

Identical twins, in girl's fiction, stand out from the crowd – they are different from other people, because they are the same as each other. Therefore, the hardest thing for some of them is when they stop looking like each other.

“Anna agreed with me in rejecting all of the above. So when she yelled out, “There it is. There's my backpack,” I assumed it was the same one I had just spotted in the top row.
When Anna and I realised that we'd chosen different backpacks, we just stared at one another.
I felt very weird inside. We almost always had the same things. I could imagine going to first grade looking different to Anna.” (Ann M. Martin, Abby's Book, 24-26)

In the Baby-Sitter's Club books, there is constant emphasis on the differences between Abby and Anna, yet from time to time, there is a feeling that the girls rely on having someone who is like them. The back pack incident described above continues when the girls enter elementary school. They realise that one of them is going to have to get their hair cut in order for their teacher and classmates to tell them apart. Although they agree that they want to be seen as different people, the idea of looking different upsets both twins.

Abby feels this again when the Anna is diagnosed with scoliosis. Although Abby also has some curvature of the spine, hers is less severe than Anna's and she will not have to wear a brace.

“'I guess we're not as twin as we used to be,' Anna said quietly . . .
I felt as if I'd been slapped . . .
Anna looked up at me. 'Well, I'll be wearing a brace, and you won't. No one will have trouble telling us apart now.'” (Ann M Martin, Abby's Twin, p71)

Abby's solution to this problem is to have her hair cut the same as her twin sister's. This, she feels will make them look more alive, therefore preserving their status as twins. Her decision is opposite from the solution the Baby-Sitters Club devised to solve the Arnold twins' problems – while they are concentrating on survival as individuals, Abby is worried about her survival as a twin. By the end of the book she realises this is not as threatened as she thought it was, and that she can go back to looking like herself again.

“'And could you grow your hair back please? That cut looks much better on me,' Anna added, grinning.
'I know what you mean. You just don't have the face for wearing your hair long like me. I have the cheekbones to carry it off. You don't'” (Ann M Martin, Abby's Twin, p126)

Elizabeth Wakefield suffers a similar crisis of confidence when Jessica decides to dye her hair black.

“Elizabeth's eyes filled with tears. 'You look like a stranger!' she wailed. Then she turned and ran upstairs.” (Kate William, Jessica's Secret Diary, p34)

Jessica understands that her twin is upset by her new appearance, but is determined to stick with it, until she reads Elizabeth's diary. Then she realises that Elizabeth no longer feels close to Jessica, and that the closeness was one of the things Elizabeth valued most about being a twin.

“'Jessica!' Elizabeth shrieked, bouncing off my bed. 'You mean you're changing yourself back to being a plain old boring Wakefield twin?'
'When, may I ask, was being a Wakefield twin ever boring? Or plain?'” (Kate William, Jessica's Secret Diary, p55)


Twins will probably continue to appear in girl's fiction, whether they are friends, or fighting; competing, or excluding other people. In the second part of this two part 'feature', sangerin is going to look at twins (and triplets) appearing in the books of Elsie J Oxenham and Elinor M Brent-Dyer, with a special appearance by Louisa May Alcott.

-Quotes at the beginning of each section are taken from Twins by Marcy Dermansky. It's an excellent book, you should read it!
-Thank to sangerin for the encouragement, ideas and beta
-Thanks also to my acting manager at work who is an identical twin herself and told me lots of stories about the twin swaps she used to pull with her sister.

Blyton, Enid (1945) Fifth Formers at St Clare's – this edition published in Melbourne, 1991 by Reed International Books
Blyton, Enid (1941) The Twins at St Clare's – this edition published in Melbourne, 1991 by Reed International Books
Blyton, Enid (1949) Upper Fourth at Malory Towers – this edition published in London, 2000, by Mammoth
Dermansky, Marcy (2005) Twins, London: Headline Book Publishing
Estoril, Jean (1959) Drina Dances in Exile, London: Hodder and Stoughton
Martin, Ann M (1997) Abby's Book, New York: Scholastic Inc.
Martin, Ann M (1997) Abby's Twin, New York: Scholastic Inc.
Martin, Ann M (1989) Mallory and the Trouble with Twins, New York: Scholastic Inc.
Martin, Ann M (1990) Mary Anne and the Great Romance, New York: Scholastic Inc.
Montgomery, L. M. (1919) Rainbow Valley – the edition published in New York, 1992, by Bantam Books
Montgomery, L. M. (1921) Rilla of Ingleside – the edition published in New York, 1998, by Bantam Books
William, Kate (1983) Double Love, New York: Bantam Books
William, Kate (1994) Jessica's Secret Diary, New York: Bantam Books

  • (no subject)

    Apologies, I'm being slack in the announcements department. These titles were announced on Tuesday and will be published before the end of the year:…

  • More titles from GGB

    The following titles have just been announced. They will be up on the website in the next few days: Juliet of the Chalet School by Caroline German…

  • Admin Post - Please Help!

    To begin with, sorry for the break - it's been a really busy time of the year for your maintainers. We're looking for specific articles for the…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic
    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.

  • (no subject)

    Apologies, I'm being slack in the announcements department. These titles were announced on Tuesday and will be published before the end of the year:…

  • More titles from GGB

    The following titles have just been announced. They will be up on the website in the next few days: Juliet of the Chalet School by Caroline German…

  • Admin Post - Please Help!

    To begin with, sorry for the break - it's been a really busy time of the year for your maintainers. We're looking for specific articles for the…