This month our blog theme is Family Reunion, and last month it was Love In All Its Forms, so for this edition of 4x4th Estate we’ve combined the two, with icky results. But icky is at may be, incest has always been an important theme in literature, from the epic poetry of Classical Greece to the latest blockbuster book adaptation on HBO. Here are four sets of fictional siblings who prove that when it comes to a good romantic plot, sometimes it’s more interesting to keep it in the family:
Ambrosio and Antonia (The Monk by Matthew Lewis)
Accidental incest is one of the most entertaining plot twists available to the shameless writer, as its repeated use in countless Jacobean revenge tragedies and Gothic melodramas proves. The archetypal ‘accidental incest’ plot is, of course, that of Ambrosio and Antonia in Matthew Lewis’s batshit crazy The Monk. Lewis was the 18th Century equivalent of the modern goth teenagers who write reams of paranormal romance in their bedrooms in between dying their hair black and applying liberal amounts of patchouli oil to their emaciated bodies. He wrote the book in 10 weeks while still in his teens, and its shocking denouement – in which Ambrosio, the titular monk, rapes and kills the virginal Antonia, who is then revealed by Satan himself to be Ambrosio’s sister – still retains the power to shock.
Charles and Camilla Macaulay (The Secret History by Donna Tartt)
The Secret History’s cult classic status is forged on its author’s ability to make studying Liberal Arts in New England seem as fantastical as a Greek myth. Whilst set in the early 90s, it seems timeless, perhaps due to the characters the narrator falls in with, who are more in line with the nutty fops of an Evelyn Waugh novel than then-contemporary plaid-clad grunge kids. There’s Henry Winter, the intellectually superior leader of the group, Bunny Corcoran, the Wodehousian jokester, the flamboyant Francis Abernathy, and the mysterious, beautiful twins, Charles and Camilla Macaulay. Aloof and intangible throughout, we’re constantly led to wonder what they’re up to. Towards the end of a novel that features a lot of Ancient Greek and an accidental murder that was the result of a Bacchanal, it somehow makes sense when we find out that mostly, they’ve been shagging.
Jaime and Cersei Lannister (A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin)
George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire has become a worldwide obsession since it was adapted for TV, with millions hungrily reading through monumental volumes of the byzantine soap opera. But would we have been glued to page and screen so swiftly without the conniving Lannister siblings? Their fiery fornication lights the touchpaper of the plot, as they brutally cover their tracks and cunningly manoeuvre their illegitimate son onto the throne, thereby sending Westeros to war. Without their twincestuous relationship, Eddard Stark would still have his head, and Game of Thrones would probably be a dull documentary on feudal agriculture.
Lefty and Desdemona (Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides)
Another example of classical themes of incest trickling down into contemporary literature, Jeffrey Eugenides’s Pultizer Prize winning novel is saturated with the myths of his Greek heritage, alluding to Calliope, Hermaphroditus, the blind prophet Tiresias, chimeras and more. As in The Secret History, it seems that incestuous relationships within are not intended to shock or to provoke, but rather continue the Greek mythological tradition. Though I’m not sure that ‘continuing the Greek mythological tradition’ is the sort of excuse that would stand up in court, were you keen to experiment yourself…
Words by Tom Killingbeck.
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