Famous landmark at Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, 2 hours drive west of Sydney, Australia. The Three Sisters is a spectacular natural rock formation, comprising of three tall craggy domes of sandstone, situated high upon a cliff face, hundreds of meters above the valley floor. A local aboriginal tradition tells the story of three sisters turned to stone by a magician.

See also Three Sisters for more things of the same name. In neither place however is the most famous Three Sisters noded, the 1901 play by Anton Chekhov (there is no 'the' in Russian so it could be either). I'm not here to node that and have /msg'ed anthropod, our Chekhov expert; but I can't get onto what I want to say without briefly mentioning it.

Olga, Masha, and Irina are the sisters stultifying in a provincial town. Masha is married to the teacher but has an affair with the military commander Vershinin. Their brother Andrei marries Natalya, who interferes with their lives, and also has an affair. Another character portrait is Chebutykin, the useless and drunken doctor. The play is a star vehicle for women, and some famous productions have involved three real sisters or, failing that, close relatives: for example Vanessa Redgrave, Lynn Redgrave, and Gemma Redgrave.

The Three Sisters is a short epistolary novel by the young Jane Austen, included in her Volume the First, of juvenilia she chose to preserve. It is the first (reading the volume sequentially) with real characters whom one would want to see continued in a mature vein; I suppose she was seventeen or so when she wrote it.

It consists of only four letters, two from Mary, the eldest Miss Stanhope, to a friend, and a further two from Miss Georgiana Stanhope to a friend of hers; and in this they give their separate views of a match in the making. The sisters are very different in character, Mary foolish and Georgiana sensible, and the middle sister Sophia is seen to be like Georgiana.

Mr Watts is an odious and unhandsome man of some small fortune, not a great deal but enough to be a good match for the family. He does not care personally for any of the girls but is willing to take any of them. He offers to Mary first as the eldest, but is clear that he will then offer to Sophy, and then to Georgiana, if refused.

This is Mary's quandary, for although she loathes him, she is quite willing and eager to marry into his money if he will treat her like a queen, and set up her with all the coaches and jewels and entertainments she demands; and she would be mortified if her younger sisters (or indeed their acquaintances the Duttons) got to be married first, with the social priority over her that this entailed.

So the ridiculous and selfish Mary pours out to her friend Fanny her alternate hopes and fears, delights and dislikes. Mr Watts is very old, all of 32, but unfortunately in good health, so he cannot be expected to die soon enough.

The amused and sprightly Georgiana describes to her friend Anne the deceit she and Sophy are playing, both with a slightly uneasy conscience, in making her think they will accept Mr Watts if she does not: thereby forcing her into an advantageous marriage, believing that on the whole she will be better in such a position (and perhaps will not keep getting such chances).

That really is all it is. Georgiana's two letters are both long, so it does go on for some pages. It is not the amount of plot that is remarkable but the sudden certainty with which the young Jane Austen has created totally believable characters. Many of them could appear in the mature novels, product of years of thought and revision: Mary resembles the younger Bennet sisters as well as Mary Musgrove; Georgiana reminds me somewhat of Emma Watson, rather than the spirited Elizabeth Bennet, and I can't see Jane Bennet conspiring the way Sophy cheerfully does. Their mother rails at Mary the way Mrs Bennet does; the odious Mr Watts is somewhere on the Mr Darcy-Mr Palmer-Mr Collins continuum; and so on.

Finally there is the interesting Mr Brudenell, who is a visitor to the Duttons when the Stanhopes call and Mary vulgarly shows off her impending marriage. Jemima and Kitty lead her out in discussing it, to the amusement and horror of Georgiana and Sophy, and this well-bred Mr Brudenell is clearly transfixed with disgust and, indeed, amusement, at what she is saying. The thing I curse most about the shortness of this story is that there is no glance of the eye between him and Georgiana, for in a longer work you immediately know he would come to play a very important part indeed in her future.

There is an e-text of it at http://home.earthlink.net/~lfdean/austen/

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