Laurie Lee belongs to a large family, due to his father’s two marriages.
The first time, his father got 8 kids but only 5 survived: Marjorie, Dorothy, Phyllis, Reggie and Harold.
The second time, with Laurie’s mother, he got 4 kids and just 3 survived: Laurie, Tony and Jack. There are 8 members in the family and Laurie is one of the youngest.
I. The 3 half-sisters
Marjorie: is the eldest. She’s a blonde Aphrodite. She’s tall, long-haired, and dreamily gentle, and her voice is low and slow.
She’s quite unconscious of the rarity of herself, moving always to measures of oblivious grace and wearing her beauty like a kind of sleep. (p.61-62)
Dorothy: is a wispy imp, pretty and perilous as a firework. She is an active forager who lives on thrills, provoked adventure, and brought home gossip.
She is agile as a jungle cat, quick-limbed, entrancing, noisy. In repose, she is also something else: a fairy-tale girl, blue as a plum, tender and sentimental. (p.62)
Phyllis: is the youngest of the three. She’s a cool, quiet, tobacco-haired, fragile girl, who carries her good looks with an air of apology. She is an odd girl, an unclassified solitary, compelled to her own devices, quick to admire and slow to complain. (p.62-63)
Laurie gives us an account of his sisters’ personalities with a very detailed description. He seems to admire his sisters :
“These half sisters I cherished”, p.63
“Generous, indulgent, warm-blooded and dotty, these girls were not hard to admire. They seemed wrapped as it were in perpetual bloom, the glamour of their grown-up teens, and expressed for us boys all that women should be in beauty, style, and artifice. For there was no doubt at all about the beauty or the naturalness with which they wore it”, p.61
Laurie’s sisters protect and rescue him:
“Faces of rose, familiar, living; huge shining faces hung up like shields between me and the sky; faces with grins and white teeth (some broken) to be conjured up like genii with a howl, brushing off terror with their broad scolding and affection”, p.9
“Marjorie, the eldest, lifted me into her long brown hair, and ran me jogging down the path and trough the steep rose-filled garden”, p.10
“How magnificent they appeared, full-rigged, those towering girls, with their flying hair and billowing blouses, their white-mast arms stripped for work or washing; at any moments one was boarded by them, bussed and buttoned, or swung up high like a wriggling fish to be hooked and held in their lacy linen”, p.15
Moreover, when Laurie’s mother went to see his father, the sisters played a preponderant role. They played a part in Laurie’s education. They appeared as second parents and formed a microcosm closer to their brothers than their mother :
“Suddenly there where only girls in the house, tumbling about with brooms and dishcloths, arguing, quarrelling, and putting us to bed at random. […] Marjorie was breathless and everywhere; she was fourteen, with all the family in her care. […] But we ate; and the girls moved about in a giggling flurry, exhausted at their losing game. […] All this time the sisters went through the house, darting upstairs and down, beset on all sides by the rain coming in, boys growing filthier, sheets scorching, saucepans burning, and kettles boiling over. The doll’s-house became a mad house, and the girls frail birds flying in a wind of chaos. Doth giggled helplessly, Phyl wept among the vegetables, and Marjorie would say, when the day was over, “I’d lie down and die, if there was a place to lie down in”, p.20-21
II. The girls’ lovers
Marjorie’s is Maurice. Dorothy’s is Leslie, “a shy local scoutmaster, at least until he met her”. Phyllis’s is Harold the Bootmaker, “who had fine Latin books, played the piano by ear, and sang songs about old-fashioned mothers”, p.225
“The sisters, as I said, were about to get married. Harold was working at a factory lathe. Brother Jack was at grammar school, and his grammar was excellent; and Tony still had a fine tremble voice. My mother half-knew me, but couldn’t help, I felt doomed, and of all things wonderful.” p.231
“Marjorie was off to her Milliners’ Store. Dorothy was off to her job as junior clerk in a decayed cloth-mill by a stream. Phyllis was off to her Boots-and-shoes” p.68
III. The 2 half-brothers
Reggie: the firstborn, is only once mentioned because “he lived apart with his grandmother”, p.63
Harold: “was handsome, bony, and secretive, and he loved our absent father. He stood somewhat apart, laughed down his nose, and was unhappy more often than not. Though younger than the girls, he seemed a generation older, was clever with his hands, but lost.”, p.63
IV. The 2 true brothers
Jack: “was the eldest. He was the sharp one, bright as a knife, and was also my close companion. We played together, fought and ratted, built a private structure around us, shared the same bed till I finally left home, and lived off each other’s brains.” p.63
Tony: “the baby, strange and beautiful waif, was a brooding, imaginative solitary. Like Phyllis he suffered from being the odd one of three; worse still, he was the odd one of seven. He was always either running to keep up with the rest of us or sitting alone in the mud. His curious, crooked, suffering face had at times the radiance of a saint, at others the blank watchfulness of an insect. He could walk by himself or keep very still, get lost or appear as wrong moments. He drew like an artist, wouldn’t read or write, swallowed beads by the boxfull, sang and danced, was quite without fear, had secret friends, and was prey to terrible nightmares. Tony was the one visionary amongst us, the tiny hermit no one quite understood…”, p.63
Laurie seems to be very close to Jack:
“My brother Jack, who was with me in the Infants, was too clever to stay there long. Indeed he was so bright he made us uncomfortable.” p.47
“Jack, already the accepted genius, was long past our scope or help. It was agreed that his brains were of such distinction that they absolved him from mortal contacts. So he was left in a corner where his flashes of brilliance kept him twinkling away like a pin-table.” p.52-53
“He was jumpy, shifty, and quick-off-the-mark, an electric flex of nerves, skinny compared to the rest of us, or what farmers might call a ‘poor doer’. If they had, in fact, they would have been quite wrong, for Jack did himself very well. He had developed a mealtime strategy which ensured that he ate for two. Speed and guile were the keys to his success, and we hungry ones called him The Slider.” p.69