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How do you feel about a brother marrying the sister in...

[poll id=”221″]

I was at a used bookstore the other day and I came across an old Judith Duncan book. Judith Duncan used to write great stories for the Silhouette Intimate Moments and Harlequin Superromance line. One of the titles I loved was “If Wishes Were Horses” and it was about a man who loved his sister in law but because of his honor simply would never act on those feelings. The sister in law and her kids come to love with him because the brother died and left the sister in law in dire straights.

Each day that the hero spends with the sister in law is sweet torture. Sweet because she is in his house, sleeping in a bed that he bought, caring for her children, and looking happier than ever. Torture because he can’t touch her, can’t love her like his heart longs to.

I adore the brother who loves his sister in law story. That unrequited, unfulfilled love story really tugs at my heartstrings. In Bed with the Boss by Susan Napier has the same sort of vibe only the deceased husband and hero are not related.

However, I know that my love for these stories is not universal. In fact, I think I might even be in the minority. Some feel that the brother + sister in law story is too incestual. Others believe the issue of family strife is too difficult to overcome. The marriage between a man and his deceased wife’s sister was actually outlawed until 1907 in Britain (although I didn’t see a corollary law prohobiting a man from marrying his deceased brother’s wife). This was a list of prohibited marriages I found enacted in 1560 and remaining law until 1907 and beyond.

Biblically, there were conflicting accounts. It seems in Leviticus, God demanded that there be no marriage between a man and his brother’s wife. Yet in Deuteronomy, “the wife of the dead shall not be remarried outside of the family to a stranger; her husband’s brother shall go into her, and take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.” Deuteronomy 25:15. This is called a levirate marriage (or Yibbum) as “levir” means “brother in law”. Apparently some have reconciled this biblical conflict by suggesting that the levirate marriage only take place if the first marriage was without issue.

In googling this concept, I came across the true love story of a woman who married her dead husband’s younger brother. Neither had feelings for the other while the deceased was alive and it was only after his death that the two became close and discovered they had feelings for one another. It was a rather sweet story despite not containing the intense feelings of longing that I enjoy in those unrequited love stories. What about you? Does the brother marrying the sister in law bother you? Does it matter if the former husband is dead? Do you like the stories? Why or why not?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

68 Comments

  1. Evi
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 04:17:42

    I recently read “the next best thing” by Kristan Higgins, which is about this subject – and I absolutely loved the book!
    Ethan was in love with Lucy, but never told her, even not when she married his elder brother. When Jimmy died after a very short marriage, Ethan turned out to be Lucy´s best friend and the one she always could count on. He was such a sweet guy, that Ethan. But it took Lucy a long time to find out, he could be more than a friend, especially because she didn´t want to fall in love (and lose someone) again.
    I highly recommend that book!!

  2. Sami Lee
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 04:34:29

    I love a hero in love with his brother’s wife but his moral code prevents him from doing anything about it. All that angsty longing… sigh. I don’t think the husband would have to be dead, but the relationship would definitely have to be over. I can’t say though, that I’ve ever seen the trope handled that way i.e. a man becoming involved with his brother’s ex-wife. I’d like to read one like that though… (perhaps I’ll have to tackle it myself one day :)).

    The list of prohibited marriages is hilarious. They had to legislate so people wouldn’t marry thier grandparents??

  3. jmc
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 05:56:18

    In a historical novel, maybe. If there were property issues, or some sort of cultural obligation to take care of the brother’s widow and/or children.

    But in contemporaries, no. It’s one of my squicks. A really good author can get around this (see Jennifer Crusie’s Crazy for You) but as a general rule, if I see that the hero is the brother of the heroine’s ex or dead husband/SO, then I put the book back down. There are some things siblings should NOT share, and spouses and lovers are on that list.

  4. Marianne McA
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 06:02:42

    I’ve a vague feeling the Levirate marriage was to do with keeping the family name or land – economic and social reasons, really.
    My bible study group is all women, and I do remember the thoughtful silence that fell when we studied that passage and actually contemplated having to marry a brother-in-law…. Think there was universal relief that those times have long passed.

    I like that Duncan book too – so I voted that I like the stories, but I don’t think I’ve read many. (Julia Quinn’s ‘When he was wicked’ was another I liked, but I think that was a close cousin.)
    I’d imagine it’d depend how they were written.

  5. library addict
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 06:18:03

    Normally, this type of scenario is not one I enjoy. I don't think of such a relationship as incestuous, just awkward. But I have much the same reaction to the whole bff being secretly in love with their friend's wife, not just when it's two brothers.

    I think the closeness of families often makes it difficult for me to buy into the HEA for the new couple. I wonder why the woman chose to marry brother A if brother B is the hero of the story. For me, it's a huge deficit the author needs to overcome and, TBH, not many pull it off successfully.

    But, as usual, it really comes down to the way the author handles the situation in the specific book in question.

  6. Carin
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 07:01:32

    I don’t have any problem with it in a book. In my family it’s happened twice past 30 years, though, and I can tell you it’s PAINFUL in real life.

    I haven’t read the Kristan Higgins book that Evi mentioned, but I did read and enjoy Too Good To Be True, by the same author. Interestingly, in this book the heroine, Grace, is quite the martyr about the fact that her fiancee dumped her shortly before the wedding in order to date her younger sister. So, same trope, different POV.

  7. May
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 07:20:09

    It always has a certain ‘eww’ factor for me. The thought of getting it on with someone who’s been there/done that with my own sister is gross. So I prefer to avoid those tales.
    I’m sure it happens in real life, and I don’t have a problem with it, I just don’t like it in my romance books. Kristan Higgins wrote two – her latest and another where the girl ends up with her former brother in law (sister still living) that both were good, but I just couldn’t get into it the same as a book without the family connection.

  8. Elizabeth
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 07:29:37

    As a member of the clergy, in the 1980’s I had a elderly couple, married over 50 years, whose older siblings (still) opposed the marriage. Why? They were step-brother and sister. Both were the youngest of parents who were left with a number of children to care for when their spouse died. In the early 1900’s, remarriage was a practical necessity.
    I’m sure the older siblings all had the “ew” factor — but I can say that these two had a long and healthy relationship, and it made me rethink my assumptions. No blood ties, no power disparity, no great age difference — love blooms in odd places, sometimes.

  9. Scorpio M.
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 07:43:29

    I specifically did NOT buy Kristan Higgans’, The Next Best Thing because of the sleeping with the brother-in-law (in a ‘friends with benefits’ situation, no less) business. I am bothered by the idea of a woman having sexual relations with two members of the same immediate family. It hits the ick-factor for me.

    The best brother loves sister in law story I’ve ever read (and not bothered by it b/c marriage was never consummated) was Texas Destiny by Lorraine Heath. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.

  10. theo
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 07:48:19

    “Love, having no geography, knows no boundaries.”

    Author: Truman Capote

    (1924-1984)

    I always loved that quote though I do draw the line at incestuous relations. But relation through marriage, for me anyway, is different. So I enjoy stories like that.

    And in When He Was Wicked, Michael is only a cousin, but even so, I loved it.

  11. Jill Q
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 07:59:54

    I think it really depends on the author and how they portray it. I can’t put into words exactly what would make it okay and what wouldn’t. I think maybe dwelling on the angst might be what would make it a turn off for me.
    I tried to sit down and write a story where a woman was in love with her best friend’s husband and didn’t act on it until the best friend died. And I just couldn’t write it. It felt too icky to write even without any blood ties involved. I still might read another author’s interpretation of that story, but I couldn’t work out my own version without getting the heebie jeebies.

  12. Claudia Dain
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 08:05:46

    This is one of those story lines that leaves me cold. See, this happened in my extended family (brothers divorced their wives and one brother married the other brother’s ex-wife—each couple had children who were then both cousins and step-siblings) and it was all very awkward. It happened many decades ago and yet the kids, and the people the kids married, still have to deal with it. And explain it to the kids of the kids. In real life, the story doesn’t end with the honeymoon.

  13. Kara T
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 08:09:01

    I don’t have an issue with it…as long as it is death. When it is just divorce, then I run into problems. Luanne Rice has one where it is just divorce and they even have a child together…True Blue. I had a little problem with that one. Just hit a nerve with me.

    However, I have read a few where the sibling has died and it didn’t bother me that much.

  14. LVLM
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 08:09:43

    Is the specifically the brother-in-law marrying the dead brother’s wife scenario or the longing and unrequited love that the book portrayed that affected you so deeply?

    I love any unrequited love stories between any characters when social mores and laws are the reason they cannot be together.

    It’s all about the tension of that unfulfilled love that creates a longing in me that the characters finally get together. Especially if the author does it right.

    I wouldn’t specifically go after reading an in law love after a death, but I don’t think it wrong either and wouldn’t be squicked out by it.

  15. Lynn M
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 09:00:09

    I couldn’t answer your poll because I needed another option – I have no strong feelings about it either way (neither for or against) and it really all depends on the story and situation. If there is some form of adultery going on, no thanks. But if there is love involved and a clean break from the first brother via death or divorce, I’m totally fine with it. I don’t even understand the whole incestuous thing because there is absolutely no blood relationship between the wife and brother-in-law. More awkward for me is to imagine family gatherings with the wife now attached to a different brother.

  16. DS
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 09:26:36

    No issues with the story line but I am told it does tend to make the family reunions difficult if the left out spouse is still alive.

    I do remember a story in Analog Science Fiction Magazine from the 70’s– cannot remember the actual sf part, but what I did learn is that in traditional Tibet a woman could end up married to all the brothers in a family– fraternal polyandry.

  17. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 09:34:54

    The marriage between a man and his deceased wife's sister was actually outlawed until 1907 in Britain (although I didn't see a corollary law prohobiting a man from marrying his deceased brother's wife).

    Actually, it's #18 on the chart you link to (#17 is wife’s sister). Such marriages were legal but voidable (by either party and ANYONE else; meaning your cousin who would inherit if you had no legitimate children could challenge your marriage and have all your children declared illegitimate) until 1835. The 1835 Act made all such marriages illegal, but grandfathered in any already in existence.

    This is why the evil BIL forcing the widow into marragie trope irks the crap out of me.

  18. Jennifer M
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 09:54:45

    This doesn’t bother me at all. In fact I love it when the author also explores the effects of the relationship on the family dynamics. I just finished reading Kristan Higgins’ book Fools Rush In, which features a guy who gets divorced from one sister, then falls for the other sister. While I didn’t like the book because I thought the heroine was TSTL, the fact that they were in-laws was no problem for me.

    Another recent one that some people found squicky was Charlaine Harris’s series starting with Grave Sight in which a stepbrother and stepsister work together, then end up falling in love. Again I have no problem with this type of story and I loved this series. Both of the leads in it had a pretty awful life and had only each other to count on, so I was pretty happy that they actually got together. To me, as long as there isn’t a blood tie, I’m fine with it.

  19. Mary Lamb
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 10:01:16

    I dunno -I think there is a bit of an “ick” factor, expecially in contemporaries. I can buy it a bit more if there are no kids (calling someone both stepdad and uncle is a bit much, I think) and maybe the brother has been away a loooooong time -prefereably the whole marriage. This way, he never thought of his brother’s wife as a sister maybe because he didn’t even know his brother was married?

    Angst and un-requited longing for the heroine does make me sigh -but I think it is dishonorable to lust after your brother’s wife. I think most likeable or honorable men (or woman) would be grown up enough to not “go there.” And eventually crushes do go away, if they are not fed.

  20. willaful
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 10:58:27

    I used to find these a bit icky, especially if they’re having sex while the heroine is pregnant with the brother’s child, as you often get in a Harlequin Presents. But then I read Hearts of the West by Penelope Williamson, which is beyond awesome, and now I love ‘em when done well. (No pregnant sex in that, btw.)

  21. Ros
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 11:20:37

    Yes, but only if… it’s a good story.

    I need the author to make me believe in it, to make me see how it’s romantic. I don’t object to this in principle but I wouldn’t say it’s a trope I seek out. I really don’t get the incestuous vibe at all. No one’s asking anyone to marry their own brother or sister.

  22. Kristi
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 11:25:05

    Funny, I don’t find them icky in books. I think I like unrequited love stories, or ones about friends who finally put 2 and 2 together and become lovers. That’s so sweet. It wouldn’t be if the jilted sibling were alive and there was any hope of a happy extended family in the future–that is a HEA I would have trouble believing.

    But several other commenters mentioned ick factors relating to their own siblings. Ugh. I have 4 sisters, and I have never had any desire (or even inkling of desire) to date any of their significant others. Wierd, wierd, icky, wierd, yuck. But then, my sisters & I all have very different taste in men (thankfully!)

  23. Susan/DC
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 11:35:05

    If asked in the abstract, I’d say that I don’t like this trope, but when I think of specific books, including both the Kristan Higgins (The Next Best Thing) and the Jennifer Crusie (Crazy About You), I liked them both. In the former the first husband is dead, in the latter the heroine’s sister and the hero have been divorced for a long time. OTOH, I know I’ve read books where either the hero or the heroine (usually the latter) mopes around for years, and all I want to say is “get on with your life”. This is especially true if the heroine fell in love with her BIL at 18 and never, ever looked at another man — that, to me, is not True Love but an obsession not necessarily grounded in Reality. In that case I often don’t like her very much.

  24. lucy
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 11:55:14

    I saw a case in TV, in a jerry springer type show, that was almost like this but waaayy worse. The daughter wanted to marry her ex-stepfather. Even thought the daughter didn’t live with them while her mom and the guy were married there is definitely a ick factor there. So there are worse things than marrying your brother or sister in law.

    I have actually read a contemporary book where the daughter married the stepfather but the mom was dead. And I’m actually reading one right now where the heroine was married to the brother of the hero. It’s kinda confusing because I think they were both married the first time they slept together.

    In real life it’s kinda tawdry and disgusting, but I don’t mind the trope in romance. I’ll read anything that has a HEA. So things that normally bother people because of moral issues don’t really matter to me if its fiction.

  25. SAO
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 11:59:12

    Massachusetts law states:

    Section 1. No man shall marry his mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, stepmother, grandfather's wife, grandson's wife, wife's mother, wife's grandmother, wife's daughter, wife's granddaughter, brother's daughter, sister's daughter, father's sister or mother's sister.

    Section 2 says no woman shall marry her father, grandfather, etc.

    Section 3 states: The prohibition of the two preceding sections shall continue notwithstanding the dissolution, by death or divorce, of the marriage by which the affinity was created, unless the divorce was granted because such marriage was originally unlawful or void.

    In Mass, Woody Allen’s marriage would not be legal, unless he never married Mia Farrow.

    The law further states that “the issue of a marriage declared void by reason of consanguinity or affinity between the parties shall be a person born out of wedlock”.

    I’d imagine most if not all states have incest laws.

    However, you can marry your brother’s wife or your husband’s brother.

    I kind of like the forbidden love trope, but it is often so badly done. And while my brother-in-law is a really nice guy and attractive with a great smile, he could be sexier than a young Brad Pitt and I’d still be squicked out at the thought of kissing him (aside from sisterly pecks on the cheek), not to mention anything else.

  26. brooksse
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 12:06:47

    Most of the brother-in-law stories I remember reading seem to be where the heroine and brother #1 were involved first, heroine and brother #1 had split up, heroine married brother #2, brother #2 died, with the story focusing on the heroine and brother #1 getting back together.

  27. rlynn
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 12:09:02

    No, squicks me out.
    I read Kristan Higgins “Fools Rush In” and thanks to the in-law angle, haven’t been able to read anymore Higgins novels even though she’s often recommended. After I read it, I kept trying to imagine getting together with my sister’s husband while they’re in the midst of a divorce and the yuck factor was just too much to handle.
    I do have to say though that people have mentioned books that I loved where the in-law angle didn’t bother me at all. But reflecting on it, I think there’s a key difference. In both Heath’s “Texas Destiny” and Williamson’s “Heart of the West”, the heroine is a mail order bride and she and the hero have an attraction before she ever marries his brother.
    I think this is the key for me. The romantic relationship always occurs prior to the familial relationship. And in both of these books, the familial relationship actually never really forms at all since the attraction happened first. It was never, I’m falling for my relative’s spouse. It was always, I’m painfully honor bound to marry the relative of my beloved.

  28. orannia
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 15:59:20

    I’m going to sit on the fence and say it depends :) I don’t have any examples of the squick factor making an appearance (but never say never :)

    I too adored When He Was Wicked. But the books that sprung to mind when I read the post was the Flambards series (KM Peyton). [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flambards] In the final book in the series (I’m entering spoiler territory BTW) the heroine falls in love with her brother-in-law (her husband having died during WWI) and the book ends with the anticipation that the Marriage Act will be amended to allow a man to marry his dead brother’s wife.

  29. Karla
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 16:08:18

    SAO
    I’m sure Mia and Woody never got married, so his marriage to Soon-Yi is legal in MA.

  30. Ros
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 16:41:45

    @orannia: Flambards! I loved the first two books but I really didn’t like the second two. I never believed that Mark had changed as much as we were supposed to think he had done. And I just don’t think Christina was the sort of woman who would just keep marrying again and again (there was the stable boy too, wasn’t there?)

  31. Kat
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 16:47:48

    For some reason when it’s sister in love with brother-in-law I think it’s weird… However, I like the brother in love with sister-in-law storyline. (Maybe because I only have sisters and I’d think it was gross if it was me?) That’s why I get squicked out by some of Kristan Higgans’ books yet “The Borrowed Bride” by Elizabeth Lane (heroine pregnant by one brother, other brother marries her to legitimize) is one of my faves! so contradictory.

  32. willaful
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 17:58:39

    “In both Heath's “Texas Destiny” and Williamson's “Heart of the West”, the heroine is a mail order bride and she and the hero have an attraction before she ever marries his brother.”

    That’s actually not true of HotW – she’s not a mail order bride and she meets and chooses to marry her husband before she meets his brother. Just in case it’s important to anyone.

  33. peggy h
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 18:15:50

    I seem to have less trouble with it when the original spouse is dead. I read Kristan’s Next Best Thing with trepidation, but surprised myself by enjoying it in the end. However, I didn’t enjoy her Fools Rush In, where the first spouse was still alive and well, and there was a nephew. (Fortunately, I read her Just One of the Guys first, where there was nary a hand-me-down lover in sight, so I was not put off Kristan’s books for life.) Loved, loved, loved When He Was Wicked. The “second epilogue” of this was the only one of Julia Quinn’s that I bought just to see how the crazy kids were doing after the end of the book.

    Jennifer Crusie’s Crazy for You is one of my least favorite of her books, precisely because of the sleeping-with-a-former-in-law-while-everyone-is-still-alive issue. What saves it for me (aside from Crusie just being Crusie) is that the first marriage happened when both were young, there were no kids being bewildered by “my aunt is now my stepmother” and the marriage ended quickly and much time has passed.

    So I guess I am put off but depending on the author and the reviews, I could still be tempted to read the book. In general, though, it just seems so uncomfortable–Thanksgiving in the Fools Rush In family must be a little odd–the guy sitting around the table with the two women with whom he’s shared the intimacies of married life!

    (On the other hand, my guilty favorite is step-sibling romance, which I know squicks out some people with the not-illegal-but-kinda-sorta-incestuous-feel way more than hand-me-down romance. So I guess we all have our quirks!)

  34. DS
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 18:22:33

    @SAO:

    No man shall marry his …stepmother….

    That is bizarre, I wonder why stepmother is picked out as the only non blood related relationship that cannot result in a legal marriage?

    I was curious enough to check West Virginia’s and it goes even further. You have to lookout for those double cousins.

    §48-2-302. Prohibition against marriage of persons related within certain degrees.
    (a) A man is prohibited from marrying his mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, granddaughter, half sister, aunt, brother’s daughter, sister’s daughter, first cousin or double cousin. A woman is prohibited from marrying her father, grandfather, brother, son, grandson, half brother, uncle, brother’s son, sister’s son, first cousin or double cousin.

    The prohibition is both by consanguinity (common ancestor) and affinity (marriage).

  35. Miki S
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 19:12:31

    Maybe it’s because I have only brothers, but I don’t have any problems with this one at all … unless they lived together as brother and sister. (Same goes with steps).

    Of course, people look at me odd when I talk about my “dad’s wife” and “mom’s husband” (rather than saying “stepmom” or “stepdad”). Neither party had a hand in raising me; I lived with neither one as a child. They are – as far as I’m concerned – my parents’ spouses.

    Seems I’ve seen this often enough in Harlequin categories that it never occurred to me that some would have issues with it. In fact, I think I have a SSE on my library ‘wish list’ named “The Wrong Brother” …

  36. cories
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 19:15:10

    In books, it doesn’t bother me. In real life, well… As much as I like my brother-in-law (for putting up with my sister, if nothing else), I’m not attracted to him nor am I attracted to his brother. Also, I remember the big deal, when I was a child, that resulted from my maternal aunt briefly dating my paternal cousin. They were the same age and weren’t even related by blood, but the situation was still seen as a big no-no.

  37. Lorelie Brown
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 19:25:28

    I can’t help but think of the Seth Bullock character in Deadwood. :) He married his brother’s widow in order to protect her & his brother’s son. It’s the set up keeping him from from Twu Luv Alma & is framed as self-sacrificing but, well, kinda stoopid.

    (It’s also totally fictional. The real Seth Bullock’s marriage was in no way related to his brother.)

  38. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 19:32:48

    @Lorelie Brown: By the Victorian era, esp in the States, marrying a widowed SIL was almost seen as a duty.

  39. hapax
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 20:25:39

    I picked the “No” option although I have read romances where it worked (also the “brother marrying dead wife’s sister” version).

    But then again, I’ve read romances with serial killer heros that worked for me! (Never one where the heroine falls in love with her rapist, though. Yet.)

    When the premise carries such a huge automatic personal squick, the author has an almost insurmountable cliff to overcome. Even when the author pulls it off, there is always a residual “ewww” aftertaste, that prevents the story from becoming a re-reader.

  40. RebeccaJ
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 20:50:39

    If the brother is dead, it doesn’t bother me a bit.

  41. orannia
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 21:34:20

    @Ros – yes, Dick (Richard). IIRC Christina married Will in the second book, then she went back to Flambards and marries Dick, and then in the fourth book she marries Mark. And no, I didn’t really see her as the marrying numerous times type either…but I must confess to believing that Mark had changed, but then I’m a sap :)

  42. Lorelie Brown
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 22:05:08

    @Kalen Hughes: Yup. My lack of clarity – “totally fictional” referring to Seth Bullock specifically. As far as I know, Martha Eccles had nothing to do with Seth’s brother.

    But get this – I just googled deeper to make sure I wasn’t *totally* talking out my ass and a Mr. Kislingbury apparently married TWO of Seth Bullock’s sisters. First Agnes, and after she died, Jessie. Huh.

  43. Mezza
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 23:05:23

    Twenty-odd yers ago, this happened in my family and so half the kids are my first cousins and the other half my second cousins. Difficult at the immediate time but now they are the strong centre of our extended family and you couldn’t pry the step-siblings apart. It does happen and in this case everyone’s lives became better and maybe that is the secret to it working in a novel. There has to not just be the fact of a relationship but some growth towards comletion/redemption….

  44. Maili
    Jun 02, 2010 @ 02:32:49

    I voted no, which is rather bizarre considering the fact I don’t see anything wrong with cousins marrying. I think I’m influenced by this country’s culture. People’s eyebrow tends to rise very high when a widower marries his former sister-in-law whereas it’s not the case when cousins marry.

    @Kalen Hughes:

    By the Victorian era, esp in the States, marrying a widowed SIL was almost seen as a duty.

    Not including Britain between 1835 and 1900s, right? As far as I know, British citizens can only marry their former sister-in-laws when living abroad and outside the British colonies? Correct me if I’m wrong.

    @SAO:

    In Mass, Woody Allen's marriage would not be legal, unless he never married Mia Farrow.

    I’m guessing you’re referring to his current marriage. He’d never married Mia Farrow and never lived with her and her family (they lived in their own homes throughout their relationship). His current wife had never been his adopted daughter or step-daughter (the media for some reason rarely corrected this misconception).

    Gah, it kills me that I’m somewhat defending Allen (I don’t like his films and I do think he’s a cad for having an affair with her behind Farrow’s back).

    Edited: Megan Chance’s After the Frost and Lorraine Heath’s Parting Gifts worked for me, though, which is odd because in those stories both spouses are still alive. Probably because both were supportive of the concept?

  45. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 02, 2010 @ 08:05:38

    @Lorelie Brown: I was royally ticked when I found out that there was no little boy, let alone one who died tragically! Yanking our collective emotional chain big time.

    @Maili: Yes, outside Britain.

    Personally, I’m way more familiar with the laws of Britain in the 18th century, since that’s what I write about, but marriage law is always interesting.

  46. jep
    Jun 02, 2010 @ 09:00:18

    i have no problem with as long as everyone is dead and they did not act on any feelings wjile alive. Some titles I liked were

    BEHIND CLOSED DOORS (Loveswept, No 496) by Olivia Rupprecht
    Her Sister’s Baby by Janice Kay Johnson (Highly rec)
    If Wishes Were Horses by Judith Duncan
    In Name Only by Janet Bieber (historical)

    But only in a book

  47. Kelly L.
    Jun 02, 2010 @ 10:16:40

    Doesn’t really bother me in historicals or in contemporaries when the first sibling is dead. If it’s divorce, I just think of all the drama that lies ahead!

    I also like it better if Woman never really knew Brother B during her marriage to Brother A. Like…the brothers were estranged, or one was away in the military, or something, so it wasn’t a case of the infatuation starting during the first marriage.

  48. Ivy
    Jun 02, 2010 @ 14:10:31

    If the brother is dead I’m good w/ it…That’s about the only way..Lauren Dane had 1 like that & I loved it. Part of a series set in a sm. Southern town, name escapes me right now.

  49. SonomaLass
    Jun 02, 2010 @ 23:07:59

    Yes, but only when the brother isn’t responsible for the end of the first marriage. I can completely understand how a woman, having become part of her husband’s family, can still be close with them even if she’s no longer married to him (widowed or divorced). It’s even more likely if there are kids involved, especially if the in-law family is more nurturing somehow that the woman’s own family. Both of my brother’s ex-wives are still treated as part of our extended family, because they have custody of the kids and he was the one who chose divorce, both times. I can see that it would be awkward if my other brother got romantically interested in one of them, but awkward can be interesting (especially in romance fiction, with a guaranteed HEA).

    Historically, this is what Henry VIII did. The Catholic church held that one’s brother’s wife was one’s sister; Henry wanted to marry Catherine of Aragon, his brother Arthur’s widow. He had to get a dispensation from the Pope, for which he worked pretty hard. Then when he wanted to drop Catherine for Anne Boleyn, he tried to get the Pope to say he’d be wrong to grant the dispensation and that Henry should never have been allowed to marry Catherine. She and her family fought that, of course, and in the end the Pope refused to take it back. So Henry declared himself head of the Church of England. So it can be more than awkward, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for this reader.

  50. Emily
    Jun 03, 2010 @ 05:24:14

    @Ros – yes, Dick (Richard). IIRC Christina married Will in the second book, then she went back to Flambards and marries Dick, and then in the fourth book she marries Mark. And no, I didn’t really see her as the marrying numerous times type either…but I must confess to believing that Mark had changed, but then I’m a sap :)

  51. Nic
    Jun 03, 2010 @ 17:19:16

    Hmm I don’t mind a good convoluted story line. The best one I read was where the brother left after have a brief and torrid relationship with the girl, hears later that she married the brother so he stays away, then when the brother dies comes back to find that his brothers son is actually his and she married the brother because he did not want anyone to know he was gay and she was pregnant…..

    Now that was confusing but had a great HEA at the end of it :)

  52. Tweets that mention How do you feel about a brother marrying a sister in law? -- Topsy.com
    Jun 03, 2010 @ 17:37:57

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Keira, Nicola Pitt. Nicola Pitt said: RT @reviewromance: How do you feel about a brother marrying a sister in law? http://is.gd/cBAi6 […]

  53. Natalie
    Jun 04, 2010 @ 11:52:28

    Hmm, I know someone in my maternal grandmother’s family, I think one of her uncles, married both the oldest and youngest sisters in a family. They are buried on either side of him, matching maiden and married names on the tombstones. I always found it kind of sweet, though I wish I knew the story behind it.

  54. alice s
    Jun 04, 2010 @ 11:59:49

    Helen Brenna’s First Come Twins had a similar story line to what Nic mentioned where the hero and the heroine where childhood sweethearts. The heroine got pregnant with twins when the hero left to go to college and ended up marrying the hero’s brother. The novel is highly recommended and packs up quite an emotional angst for a series book. I too find this trope a bit icky but so far I have enjoyed many books with this theme including the oft mentioned When he was wicked, Her Sister’s baby and The next best thing. I also enjoyed Susan Crosby’s The Forbidden Twin which has the twin sister hooking up with her twin sister’s jilted Fiance.

  55. silvia
    Jun 04, 2010 @ 17:24:32

    @hapax:
    “But then again, I've read romances with serial killer heros that worked for me!”
    –wait, what? I need a recommendation for this!

    If the book’s got major hopeless pining and unrequited love that turns into requited love… I’d check it out. I can definitely overcome any issues with brother-in-law action. Though–okay, NOT if she’s currently pregnant with the other brother’s kid. No kids in general from the other marriage. That’s just awkward.

  56. Rahza
    Jun 15, 2010 @ 01:48:10

    Id have to say I love this concept and have for quite a long time.I love the “taboo” aspect and intenseness of it.Though I enjoy the brother secretly longing for his sister in law, I also find it amazing when the two dislike eachother before the husband dies and then end up falling in love afterwards.I have heard recently of a book being out about the relationship between Jackie Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy becoming intimate or maybe just closer than before after JFK’s assanation.Who knows how much truth there is to that but whether it was or not…I might have to read it!

  57. Mozell
    Aug 21, 2010 @ 17:23:58

    I LOVE this type of story, because I am in the middle of one right now. I will be marrying my ex-husband’s brother. I actually knew my brother-in-law before I knew my ex-husband. My ex-husband and I have been divorced for over 30 years.

    I am SO glad to have stumbled across this blog, because I think I should be writing a story about my romance, and you’ve given me some serious ideas!

  58. Jane
    Aug 22, 2010 @ 08:15:31

    @Mozell Good luck to you and your writing if you do decide to author your story.

  59. Jodi
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 13:07:55

    I have found this to be extremely interesting reading. I am a young widow, with two young boys and am currently living this “taboo” as I’ve gotten closer and closer to my brother-in-law since my husbands death. Let me first say that if there is ever a complicated situation/relationship this is it. These feelings were not present prior to my husbands death and have developed over the past year as we have discovered we have a strong emotional connection, and now a physical attraction as well. For now, these feelings are not being acted upon, although they are mutual. We are torn between giving into the attraction and keeping our relationship platonic as not to “dishonor” my late husbnd and his brother. However, sometimes love is stronger than us and who would ever love my boys and I more? I live with the agony of unrequited love daily.

  60. avcaramelone
    Oct 06, 2011 @ 14:12:12

    I stumbled upon this on the internet while looking for opinions and information regarding my own situation. I met my brother-in-law before I met my husband. He was one of my younger brother’s friends. My brother told me his friend had a crush on me but I ignored it and never even asked which of his friends. I assumed anyone who hung out with my younger brother probably was not my kind of guy. A few years later, I met my second husband. I learned that my brother’s friend was my future husband’s brother. Admittedly, I was never in love with him the way a wife should be but it was a way out of my first marriage. Kind of protection. Time passed and my brother-in-law and I each went on with our lives although there was an unspoken attraction – a hunger and flirtation in our eyes every time we were around each other. Eventually, we ended up giving in to temptation and doing “the deed”. We have been having an affair for about 18 years now. We are
    both miserable with our spouses. My children are all grown. He’s not even sure all “his kids” are his. Regardless, my kids adore him as an uncle. His kids, whether adults and minors, love me. He and I are very much in love and would like to stop sneaking around. We want to be married to each other. They are from a large family (11 brothers and sisters) and both parents are still alive and together. This is sure to cause an avalanche of dysfunction within the family. We have been accused lots of times but never actually been caught red handed. The comments previously posted have encouraged me regarding the legal issues and some of the moral issues; however, I’m still not sure about the social aspect of things. Any suggestions from you and your readers would be appreciated.

  61. Jane
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 08:04:45

    @avcaramelone: I don’t have any specific advice for you but I hope that you can get this resolved without hurting too many people in the process.

  62. awannew
    Oct 09, 2011 @ 16:13:46

    yeh. i think its so romantic to do that. Its a dream to come true. not everyone will say yes bc it depends on the girl that how she looks is she attracted or not. if she is then i think no one will get away from her.
    i am also involved with my sister in law.
    she loves me before her marriage with my brother but never told me. i likes her a little bit but never take interest in marrying her.
    but after 2 years when she got married with my brother i began to attract towards her.she was so attracted i want to saty away but i cant. finally i touched her and then i began doing that for more than a year. but never done intercourse just oral sex. now i hardly hardly lust for her i want her but i don’t know how can i do this. our families finally knows all that.
    she was gone from 8 months and i cant live without her. i tried it all. i talked to may family and my brother but no one agrees with me. i want to marry her i want my brother to divorce her. she has a 3 year boy too. but i just want her and nothing else. i lost myself in her she was so beautiful and cant forget her.
    I am trying to marry her but nothing happens till now. she is now in her home with her parents bc her parents dont want her to be in front of me. our family issues are still in jeopardy. dont know whats happen next. i very much lusts for her and want her.

  63. Maibrv
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 20:54:11

    In my culture, there are situations where a younger brother is duty bound to marry his older brother’s widow. It is not as widely practiced as it used to, but it is still done. I, personally, don’t care for this practice, but I don’t have an issue with it in a good romance book as long as there is true love there. Like Jane, I love any love story that really tugs at my heartstrings no matter what the situation is. I love the angst and tortured emotions. The only thing I can’t stand is the beloved-dead-spouse. I’m sure this is due to a fatal flaw in my nature, but I read romance books for its “true and undying love” and I don’t believe it can happen twice to a person, even in books. I hate second best and the “next best thing”—unless, of course, the dead spouse is second best and the “next best thing”.

  64. AprilovesU
    Jan 07, 2012 @ 01:25:14

    @Jill Q: ur bestfriend thing reminded me of a more-than-romance novel like this…Penelope Williamson’s The Passion of Emma..at present, it is the number 1 book in my list and maybe even in the future ;) there’s no ick factor for me in this historical drama set in Victorian Rhode island..maybe because 1st, of the author’s way of writing was really AMAZING! she has way with words that can reach deep to a human’s soul.. and 2nd, the heroine came to the bestfriend and her husband’s (the hero’s) life when the bestfriend is dying of consumption..the secret, unrequited/unasked love of the heroine for the hero in the face of her loyalty and love for her bestfriend; the hero’s love for his wife and the pain seeing her die before his very eyes breath by breath, and the bestfriend’s undying love for her husband and their children, and for her bestfriend..it was a bittersweet story that really haunted me for months (since i just came across it last November 2011)…even until now, I still find myself dreaming of the whole thing. I re-read the novel for about 6 times now but then still, it always makes me cry :( and by the way, I LITERALLY FALL FOR THE HERO <3 awWw! he's not the typical perfect hero..his imperfections in the book only made him perfect! <3 :)

  65. The Brother
    Feb 22, 2012 @ 09:53:51

    Came across this thread as I am in this situation. After a 20 years of marriage, my brother left her and the kids. Neither she nor I ever had feelings for one another, but we know each other well and our kids have been very close their whole lives.

    You don’t ever plan on falling in love and I was concerned about the “ick” factor. We are happy, our kids know are are fine with it, her parents know and are happy about it as are all our friends.

    Actually, the only issue we have is the fact my brother still feels the need to tell me and her how to live our lives. Weird as he had the affairs and left for another woman.

    I am not looking forward to family reunions, but my brother is a jerk and always made any reunions an ugly scene. I realize this can be hard on him, but if she married anyone it could still be difficult for him. Everyone is happy for us and I am honestly surprised after reading all the posts about this, how supportive all our friends are.

    As for the stories, I think unrequitted romance and desire make for a great story. I do think it a bit creepy to covet someone who is married, but afterward, let life start fresh.

    (So others in my situation can spot this post, I am adding in this stuff:
    Should I marry my brother’s ex?
    Can I marry my brother’s ex?
    marry your ex
    marrying your ex sister-in-law)

  66. Greta Nunn
    Mar 12, 2012 @ 16:00:09

    In the Bible a man can marry his dead brothers wife. Only if he is no longer living.

  67. Cecilia
    Jul 02, 2012 @ 20:48:15

    Well, I am married to my deceased husbands younger brother. We fell in love after he died. My belated husband had been fixing up the old house they grew up in when he died so he left me without a kitchen, major electrical work needed, etc… All of my brothers-in-law came to help as much as they could but had to leave because they were married and had other obligations. The only one that stayed and came to help more often was the second to the oldest, he was unmarried and had his own company at the time so, he was his own boss therefore free to make time. At first it was just freindship but friendship blossom later into love. His side of the family at first was divided from those that didn’t find anything wrong with it since his brother was dead to those that actually stopped talking. My family was just glad that I was happy once more and respected our decision. Eventually they all came around when they realize how my children accepted and seemed happier with his presence. They also concluded that they would rather the children be raised by a man that already loved them because they were his blood anyway than by some stranger they knew nothing about. He finished fixing the house but we moved out and rented it. Some of my belated husbands old friends still frown upon our relationship but, the thing is that I don’t recall them ever showing up with a hammer to finish fixing what my belated husband left undone. One of them actually stopped my on the road while I was just taking a walk just to say how he thought that it was a sin what we were doing. He and his mother actually spoke to my pastor about it and told him he should do something about it. So, knowing what I knew about him and his family I responded, I think you being accused of molesting a child should be your greatest concern and how about your devout Catholic mother having an affair with the husband of one her church members. Where was that she got caught doing the nasty at with him again? Oh, I remember now, … behind the rental storage units. Wasn’t it his wife that caught them? Gee, I wonder who told her where to find them, … I swear it wasn’t me.

  68. Julie Mcconnell
    Dec 28, 2013 @ 00:01:55

    What if the sister in law was married 14 yrs, very materialistic and became a gold diger, made comments before divorcing #1 (he) bro, if you can’t get past the baldness and over weight, money is good about #2 ( trying to set up with girlfriend ) got 1.1 million from #1, # 2 has just about same kinda money tore my family totally apart, she’s only in it for money!! Orlando fl

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