In honour of Galentine’s Day (what’s Galentine’s Day? Oh, it’s only the best day of the year!), I decided to focus on a topic that is overlooked far too often in fiction: friendship between women. We all know about the Bechdel test, but try putting together a list of books where female friendship is the focus of the story, I dare you. Bonus points if the women in question are not related. It is practically impossible! That said, here are some of my favourite fictional examples of female friendship – the good and the bad. Some of these duos are attached at the hip for life, whereas other relationships go sour in the worst possible way.
If you can think of more titles, please leave a comment below!
Celia and Rosalind - As You Like It (1599?), William Shakespeare
if she be a trator,
Why so am I; we still have slept together,
Rose at an instant, learn’d, play’d, eat together,
And wheresoever we went, like Juno’s swans,
Still we went coupled and inseparable.
Emma and Harriet - Emma (1815), Jane Austen
Altogether [Emma] was quite convinced of Harriet Smith’s being exactly the young friend she wanted—exactly the something which her home required. Such a friend as Mrs. Weston was out of the question. Two such could never be granted. Two such she did not want. It was quite a different sort of thing, a sentiment distinct and independent. Mrs. Weston was the object of a regard which had its basis in gratitude and esteem. Harriet would be loved as one to whom she could be useful. For Mrs. Weston there was nothing to be done; for Harriet every thing.
Jane and Helen – Jane Eyre (1847), Charlotte Brontë
“Helen!” I whispered softly, “are you awake?”
She stirred herself, put back the curtain, and I saw her face, pale, wasted, but quite composed: she looked so little changed that my fear was instantly dissipated.
“Can it be you, Jane?” she asked, in her own gentle voice.
“Oh!” I thought, “she is not going to die; they are mistaken: she could not speak and look so calmly if she were.”
I got on to her crib and kissed her: her forehead was cold, and her cheek both cold and thin, and so were her hand and wrist; but she smiled as of old.
Anne and Diana – Anne of Green Gables (1847), L.M. Montgomery
“Oh, Diana,” said Anne at last, clasping her hands and speaking almost in a whisper, “oh, do you think you can like me a little—enough to be my bosom friend?”
Diana laughed. Diana always laughed before she spoke.
“Why, I guess so,” she said frankly.
The Amazons - Cranford (1853), Elizabeth Gaskell
In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women. If a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either fairly frightened to death by being the only man in the Cranford parties, or he is accounted for by being with his regiment, his hip, or closely engaged in business all the week in the great neighbouring commercial town of Drumble, distant only twenty miles on a railroad. In short, whatever does become of the gentlemen, they are not at Cranford.
Lucy and Mina – Dracula (1897), Bram Stoker
Lucy was looking sweetly pretty in her white lawn frock; she has got a beautiful colour since she has been here. I noticed that the old men did not lose any time in coming up and sitting near her when we sat down. She is so sweet with old people; I think they all fell in love with her on the spot.
Nel and Sula – Sula (1973), Toni Morrison
She had been looking all along for a friend, and it took her a while to discover that a lover was not a comrade and could never be – for a woman. And that no one would ever be that version of herself which she sought to reach out to and touch with an ungloved hand. There was only her own mood and whim, and if that was all there was, she decided to turn the naked hand toward it, discover it and let others become as intimate with their own selves as she was.
Elaine and Cordelia – Cat’s Eye (1988), Margaret Atwood
This is what I miss, Cordelia: not something that’s gone, but something that will never happen. Two old women giggling over their tea.
8 thoughts on “Reading List: Female Friendships”
Thanks so much for featuring my hoops! This is such a great list.
You are so welcome, they are absolutely lovely! I was so pleased to see that your shop is full of Parks and Recreation stuff – it is one of my absolute favourite shows.
Thank you! You should see my spreadsheet of all the other Parks & Rec quotes I want to eventually stitch. That show is genius.
Have you read Elena Ferrante? I don’t know whether it’s quite relevant, as contemporary characters might not be eligible for a list of ‘female friendships in literature’, but if you haven’t read her books I’d recommend dropping everything and getting your hands on one NOW. Lenu and Lila from the Neapolitan Novels (a series of four books, first one published in 2011) are right on top of my fictional female friendship list. The series follows them from their childhood right up until they become grandmothers, and it’s brilliant beyond anything I could convey. Do read it!
Contemporary characters are definitely eligible – the more we can add to the list, the better. And I’ll have to look that series up, thank you for the recommendation!
You’re welcome, will be looking forward to your review. It’s very much unputdownable. I was blown away when I first started and actually finished all four books in a two-week stretch.
Great list. I’d add Maddie & Queenie from Code Name Verity. That’s essential reading imo if we’re talking about female friendships.
I actually had Code Name Verity in my head for this list because it’s been recommended to me so many times, and then I still ended up forgetting to put it in the actual post.