Risky Regencies

Female Friends

[She] is the person with whom, in a room full of silly, boastful people, you will exchange a silent, speaking glance that becomes a smile; the person to whom you never need to explain yourself laboriously; the person you will not compete with.

[She] is that person you realize, deep down and at once, will be your friend.

This wonderful definition of female friendship is surprisingly written by a man in his book Indiscretion, a tribute to Jane Austen–Austen with balls (and not the waltzing kind), if you like–a truly fabulous read. Austen didn’t write many strong female friendships–the whole area seems to be full of pitfalls for her. Many of the friendships she depicts are skin deep–Marianne Dashwood cultivating Lucy Steele to find out the truth about Edward, for instance; or Catherine Morland’s flighty friendship with the flighty Isabella Thorpe. I’ve never really been sure whether Elizabeth Bennett’s friendship with Charlotte Lucas is deep enough, or shallow enough, to survive Charlotte’s marriage to Mr. Collins.

Austen’s relationships between sisters are much stronger and more subtle, and I think that’s a convention romance has adopted. Jude Morgan’s Indiscretion is the only romance I’ve read (and I’m very poorly read in romance, I’m the first to admit it) where a female friendship rings true.

Who are your favorite fictional sets of friends or sisters, and which would you rather read about?

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Elena Greene
15 years ago

I don’t have a sister so my best female friends are sort of surrogates along with one sister-in-law with whom I get along wonderfully. I like stories about either.

As to my favorite fictional sisters, I just finished reading March so right now I think they would be the girls in Little Women.

As far as romances go, I noticed years ago that there were lots of series involving heroes who are either school or army friends but fewer based around sisters and female friends. So I wrote a Regency series with three school friends dubbed the Three Disgraces. I hope I depicted their friendships well. They were mostly supportive but occasionally disagreed, too!

I think there are more good series with female friends coming out now. For instance, Candice Hern’s Merry Widows series is beckoning from my TBR pile.

15 years ago

I can’t think of many off hand, but I know I’ve read series where it’s both groups of males some how connected and also females. It’s either the last book I read or the one before is a new series from Katherine Caskie about the Royale sisters, who might be triplets from the relationship of the Regent and Mrs Fitzherbert. But I know I’ve read others, I’m just at a loss at this moment. . . and I know as soon as I get off the site I’ll remember more. LOL 🙂


Amanda McCabe
15 years ago

I like the sisters from “Pride and Prejudice,” natch :)) And I agree with Elena about the March sisters. I never had a sister of my own, so I’ve always enjoyed reading about them in books!

Megan Frampton
15 years ago

Like Elena and Amanda, I don’t have a sister (or a brother, for that matter), so I actually think I prefer reading about friends, since I’m more familiar with those relationships.

but that said, yes, Little Women is amazing, as are Eloisa James’ series books, the latest had four sisters.

That Jude Morgan book sounds good, Janet, thanks for the rec.

Pam Rosenthal
15 years ago

I do have a sister, and I thank my lucky stars for her. Even if she’s 13 years younger, she’s an important member of what I call my “panel of experts,” women I’m close to whom I can depend upon for counsel or comfort in times of trouble. I guess what they have in common is that they’re all experts on me.

It doesn’t seem to me that men do this for each other. More’s the pity.

Though boys, at least, do it for each other in books. Harry Potter is a great when it comes to friendship and its ups and down, imo. And about a family that everyone would like to be in — the Weasleys.

The book about women’s friendships that comes to mind off the bat is The Golden Notebook, by Doris Lessing. Anna Wulf, the main character, is a single mother, as is her friend Molly (this is the 1950s, so it wasn’t so common). And Anna’s 11-year-old daughter Janet, who’s going to bed, says something like, “And now you’ll call Molly, and you’ll talk and talk and talk.” And Anna thinks about what security this seems to give Janet. I was very struck by that when I first read this book a million years ago.

As for female friendships in Jane Austen — no, I don’t think Lizzy and Charlotte Lucas’s friendship is going to survive Charlotte’s marriage to Mr. Collins — not in a deep way, anyhow, and I think that’s one of the book’s minor tragedies, and one of the things that makes it gutsy and great.

Diane Perkins
15 years ago

I have two sisters, who, because we moved around so much, were my faithful friends–and they still are. But I’ve had wonderful female friends in my life. Like my high school friend Barbara. We can go years without talking and then something brings us together and it is as if no time has passed at all.

My husband also has a high school friend with whom he is in almost daily contact even though they live several states apart.

I think in today’s romance novel, the female friend appears often, usually a character who pushes the boundaries more than the heroine.

Books about friendship. The Saving Graces by Pat Gaffney really shows what female friendship can be.


Janet Mullany
15 years ago

Megan, I like Eloisa James’s sisters too (and I can’t remember their last name either)!
As Diane says, often sisters or friends are there to provide some sort of plot device concerning the heroine, or, groan, there to provide the sequels. And for me, that’s not enough. I want the relationship between the heroine and her friends/sisters to have some depth and to exist outside the hero/heroine relationship. Or do you think that’s out of place in a romance?
I have some amazing friendships with women I see infrequently and don’t even email much but when we meet, we pick right up where we left off (once after a twelve-year silence).
Elena, did you like March? I thought it was brilliant.

Elena Greene
15 years ago

Janet, I agree, March is a brilliant book. I found many aspects of it fascinating: the society of the time, the Transcendentalists, the exploration of the characters’ relationships, the effects of war. A wrenching read at times but powerful.

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