Friendships are so important in our lives and today, 1st August, is National Girlfriends Day. All friendships are worth celebrating but those with our close female friends are very special. Girlfriends are so significant in our lives. We need them and we enjoy their company. They bring fun and laughter; they are there when we need to vent, they help to relieve stress, they listen, they boost our confidence and they offer so much support. They bring joy into our lives and love and loyalty. As I’ve grown older I’ve come to value my friendships even more than I did when I was young. My friends have supported me through illness and relationship issues, work problems and family worries. I hope I’ve done the same for them.
Girlfriends Day got me thinking about friendships in literature. Take Pride and Prejudice, for example. It’s not all about Elizabeth and Darcy. There are some other relationships that are key to the story; Lizzie’s love for her sister Jane, for example, and the support they give each other. This is fundamental to the plot because it is one of the reasons that Lizzie is so angry with Darcy. He suggests that Jane isn’t good enough for his friend Bingley. Plus there is another female friendship in the story that is very interesting - that of Lizzie with Charlotte Lucas.
Charlotte is Lizzie’s best friend and in some ways her total opposite. She is introduced as a sensible, intelligent girl but she lacks looks and fortune, which in the world of the late 18th century gentry was pretty important in making a good marriage. Charlotte therefore compromises and makes the pragmatic choice to marry Mr Collins, a decision that puts a strain on her friendship with Lizzie, who considers that she is sacrificing any prospect of future happiness simply to secure her place in the world.
Through trying to understand Charlotte’s choice, Lizzie starts to see things a bit differently. This is another thing our girlfriends do for us; sometimes they give us another perspective. As a result, Lizzie and Charlotte’s friendship survives the shock of Charlotte’s marriage to the odious Mr Collins and whilst Lizzie feels a relief that she didn’t marry him herself, she realises that for Charlotte, perhaps happiness comes in a different form.
There are many other books I’ve read that depict different elements of female friendships. One of the ones that is understated but which I like very much is the friendship between the heroine Charity and her friend Louise in Mary Stewart’s Madam, Will You Talk. They are on holiday together in France when Charity falls into her “woman in jeopardy” adventure and throughout the story Louise is there is the background, a self-confessed lazy person who just wants to relax on her holiday. Instead she proves to be a steady, practical support who knows Charity well enough not only to bring her clean clothes at the end of the adventure but also to ensure she includes Charity's very nicest dress! Louise is an interesting contrast to Charity in many ways. Whilst Charity has a penchant for alpha men, Louise gives the impression of being rather more self-contained and happy on her own. I would have loved to see Louise get her own story!
In romance fiction in particular it’s the romantic relationship that so often gets the attention and often as well the heroine can be devoid of friends and relatives to give her support. This can work really well in a story but equally there are books where the heroines have a great support network of friends – Sarah Morgan’s books do this brilliantly – and it does add another dimension to the story.
I’ve tried to draw interesting female friendships in my own books as well since female friendships were as important to our forebears as they are now. In Whisper of Scandal, for instance, both Joanna and her best friend Lottie seem quite shallow and to have a superficial sort of relationship that mainly involves going shopping together, but actually when life gets testing for both of them, the other is there with love and support to help them through. It is Lottie who encourages Joanna to seize her chance of happiness by eloping with Alex and when Lottie is ruined it is Joanna who comes find her to offer her help.
In House of Shadows too, I wanted to give my heroine Holly a close and sustaining female friendship. In fact she has two - one with her best friend Fran, whom she has known since they were at college together, and the other with her dog Bonnie who is a comforting, calming and relaxing presence throughout the book. As someone who has raised both male and female puppies I can say that there is definitely a difference between the sexes and I do have a different relationship with the girls. (This is Ethel, the current Guide Dog Puppy, in the photo.)
Whether it’s a case of opposites who complement each other or like-minded souls who share the same interests, we can all gain so much from our friendships and they also enrich the pages of the books we read. So today, on National Grilfriends Day, I wonder if there are any favourite friendships in the books you enjoy? Or is there a literary character you would like to have as a friend?