So, I was on Twitter at 1 a.m. a few days ago (good anecdotes always start this way), and I became peeved about the lack of importance that people place on friendships in fiction. The trigger was my copy of Literary Listography, which I am really enjoying completing; however, even though it has some fairly wacky lists (“Words I Love and Hate the Sound Of”, “Writers I Would Have at my Algonquin Table”), it has no list of favourite friendships. Favourite romantic relationships, fictional heroes, memorable deaths… all represented, but not friendships. It’s not just here that I’ve noticed it, either. When I watch or read reviews, they often discuss a book’s romantic relationships in depth, even when they are secondary or tertiary plots, but I hardly ever see people celebrating well-developed and touching friendships in books. This is such a shame. Most of the fictional relationships (and in-real-life relationships) that have touched me most deeply are friendships. I did try to tweet out a handful of favourites, but by this point it was even later and I probably wasn’t giving the matter due consideration. Here is a slightly better-thought-through list. It’s still not exhaustive. IMPORTANT NOTE: This list contains JANE EYRE SPOILERS, and really, if you haven’t read Jane Eyre, it’s far more worthy of your time than my 1 a.m. Twitter ramblings.
1) Verity and Kittyhawk, Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein
I finished Code Name Verity a week or so ago. I thought it was incredible, and a review is forthcoming, but one of the things that moved me most was the way the friendship between the two young women was portrayed. Friendships between teenage girls (or women in their very early twenties–I’m never quite sure how old the protagonists are) are so often portrayed in fiction as shallow and vindictive, or revolving around chocolate and discussion of boys. The breadth of experiences shared by Verity and Kittyhawk, and the extraordinary depth and sincerity of their friendship, is probably the novel’s greatest strength. It’s what made this such an fantastic reading experience for me, especially because I was somewhat unconvinced by other aspects at times.
2) Jeeves and Wooster, Jeeves series, PG Wodehouse (& Sebastian Faulks)
Of course, it helps that my introduction to Jeeves and Wooster was via Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, who are famously friends in real life, but I think I would have loved this friendship whichever way it came. Jeeves and Wooster, constrained by their employer/employee relationship, nonetheless find (entertaining) ways to respect each other and demonstrate their friendship; most obviously, when Jeeves has helped Wooster out of an inevitable scrape, the latter gives up whatever article of dress had previously been annoying the former. The reason I’ve included Faulks’ name here is because, in the final chapter of his novel Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, he pays very touching tribute to the strength of the friendship. It’s a bit sentimental, and Wodehouse certainly wouldn’t have verbalised it in the way Faulks does, but it’s that moment which absolutely sold the whole novel for me.
3) Frodo and Samwise, The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkein
Seriously, who hasn’t teared up at this scene? In fact, all the Frodo and Sam friendship scenes in Return of the King (mostly the novel, but also the film) made me cry. All of them. Also included in this are Legolas and Gimli, who I felt got rather short shrift in the onscreen depiction of their friendship. Watching them gradually learn to respect and then like each other, despite their deeply ingrained prejudices, is one of my favourite things about the novels. The way LOTR portrays friendships is one of the things I like best about it, actually.
4) Helen Burns and Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
I initially considered excluding this friendship because I couldn’t find an image to sum it up. Then I decided that that was a ridiculous reason not to include it. The deep theological and philosophical conversations that Helen and Jane share as young adolescent girls epitomised the type of conversations that I was longing to have with my peers. The first time I read this, I think I was probably around 14, so it encouraged me that these kinds of friendships really do exist, and that women are allowed to have them as well as men. Also, the first time I ever remember weeping over a book, it was over Helen’s deathbed scene, which still chokes me up a little bit when I think about it.
5) Anne Shirley and Diana Barry, Anne of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
Bosom friends. Kindred spirits. I positively love the way that Anne and Diana immediately decide to be friends, and then pursue that resolution doggedly throughout the rest of the lives. The fact that they are hopelessly unsuited, their irreconcilable inability to understand one another, and their wildly differing personalities never come into it. The thought hardly even seems to occur to either of them. This friendship weathers some truly bizarre obstacles (the Aunt Josephine incident springs to mind) and some preposterously sentimental quotes, but when it all comes down to it, Anne and Diana have decided to be loyal to one another, and their determination to do that is touching in and of itself. I also love the friendship between Anne and Phillipa in Anne of the Island. It’s a source of great disappointment to me that we don’t see more of Phil in subsequent books, as I think she’s one of the most complex and wonderfully-drawn characters in the whole series. I really love these books. I think I need to reread them.
Of course, there are lots of well-drawn friendships in fiction, but these are the ones that occurred to me straight away. I realised, as I was writing this, that many of my favourites are drawn from children’s literature or YA. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because literature written for “grown-ups” is so preoccupied with romance that it skips over the relationships that are kind of the bread and butter of our lives? I genuinely think that my adult social life is enriched because I encountered some of these friendships as a teenagers–the depth of Helen and Jane and the loyalty of Anne and Diana in particular. Perhaps I’m just not reading the right books. I am currently reading Lonesome Dove, which seems likely to present me with some beautifully complex and touching relationships by the end, but a lot of the books I read seem to contain people being generally atrocious to each other (and, on special occasions, apologising afterwards). It would be fantastic to read a few books where the main characters actually like each other. Any recommendations?