This one's for the ladies!
Today I’m flying to Cape Code to have a reunion with my best friends, Mary Catherine Starr and Laura Whitaker, and to meet Mary Catherine’s beautiful baby, Charlie Mae. I’ve been best friends with MC and Laura since our freshman year of college when I ran a too-far distance to pick up a water bottle that MC dropped outside of her dorm room. It was an incredibly magical awkward moment.
We have so many memories together: among them, the bad haircuts (like my “flip out at the bottom” cut that a lot of women had around 2003 and that my husband recently told me he “hated” twice within a ten-minute period); the alcohol combinations that we would never drink now (why did we think Code Red was such a good mixer?); the losses and heartaches; and the growing families (dogs and babies!).
My reunion with my BFFs is always spectacular, and this week, like every week, I’ll be celebrating all of the amazing female friends who are in my life. Here are some of my favorite portrayals of female friendship in book and television form.
Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery:
If you have never read Anne of Green Gables, stop what you are doing, and do it now. When I was younger (and older and everything in between) Anne Shirley was my everything. I wanted to look like I could be painted by Titian, possess a thrilling recital voice, and have the endearing quality of getting into innocent scrapes now and again though it was clear that I had a giant heart. I also definitely, definitely wanted a Gilbert (ladies, can I get an amen?).
Perhaps one of Anne’s finest qualities—besides her vivid imagination—was her ability to forge strong friendships with women young and old. She and Diana were the best friends that I always wanted to be. Some of Anne’s other friends warmed to her right away while others were slowly worn down by her irrepressible charm, her goodwill, and that streak of fun that kept her from being too good.
If Anne, Diana, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, and others captivate you in the first book, take heart: there are seven more books in the series which covers Anne’s childhood through her children’s adulthood. There are also at least a couple of filmed versions, including one just released via PBS on Thanksgiving.
The Group by Mary McCarthy:
It’s been a few years since I read this one—so my memories of the book are a bit vague--but I loved it. Originally published in 1963, The Group focuses on a large group of female friends and gives us insight into how each of them perceives the respective world they live in. We may not be Vassar-educated women from the middle of the twentieth century like these women are, but we might be able to relate to these characters’s complex relationships and the times they have control over their their bodies and the times they don’t. (I’m so glad that we are no longer debating a woman’s ability to make her own healthcare decisions. Hey, wait a minute…) This isn’t all lighthearted reading; it’s a mixture of the frivolous and the superficial with the serious; relevant in its own time and today.
Parks and Recreation: Leslie and Ann are THE female dream team. These are two women who are incredibly, incredibly loyal to one another through the bad haircuts (Leslie’s Salvador), the bad relationships (Andy and Tom), and the bad moments (snake juice). They lift each other up (Ann is “a beautiful unicorn nurse”), celebrate each other’s achievements (Galentine’s Day, anyone?), and support each other’s decisions. (Ann, I know that Leslie understood why you moved to Michigan, but I still don’t!). They made almost all of my dreams come true by being best friends in real life, too.
Passing by Nella Larsen:
For a darker look at female friendship, read Nella Larsen’s Passing. Regardless if you are a fan of the classics or you haven’t read a classic since you were forced to in one class or another, you should read this one. Written by a member of the Harlem Renaissance, Passing focuses on the relationship between Irene Redfield, an African-American woman with an African-American husband, and Clare Kendry, a woman with a white father and a black mother who is “passing” as a white woman, in the parlance of the day. In this novella, Larsen does not shy away from some of the big questions regarding African-American womanhood: how African-American women self-identify versus the identities imposed upon them by other black and white people; questions of African-American female sexuality and the female body; questions of motherhood and how it relates to notions of respectability, particularly in the African-American community that Larsen focuses upon.
Though this is a slim text, it’s rich, bold, and resonant. If you love Passing, read Larsen’s other highly-regarded novella, Quicksand.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: When this incredible book opens, one of the female best friends, Queenie, is a German POW, suspected of being a spy, and the other, Maddie, is still at their barracks, consumed with worry and re-living the history of her friendship with Queenie. We get the book from Maddie and Queenie’s perspectives; Queenie’s section is provided in a series of journal entries that her German captors have forced her to keep. As the story progresses, Wein amps up the tension to nearly unbearable levels and this reader flipped through the pages feverishly, desperate to find out Queenie’s fate. This is a thriller/mystery and also a meditation on female friendship, bravery, loyalty; in short, one of my most favorite kinds of stories.
Sex and the City: I had to include what I think of as an iconic portrayal of female friendship. I haven’t watched these episodes in probably eight or nine or so years, and while certain parts of this show are problematic, this series still looms large for me in how it shows the female bond. Yes, as Miranda suggests in one episode, they do talk a lot about the men in their lives, but there is also the constant reminder that these women are “soulmates” to one another. Although I can’t help but wonder, if they were real friends why did Carrie, Charlotte, and Samantha let Miranda wear those overalls in the way that she did?
Hey! Over Here! I haven’t read the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante yet, but they are on my To Read list. Apparently these are the books to read about female friendship. Have you read them yet? If not, add them to your list too!
What are some of your favorite portrayals of female friendship?
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