Female friendship in fiction

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Anna Brech
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True, long-lasting female friendship is hard to come by in books but where it does appear, it's portrayed with a visceral realism that's hard to resist. We only have to read about the unlikely bond between Cee Cee and Bertie in Iris Rainer Dart's Beaches or the tribal loyalties of the Ya-Yas to be reminded of our own brilliant girlfriends.

Just as in life, friendship in literature comes in many different guises. It transcends age (think Evelyn and Ninny in Fried Green Tomatoes) and social divides (Miss Celia and her maid Minny in The Help) and can engender anything from bad dating advice shared over one too many G&Ts - as with Bridget Jones et al - to childhood pacts (Anne and Diana in Green Gables) or the person who helps you fight back and escape a terrible situation, as Shug Avery did for Celie in The Color Purple.

Here we celebrate the most golden literary sisterhoods - the kind money can't buy and no amount of time or bickering will dissolve. Come raise a toast to your own finest girls, as you take a look at female friendship in fiction:

Did we miss your favourite literary female friendship? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter

Photos: Rex Features

  • Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

    Who? Childhood friends Vivi, Teensy, Caro and Necie - aka the Ya-Yas

    Defining friendship moment: Those long lazy days down by the river, where they drink, gossip, swim, keep an eye on the kids and laugh like drains. Also when the girls rescue Vivi during a mental breakdown.

    "As Vivi drove, it seemed that not only the Ya-Ya's bodies but the earth and sky were sweating. The very air they breathed was almost a juice. Moonlight spilled down into the convertible, onto the four friends' shoulders and knees and on the tops of their heads, so that their hair seemed to have little sparks shooting off it. Vivi had no idea at all where she was headed, but she knew that whatever direction she went, her friends would go with her."

  • Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

    Who? Unlikely partners-in-crime Ruth and Idgie

    Defining friendship moment? When Idgie saves Ruth from her abusive husband - and later helps barbecue his body.

    "It's funny, most people can be around someone and they gradually begin to love them and never know exactly when it happened; but Ruth knew the very second it happened to her. When Idgie had grinned at her and tried to hand her that jar of honey, all these feelings that she had been trying to hold back came flooding through her, and it was at that second in time that she knew she loved Idgie with all her heart."

  • Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

    Who? Evelyn and her elderly soul mate Ninny

    Defining friendship moment: When Ninny's stories reinvigorate the timid and people-pleasing Evelyn, helping her to re-discover her sense of self-worth - to the point where she gleefully rams into the back of a car that steals her space in a supermarket.

    "Lately, it had been an endless procession of long, black nights and gray mornings, when her sense of failure swept over her like a five-hundred-pound wave; and she was scared. But it wasn't death that she feared. She had looked down into that black pit of death and had wanted to jump in, once too often. As a matter of fact, the thought began to appeal to her more and more."

  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

    Who: Sisters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March

    Defining friendship moment: Those wonderful readings at The Pickwick Club? When Jo saves Amy from drowning? Or when Beth comforts Jo on her deathbed? (sob).

    "I’m not like the rest of you; I never made any plans about what I’d do when I grew up; I never thought of being married, as you did. I couldn’t seem to imagine myself anything but stupid little Beth, trotting about at home, of no use anywhere but there. I never wanted to go away, and the hard part now is leaving you all. I’m not afraid, but it seems as if I should be homesick for you even in heaven."

  • Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

    Who? London singletons Bridget, Jude and Shazza (and Tom)

    Defining friendship moment: When Bridget's friends gather gleefully over one too many G&Ts to offer her conflicting advice and theories on the art of seduction ahead of her first date with Daniel Cleaver. Or Jude's many teary phone calls from the toilets at work.

    "As women glide from their twenties to thirties, Shazzer argues, the balance of power subtly shifts. Even the most outrageous minxes lose their nerve, wrestling with the first twinges of existential angst: fears of dying alone and being found three weeks later half-eaten by an Alsatian."

  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett

    Who? Aibileen and her straight-talking buddy Minny

    Defining friendship moment: When the two celebrate the extraordinary success of getting The Help - a book documenting their experiences as black maids in 1960s Mississippi - published, against all odds and in the face of imminent danger.

    "I'd rather spend the rest of my life right here in Aibileen's cozy little kitchen, having her explain the world to me. That's what I love about Aibileen, she can take the most complicated things in life and wrap them up so small and simple, they'll fit right in your pocket."

  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett

    Who? Miss Celia and her maid Minny bridging racial and social divides in 1960s Mississippi

    Defining friendship moment: When Minny confides to Miss Celia about the "terrible awful" pie she served to Hilly Holbrook, to cheer Celia up after Hilly shunned her at a benefit event. Celia responds to the confession by sending a cheque to "Two-Slice Hilly."

    "She brushes a clump of blond hair out of her face, looks at me like it kills her that I got hit. Suddenly I realise I ought to thank her, but truly, I've got no words to draw from. This is a brand-new invention we've come up with."

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

    Who? Jane and Lizzie Bennet, who bond amid their other vain and silly sisters (and mother)

    Defining friendship moment: When Lizzie rejects Mr Darcy's proposal on the basis that he caused her sister Jane's heart to break by coming between her and Mr Bingley.

    "Had not my feelings decided against you, had they been indifferent, or had they even been favourable, do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept the man, who has been the means of ruining, perhaps forever, the happiness of a most beloved sister?"

  • Beaches by Iris Rainer Dart

    Who? The lifelong friendship between flamboyant redhead Cee Cee Bloom and her quiet, steady childhood pal Bertie Barron

    Defining friendship moment: When they make-up after years of estrangement following a petty row. And when Bertie entrusts her daughter, Nina, to Cee Cee's care at the end.

    "I don't even remember what it was I was mad about and I don't care. Whatever it was that you did, I forgive you."

  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker

    Who? Celie and her glamorous role model Shug Avery

    Defining friendship moment: Celie and Shug's friendship culminates in a lesbian relationship, but there's so much more to their bond than sex. Shug empowers Celie and makes her feel important. In many ways, she is a mother figure who helps Celie transition from a submissive girl into an independent, free-thinking individual who is able to fight back.

    "She say, I love you, Miss Celie. And then she haul off and kiss me on the mouth. Um, she say, like she surprise. I kiss her back, say, um, too. Us kiss and kiss till us can’t hardly kiss no more. Then us touch each other."

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

    Who? Katniss Everdeen and Rue, the young tribute from district 11

    Defining friendship moment: When Katniss sings a lullaby to Rue as the 11-year-old dies, in a tragic end to their trusting, supportive relationship. Katniss places a flower wreath on Rue's face and vows to make the Careers pay for Rue's death - she later whistles Rue's four-note tune to start an uprising.

    "But I feel as if I did know Rue, and she'll always be with me. Everything beautiful brings her to mind."

  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

    Who? Mariam and Laila, both wives of the abusive Rasheed

    Defining friendship moment: When Mariam makes the ultimate sacrifice for Laila, killing their murderous husband Rasheed and handing herself into the Taliban, in order for her friend to escape to Pakistan.

    "She was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back. She was leaving it as a friend, a companion, a guardian. A mother. A person of consequence at last. No. It was not so bad, Miriam thought, that she should die this way."

  • The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

    Who? Three Chinese immigrant mothers and their American-raised daughters

    Defining friendship moment: Every week over generations when the women gather and play mahjong in the Joy Luck Club in San Francisco. They reminisce, gossip, compete, fall out and above all, demonstrate a fierce loyalty to one another through wars, cultural transition, sexism and marital strife.

    "Auntie Lin and my mother were both best friends and arch enemies who spent a lifetime comparing their children. I was one month older than Waverly Jong, Auntie Lin’s prized daughter. From the time we were babies, our mothers compared the creases in our belly buttons, how shapely our earlobes were, how fast we healed."

  • The Saving Graces Author by Patricia Gaffney

    Who? Four friends from Washington, D.C. - Emma, Rudy, Lee and Isabel - "The Saving Graces"

    Defining friendship moment: The women face all manner of challenges together, but it's Isabel's cancer relapse that unites them above all - stretching their courage and love to its limits in an inevitably teary ending.

    "We don't go around calling ourselves [the Saving Graces] in public,"" says Emma. "It's corny; it sounds like a TV sitcom... starring Valerie Bertinelli, Susan Dey and Cybill Shepherd. Notice these are all attractive, smart, funny women who happen to be a little long in the tooth."

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.

    Who? Jane Eyre and her pious childhood friend Helen Burns

    Defining friendship moment: When Jane sneaks into Miss Temple's room at Lowood school to fall asleep with Helen, who is ever graceful and calm as she lies dying from consumption.

    "And shall I see you again, Helen, when I die?"

    "You will come to the same region of happiness; be received by the same mighty, universal Parent, no doubt, dear Jane."

  • The Group by Mary McCarthy

    Who? Eight female friends - Kay, Mary, Dottie, Elinor, Libby, Helena, Priss and Polly - all from Vassar College’s class of 1933

    Defining friendship moment: The collective bond between each of these highly educated women as they struggle to confront everything from sexism in the workplace to losing their virginity, affairs, ill-fated marriages and the difficulties of breast-feeding.

    "If [she] had come to prefer the company of odd ducks, it was possibly because they had no conception of oddity, or rather, they thought you were odd if you weren't."

  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

    Who: Marianne Dashwood and her long-suffering sister Elinor

    Defining friendship moment: When Marianne admits she has been selfish in her "sensibility" over the dastardly Mr Willoughby, when quiet, reserved Elinor has been grieving all along for her own uncertain relationship with Edward Ferrars.

    "But you, -- you above all, above my mother, had been wronged by me. No; - not less when I knew you to be unhappy, than when I had believed you at ease, did I turn away from every exertion of duty or friendship; scarcely allowing sorrow to exist but with me, regretting only that heart which had deserted and wronged me, and leaving you, for whom I professed an unbounded affection, to be miserable for my sake."

  • Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

    Who? Anne Shirley and Diana Barry

    Defining friendship moment: Anne is more sparky and passionate than the calm, steady Diana but the moment that they pledge eternal friendship would move even the hardiest of souls and will ring true with anyone who's ever made the same childhood pact.

    "Anne drew a long breath. 'I thought you liked me of course but I never hoped you loved me. Why, Diana, I didn't think anybody could love me. Nobody ever has loved me since I can remember. Oh, this is wonderful! It's a ray of light which will forever shine on the darkness of a path severed from thee, Diana. Oh, just say it once again.'"

  • Summer Sisters by Judy Blume

    Who? Teen summer buddies Caitlin Somers and Victoria "Vix" Leonard

    Defining friendship factor: The heartbreaking finale after Caitlin disappears in a boating accident and Vix reflects on her lifetime friendship with her eccentric, reckless pal who changed her life forever that summer she came to stay on Martha's Vineyard.

    "For a moment it's as if they've never been apart. They're still Vixen and Cassandra, summer sisters forever. The rest is a mistake, a crazy joke."

  • Matilda by Roald Dahl

    Who? Matilda and her knight-in-shining-armour teacher, Miss Honey

    Defining friendship moment: Matilda overthrowing Miss Trunchbull and Miss Honey adopting Matilda, so both are free from tyranny and able to live happily ever after.

    "Miss Jennifer Honey was a mild and quiet person who never raised her voice and was seldom seen to smile, but there is no doubt she possessed that rare gift for being adored by every small child under her care."

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.