If “Ferrante Fever” has taught us anything, it’s that the hunger for good literature about female friendship isn’t a hunger for treacly, happy-ever-after stories about gals who stick together through thick and thin. No, readers want stories that show the jealousy, regret, companionship, discovery, love, humor, and hate that make our lifelong friendships such rich fodder for books from the best YA to the most troubling literary fiction.
Here are some of our favorite passages about female friendship from literature, from the silly to the sublime to the sad — with lots of Ferrante included, of course.
We were twelve years old, but we walked along the hot streets of the neighborhood, amid the dust and flies that the occasional old trucks stirred up as they passed, like two old ladies taking the measure of lives of disappointment, clinging tightly to each other. No one understood us, only we two—I thought—understood one another.
— Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend
“It’s about Diana,” sobbed Anne luxuriously. “I love Diana so, Marilla. I cannot ever live without her. But I know very well when we grow up that Diana will get married and go away and leave me. And oh, what shall I do? I hate her husband — I just hate him furiously. I’ve been imagining it all out — the wedding and everything — Diana dressed in snowy white garments, and a veil, and looking as beautiful and regal as a queen; and me the bridesmaid, with a lovely dress, too, and puffed sleeves, but with a breaking heart hid beneath my smiling face. And then bidding Diana good-bye-e-e—” Here Anne broke down entirely and wept with increasing bitterness. Marilla turned quickly away to hide her twitching face, but it was no use; she collapsed on the nearest chair and burst into such a hearty and unusual peal of laughter…
— L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
I did value Margaux, but only now did I understand something I had not before: Margaux was not like the stars in the sky. There was only one Margaux — not Margauxs scattered everywhere, all throughout the darkness. If there was only one of her, there was not going to be a second one. Yet in some strange way, somewhere inside me, I had always believed that if I lost Margaux, I could go out and find another Margaux. Now it seemed so horrible to me. And didn’t it explain everything? But I had never wanted to be one person, or even believed that I was one, so I had never considered the true singularity of anyone else. I said to myself, You are only given one. The one you are given is the one to put a fence around. Life is not a harvest. Just because you have an apple doesn’t mean you have an orchard. You have an apple. Put a fence around it. Once you have put a fence around everything you value, then you have the total circle of your heart.
—Sheila Heti, How Should a Person Be?
I am getting used to fighting with Ilse now and don’t mind it much. Besides I can fight pretty well myself when my blood is up. We fight about once a week but we make up right away and Ilse says things would be dull if there was never a row. I would like it better without rows but you can never tell what will make Ilse mad. She never gets mad twice over the same thing. She calls me dreadful names. Yesterday she called me a lousy lizard and a toothless viper. But somehow I didn’t mind it much because I knew I wasn’t lousy or toothless and she knew it too. I don’t call her names because that is unladylike but I smile and that makes Ilse far madder than if I scowled and stamped as she does, and that is why I do it. Aunt Laura says I must be careful not to pick up the words Ilse uses and try to set her a good example because the poor child has no one to look after her properly. I wish I could use some of her words because they are so striking. She gets them from her father.
— L.M. Montgomery, Emily of New Moon
Between Elizabeth and Charlotte there was a restraint which kept them mutually silent on the subject; and Elizabeth felt persuaded that no real confidence could ever subsist between them again… “To oblige you, I would try to believe almost anything, but no one else could be benefited by such a belief as this; for were I persuaded that Charlotte had any regard for him, I should only think worse of her understanding than I now do of her heart. My dear Jane, Mr. Collins is a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man; you know he is, as well as I do; and you must feel, as well as I do, that the woman who married him cannot have a proper way of thinking. You shall not defend her, though it is Charlotte Lucas. You shall not, for the sake of one individual, change the meaning of principle and integrity, nor endeavour to persuade yourself or me, that selfishness is prudence, and insensibility of danger security for happiness,” [Elizabeth said].
— Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
There are things I need to ask her. Not what happened, back then in the time I lost, because now I know that. I need to ask her why. If she remembers. Perhaps she’s forgotten the bad things, what she said to me, what she did. Or she does remember them, but in a minor way, as if remembering a game, or a single prank, a single trivial secret, of the kind girls tell and then forget. She will have her own version. I am not the center of her story, because she herself is that. But I could give her something you can never have, except from another person: what you look like from outside. A reflection. This is part of herself I could give back to her. We are like the twins in old fables, each of whom has been given half a key.
— Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye
“All that time, all that time, I thought I was missing Jude.” And the loss pressed down on her chest and came up into her throat. “We was girls together”she said as though explaining something. “O Lord, Sula,” she cried, “girl, girl, girlgirlgirl”’ It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had not top, just circles and circles of sorrow.”
— Toni Morrison, Sula
It’s only and always the two of us who are involved, she who wants me to give her what nature and circumstances kept, I who can’t give what she demands; she who gets angry at my inadequacy and out of spite wants to reduce me to nothing, as she has done with herself, I who have written for months and months to give her a form whose boundaries won’t dissolve, and defeat her, and calm her, and so in turn, calm myself.
— Elena Ferrante, The Story of The Lost Child
The deep friendship between Ash and Jules had stealthily transformed into its adult version, which meant that what they talked about had expanded to include all the new people in their midst, and an increasing political awareness: Ash and feminism as it applied in the eighties; Jules and the economics of mental illness, which confronted her at the psychiatric hospital in the Bronx each day. Their friendship still had a primacy over most other things… If Jules or Ash needed to see each other, then the two husbands stepped aside. It almost seemed gratifying to the men to step aside in those moments, remembering what women could have together that men rarely could. Ash and Jules felt relief in knowing each other as well as they did. The friendship was like a fortification for their marriages, an extra layer of security. Once, looking through a women’s magazine together, they saw an article about a legendary sex toy emporium in New York for women called Eve’s Garden. It wasn’t that their marriages weren’t sexually satisfying to them—both of them had confided that they were—but they got into a discussion about how maybe it was a good idea to have “a vibrator of one’s own, to paraphrase the late, great Virginia Woolf.” Going to the sex toy store would be a weird little adventure, the women decided.
— Meg Wolitzer The Interestings
In that period it became a daily exercise: the better off I had been in Ischia, the worse off Lila had been in the desolation of the neighborhood; the more I had suffered upon leaving the island, the happier she had become. It was as if, because of an evil spell, the joy or sorrow of one required the sorrow or joy of the other; even our physical aspect, it seemed to me, shared in that swing. In Ischia I had felt beautiful, and the impression had lingered on my return to Naples …But Lila now had retaken the upper hand, satisfaction had magnified her beauty, while I, overwhelmed by schoolwork, exhausted by my frustrated love for Nino, was growing ugly again.
— Elena Ferrante, The Story of a New Name