I hereby admit that I am an unabashed and full-fledged Jane Austen fan. I have read the novels and seen pretty much every single silver screen and TV version of her books (even the old-school ones!). She pretty much rocks on every account.
Instead of focusing on her general fabulousness, I have decided to make a brief analysis of her treatment of friends in her books. Yay, Jane and friends!
The Books of Friendship
Sense and Sensibility: In life, as in fiction, sometimes sisters can be the best (and worst) of friends. It is no secret that I love my sister like – well, a sister – and that at certain times of my life, she has been the best friend a girl could ever ask for. From our twenty-minute sobbing hug before I went to Spain for a semester to her wonderful speech as the maid of honor at my wedding, my sister has always been and will always be the perfect Forever Friend.
Pride and Prejudice: Lizzie and Charlotte have a friendship, perhaps strengthened by convenience, that allows them to remain friends even after one of them gets married to the man who first proposed to the other! How many ladies do you know nowadays that would still be cool with visiting their friend and her new hubby when that was hanging over them?
Mansfield Park: Another sisterly tale here, wherein even the distance, education, and circumstances separating Fanny from her younger sister couldn’t erase their bond. It seems that sometimes the falsity of other friends or acquaintances can make us appreciate the stability and permanency of our siblings all the more.
Emma: Not only do Emma and her old governess maintain a wonderful friendship that surpasses the boundaries of age, class, and separation, but Emma somehow manages to save her friendship with Harriet after they both vie for the love of the same man. If Emma’s misguided matchmaking attempts hadn’t alienated her poor and simple friend enough, winning the prized gentleman would typically be enough to part them for good. But true to JA’s happy endings, their friendship remains intact. Score.
Northanger Abbey: Unfortunately for Catherine, her first tale of friendship is unhappy and brief. After all, girls can be catty, petty, conniving, and crude. Thank goodness her young suitor’s sister is the model of a Forever Friend!
Persuasion: Contrary to popular preference, I absolutely love this book. It also happens to be a delightful account of friendship against all odds on two accounts: that of Anne with Lady Russell (old, proud, and contrarian!) and that of Anne with Mrs. Smith (poor, gossipy, and ill!).
When Jane Austen Writes About Friendship…
No matter their station, no matter their situation, Jane Austen had a wonderful way of capturing the many ups and downs of female friendships. At their best, girlfriends can be our soul sisters, our second selves – true companions during hardship and true joys when life is good. At their worst, girlfriends can be disingenuous, backstabbers behind smiles – false friends and even true enemies.
It is no coincidence that Jane Austen’s novels covered the best and the worst of women’s relationships, because her novels detailed the best and the worst of human nature. Although I personally have been most able to identify with her humorous and kind treatment of the sisterly bond, I have also been fortunate to avoid the worst in her stories. I don’t know if this is because of lack of experience with female friendships (maybe one is less likely to be betrayed if one never gets close to anyone…), or if is simply a blessing I have been granted. Whatever the cause, I am grateful to have a host of good books, a growing number of potential friends, and a wonderful sister. I wish all of you the same.