"Friendship has never seemed both more important and less relevant than it does now," writes Jessica Vivian Chiu in a beautiful essay on friendship for the Paris Review. "The concept surfaces primarily when we worry over whether our networked lives impair the quality of our connections, our community. On a nontheoretical level, adult friendship is its own puzzle. The friendships we have as adults are the intentional kind, if only because time is short. During this period, I began to consider the subject. What is essential in friendship? Why do we tolerate difference and distance? What is the appropriate amount to give?"
She then goes on to explore the friendship between writers Sherwood Anderson, Theodore Dreiser, and the sculptor Wharton Esherick. You can read the full essay here.
Considering how important friendships have been in my own life and in the lives around me, I find it baffling that the joys, sorrows, and complexities of friendship (and for me personally, women's friendships) have not been a central theme in literary and other arts. Yes, the ocassional book or film (and, rarer still, painting or song)...but the numbers are small compared to works dedicated to romance, family dynamics, and personal journeys in which friendships are fleeting or relegated to second tier roles.
Yet for many of us, our friends are family; and often, in the early years of adulthood, it's friendship that lasts while romances come and go. Meeting someone with the potential to become a close friend can feel almost as giddy as falling in love; and certainly the end of a friendship can be just as painful as divorce. Sometimes worse.
I'd like your help today in recommending works of art (in all fields) on the subject of friendship. For example, my favorite novel to date on the subject of friendship is Elizabeth Wein's brilliant Code Name Verity, a gorgeously written and harrowing story about the friendship between two young female pilots in World War II. To me, this book captures the absolutely intensity of the bond between best friends. My favorite memoir on the the subject is Testament of Friendship by Vera Brittain (author of the better-known World War I era memoir Testament of Youth). This beautiful book is about Brittain's deep relationship with fellow writer, feminist, and politcal activist Winifred Holtby. (Close runners-up would be A World of Light by May Sarton, a fascinating book in which the author looks at the friendships that formed her world from her mid-twenties to her mid-forties; and Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett, about her complicated, rather difficult friendship with fellow writer Lucy Grealy.) My favorite biographical work about friendship is The Red Rose Girls by Alice Carter, about the artists Jessie Willcox Smith, Elizabeth Shippen Green and Violet Oakley.
And you? What do you recommend on the theme of "friendship," in any form of art?
Good friendships aging like good wine: The photographs above, from top to bottom, are of me and my dear friend Ellen Kushner back in the 1980s (photographed by Beth Gwinn); Ellen and me again in 2006 (photographed by Nina Kiriki Hoffman); and the two of us here in Chagford, where she's been visiting this week along with another beloved old friend, Delia Sherman (Ellen's wife), and my new friend Kathleen Jennings. (The third photo was taken by Delia.)