7 of the Great Platonic Loves in Literature
Because sometimes your best relationship is with a friend
I met my oldest friend when we were both, to borrow and literalize Eimear McBride’s phrase, half-formed things in our mother’s bodies. Since then we’ve surpassed friendship to become a kind of voluntary family. That’s arguably the best kind, just as friendships are arguably the best kind of love affairs — complex and emotional as a romance but platonically durable and (let’s be frank) much more fun. This Valentine’s Day, rather than the dwelling on the same old tired romances, how about celebrating all the great friendships literature has given us? Here are 7 novels that do just that.
Because you can’t solve crimes in Victorian London, go on a knightly quest across Spain, survive mid-century Naples, or “find yourself” on a drug-addled road trip across the Americas without a friend to share the journey.
1. Lila and Elena in the Neapolitan Series, by Elena Ferrante
Their relationship has its ups and downs; at times its intensity becomes uncomfortable, even abusive. Still, there’s no denying Elena and Lila are best friends. They push each other to succeed, thanks to a rock solid belief in the other’s abilities and worth. Never a small thing, their durability feels like an all-out triumph in the slums of mid-century Naples, a community that values brute strength over intelligence and lets men treat women like second class citizens.
2. Clarissa and Richard in The Hours, by Michael Cunningham
There are three alternating narratives in Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, but the emotional core is the relationship between Clarissa and Richard. Longtime friends and onetime lovers, the tenderness with which Clarissa tends to Richard, who is dying of AIDS, will rack your heart as much as any Romeo and Juliet.
3. Darcy and Bingley in Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Jane Austen was a keen observer of female life in Georgian England, but she could also portray male friendship, as evidenced by Darcy and Bingley in Pride and Prejudice. Darcy may be a snob, but his biggest issue with Bingley marrying Jane isn’t her loud, middle class family, but Darcy’s belief that she just doesn’t love his friend.
4. Sal and Dean in On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
Kerouac’s classic novel is based on his travels with Neal Cassady in the late 1940s. As Sal Paradise (Kerouac’s alter ego) and Dean Moriarty (Cassady’s), drive across America, they meet women, drink themselves silly and pontificate on the meaning of life. These two enjoy hanging out a little too much — they resist real life, always drawn back to each other and the road.
5. Quixote and Sancho Panza in Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes
Cervantes’ masterpiece is the tale of Don Quixote and his faithful squire, Sancho Panza. Though they start as master and servant, as the two travel the Spanish countryside their relationship becomes far more profound. Without Sancho, the gallant, crazy Quixote would never make it so far on his journey, and without the journey, Sancho would never have truly ‘lived.’
6. Sherlock & Watson in many, many stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The original bromance. In Doyle’s best-selling crime stories, Dr. Watson is more than Sherlock’s sidekick or his trusty biographer, he is the emotional element that balances Sherlock’s pathologically rational mind. A true friend.
7. Janie and Pheoby in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God is the story of Janie, a young woman attempting to navigate the oppressive communities of rural Florida in the early 20th century. We only hear Janie’s story because she feels comfortable telling it to her friend Pheoby, the one woman who stood up for her in the small, gossipy town of Eatonville.