We recently celebrated the return of the BBC’s Sherlock with a list of the best literary bromances. But why should dudes have all the fun? Tight-knit female friendships are as much of a staple of good literature as male kinship, and they even have their own awkward portmanteaus (“womances” or “femships”—pick your poison). Here are our picks for the best BFFs in fiction.
Anne Shirley and Diana Barry, in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables
Anne and Diana are quintessential BFFs, though Anne’s preferred term is “bosom friends.” Whether they’re reenacting Tennyson’s “Lancelot and Elaine” in Avonlea’s rivers or supporting each other through family life, these two have each others’ backs until the end.
Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca Doppelmeyer, in Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World
These two are basically the antithesis of Anne and Diana, but that doesn’t make their friendship any less meaningful. Gleefully cynical and misanthropic, these recent high school graduates weather the tumultuous transition from adolescence to adulthood together. Though their intimacy wanes over the course of the graphic novel, Clowes presents a frank, unwavering snapshot of teenage life at the turn of the 21st century.
Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson, in Kathryn Stockett’s The Help
Aibileen and Minny are the heart of Stockett’s best-seller, and their affection for each other is obvious throughout the book. As Minny says to Aibileen, “We all on a party line to God, but you, you setting right in his ear.” And as Aibileen says of Minny, “Old lady like me lucky to have her as a friend.” Throughout the tumult of the novel, these friends stay true to each other.
Beatrice and Hero, in William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing
Shakespeare was fabulous at writing female friendships. He created saucy minxes like Mistress Page and Mistress Ford, devoted cousins like Rosalind and Celia, and the self-sacrificing Emilia, who dies for her mistress Desdemona. But our favorite Shakespearean BFFs are Beatrice and Hero. The witty banter between the pair is proof enough of their friendship, but the depth of their bond isn’t revealed until Hero’s reputation is destroyed. Beatrice is fiercely protective of her cousin, and goes out for blood in a big way. It’s pretty awesome.
Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and Catwoman, in Paul Dini’s Gotham City Sirens
Even bad girls need good friends. And could there ever be a more charismatic trio than the lady villains of the Batman universe? The answer is most assuredly no. The love shared by Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy has been explored across many mediums—indeed, it’s often implied that they’re lovers, not friends. Throw in Catwoman, who flip-flops between good and evil depending on the return, and you’ve got the Gotham City Sirens: a bad girl gang so cool, you’ll start to wonder why you ever favored the good guys.
Jane Eyre and Helen Burns, in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre
Jane and Helen are both whip-smart, but Jane is a rule breaker, where Helen is more of a peacemaker. Despite their differences, the pair share a unique bond, forged by their shared past as orphans and their mutual curiosity. One of the most moving passages in the whole book depicts a deep, theological discussion between the friends, as Helen lies dying of tuberculosis in Jane’s arms. It’s no surprise that this scene tugs on the heartstrings, as it was inspired by the real life loss of Brontë’s older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, to the disease.
Clarissa Dalloway and Sally Seton in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway
Though the main action of Virginia Woolf’s ruminative novel takes place after Clarissa and Sally have grown apart, the vivid descriptions of their youthful closeness merits their rounding out this list. Infatuated by her friend’s brash rebellion and rejection of the status quo, Clarissa fell in love with Sally, and even shared a thrilling kiss with her. But with their wilder days behind them, the sexual tension eased into a comfortable friendship, revisited in Woolf’s classic book.
What’s your favorite example of female friendship in literature?