Literary Lady Friends Throughout History
Happy Galentine’s Day, babes! It’s the annual day of love, and we can’t think of a better kind of love to celebrate than that between gal pals; there’s really no support system, motivator, or cheer squad quite like your best friends.
So to celebrate Valentine’s Day we’ve rounded up a list of some of the best female friendships of our literary past and present. Here’s to friends who motivate us to work hard, who read draft after draft, and encourage us to realize our dreams!
Katherine Mansfield & Virginia Woolf
Although Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf first met in 1916, it wasn’t until 1917, when Mansfield became the first author published through Hogarth Press, owned by Woolf and her husband, that their friendship truly blossomed. Despite her own desires to become a successful writer, Woolf championed Mansfield throughout the publication of Prelude, her struggle rheumatism, and despite Mansfield’s rather critical review of Woolf’s 1919 novel Night and Day. Though much of their friendship was coloured by rivalry, it’s said they found a highly-respected critical voice in one another, honesty built on respect, and a mutual love for writing, that resulted in a lasting friendship.
Sylvia Plath & Anne Sexton
American poets Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton first met in at Boston University while under the instruction of confessional poet Robert Lowell. Aside from their mutual love of poetry, they bonded over their unique struggles with mental illness, a theme that would always influence their work. In particular, a mutual fascination with death and suicide set them apart from the more traditionally American themes of their poetic colleagues, and it was this distinction that helped them form a long-standing friendship. They were known for being quite competitive, urging one another to explore their proclivities through poetry.
Margaret Atwood & Valerie Martin
Margaret Atwood met American writer Valerie Martin in 1985 when they were both teaching at the University of Alabama. Martin gave Atwood a tour of the university on her first day, however, it wasn’t until their daughters became friends that they grew close. Martin was the first person to read The Handmaid’s Tale and predicted its success. At that point, Martin had written two unpublished novels and a book of short stories, and Atwood offered to send them off to her agent, Nan Talese, who remains their literary agent and sometime editor today. The pair continue to read each other’s work.
George Eliot & Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the still famous anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was in her day a literary celebrity on both sides of the Atlantic. Her success didn’t prevent her from contacting her own literary lady crush despite their never having met. When Stowe first reached out to her, addressing the letter to “My Dear Friend,” Eliot was equally famous—and equally infamous. And though Eliot was famously reserved, she responded to the lively letter full of unsolicited critique on her writing with the same immediate warmth and kinship Stowe had offered to her. Despite their many differences—among them nationality, lifestyle, religion (Stowe was a devout Christian; Eliot had denounced religion altogether), and marital status (Stowe was married; Eliot was ‘living in sin,’ unwed, with a man whom Stowe simply called her husband). The pair first corresponded when Eliot was forty-nine and Stowe fifty-seven, and they wrote committedly to each other for ten years, up until Eliot’s death.
Gloria Steinem & Angela Davis
These two living legends are closely tied in feminist literature and theory, so it’s all the more satisfying to know that these irreplaceable activists are also close irl. And how could they not be, as two of the most prominent social justice warriors on the planet? Brought together by their life callings to write and fight for the rights not just of women but of all marginalized and vulnerable populations, these intersectional feminist icons have achieved so much change—all of which has been accomplished with a great deal of sacrifice, hardship, heartbreak, and resistance from, you know, the patriarchy.