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Special Features Index  

 
Spotlight Romantic Friendship
 
  Romantic friendship, an intimate and sometimes sexual relationship between same-sex friends, has long been a part of Western culture and is often celebrated in its literature.

Before the advent of the twentieth century, Female Romantic Friendships were largely perceived as normal and socially acceptable. Male Romantic Friendships have not been as widely accepted, but literary works from ancient epics and Elegies and Pastorals to modern war movies and Westerns celebrate intimate relationships between men.

 
 
 
  Jane Addams Jane Addams (1860-1935) was an American reformer, social worker, peace activist, and Nobel Laureate remembered as the founder of Hull House in Chicago. She had at least two long-term same-sex relationships that can be characterized as romantic friendships.  
 
 
  Aelred of Rievaulx Aelred of Rievaulx (ca. 1110-1167) was an English abbot who developed a typology of friendship that separated spiritual, utilitarian, and carnal relationships with a particular emphasis on avoiding carnality. He cultivated "spiritual" friendships with young monks at his abby, though his relationship with the beautiful young monk Simon bears all the hallmarks of romantic friendship.  
 
 
  Susan B. Anthony Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) is best known for her crusade for women's suffrage, but she spoke out on a broad range of feminist issues including temperance, property and custody rights, divorce laws, and educational and employment opportunities for women. Anthony enjoyed romantic friendships with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other women.  
 
 
  Boston Marriages--romantic unions between women that were usually monogamous but not necessarily sexual--flourished in the late nineteenth century. The term was coined in New England, around the time that numerous women's colleges such as Vassar, Smith, and Wellesley emerged.  
 
 
  The Ladies of Llangollen Lady Eleanor Butler (1739-1829) and Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1831), known as the Ladies of Llangollen, are an enduring emblem of female romantic friendship.  
 
 
  Lord George Gordon Byron Lord George Gordon Byron (1788-1824) was a poet and major celebrity known for a libertine lifestyle and risqué poetry in the England of his day. The bisexual writer pursued romantic friendships with young men throughout his brief life.  
 
 
  Rachel Carson Rachel Carson (1907-1964) was a marine biologist who helped found the environmental movement with her 1962 book Silent Spring. Carson enjoyed an eleven-year romantic relationship with Dorothy Freeman, a married woman.  
 
 
  Willa Cather Willa Cather (1873-1947) was one of America's premier literary artists in the earlier twentieth century. She reflected her own lesbianism in the creation of strong women characters and in the exploration of male homosexuality. For nearly forty years, Cather shared her life with Edith Lewis.  
 
 
  Marie Corelli Marie Corelli (1855-1924) was a popular English novelist now known chiefly as a camp figure who inspired E. F. Benson's Lucia, a character on whom he based several novels. From 1876 until her death, Corelli lived with Bertha Vyver, who served as housekeeper, nurse, confidant, and intimate friend.  
 
 
  Charlotte Cushman Charlotte Cushman (1816-1876) was one of the most famous actresses of her day, enjoying success on the stage in both the United States and Britain. Cushman, who had a series of sometimes tempestuous intimate relationships with several women, lived in a committed relationship with sculptor Emma Stebbins from 1857 until Cushman's death.  
 
 
  Emily Dickinson Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) wrote several poems and letters that expressed the sentiments of romantic friendship and hint at homoeroticism. Much of her romantic ardor appears to have been directed toward Susan Gilbert Dickinson, her sister-in-law.  
 
 
  Marie Dorval Marie Dorval (1798-1849) was a popular nineteenth-century French actress who enjoyed an intense romantic friendship with the writer George Sand that fueled much speculation among Parisian gossips of the time, as well as among later biographers and historians.  
 
 
  Dutch Friendship Glasses Dutch Friendship Glasses were made on order to celebrate friendship in the eighteenth century, an era when sodomy was often punished with brutal public executions in the Dutch Republic. The glasses may also have covertly celebrated same-sex sexual desire.  
 
 
  Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman (1852-1930) wrote many short stories characterized by passionate devotion between women. "Two Friends" and "The Long Arm," two of the most important lesbian nineteenth-century lesbian stories, illustrate the climate of the time and place in which life-long partnerships between women were lived with community acceptance and support.  
 
 
  Harriet Hosmer Harriet Hosmer (1830-1908), an Amnerican sculptor, was among a handful of successful women artists in the nineteenth century. She frequently scandalized the polite society of her day by her mannish dress and adventurous behavior. Her most intense relationship was with Louisa Ashburton, a Scottish noblewoman.  
 
 
  Henry James Henry James (1843-1916), the famous American-born nineteenth-century novelist and playwright, had a number of romantic and possibly sexual relationships with young men. His passion for other men imbues his fiction; and his novel The Bostonians explores a Boston Marriage.  
 
 
  Sarah Orne Jewett Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909) is a major figure in the literature of female romantic friendship and a prolific writer who produced fifteen novels for adults as well as several books for children. She experienced romantic friendship first-hand in her own Boston Marriage, which lasted from the early 1880s until her death.  
 
 
  Herman Melville Herman Melville (1819-1891), the author of Moby Dick (1851), expressed his homosexuality in male-male romantic relationships that occur frequently in his stories. Melville often used intimate male friendship as part of his broader critique of American imperialism.  
 
 
  John Milton John Milton (1608-1674), perhaps the greatest poet in the English language, wrote several poems that suggest that he had a relatively enlightened view of same-sex intimacy. His intense friendship with his boyhood friend Charles Diodati could be described as a romantic friendship.  
 
 
  Florence Nightingale Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) is famous as the mother of modern nursing. She was a tough reformer who fought for her right to a career and an individual identity in the stifling atmosphere of Victorian England. Nightingale, who sometimes referred to herself as "a man of action," enoyed the company of powerful men and was probably celibate, but she also had several important passionate friendships with women.  
 
 
  Plato Plato (427-327 B. C. E.), the ancient Greek philosopher, created many works that celebrate male-male love. Male romantic friendship is the subject of The Symposium and The Phaedrus.  
 
 
  Cecil Rhodes Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) was one of nineteenth-century Britain's most ambitious imperialists. Throughout his adult life, he conducted romantic friendships with younger male associates.  
 
 
  Eleanor Roosevelt Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) was an important advocate for the poor and oppressed and one of the most influential women in the world. She had strong attachments to women throughout her life. Some probably included sexual intimacy.  
 
 
  George Sand George Sand (Amantine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin, 1804-1876) is as infamous for her cigar-in-hand cross-dressing as she is famous for her eighty novels, twenty plays, and numerous political tracts. Her sapphic love for Marie Dorval, a famous Parisian actress and lover of Alfred de Vigny, seemed to go unnoticed amidst her many affairs with men.  
 
 
  Sarah Scott (1723-1795) was an eighteenth-century English novelist who challenged the sex-gender system of her society and claimed narrative authority for women loving women. In her personal life, including her long-term romantic friendship with Lady Mary Lumley, Scott found an alternative to the ruthlessly limited possibilities available to women in the eighteenth century.  
 
 
  William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (1564-1616) included closely bonded female pairs and intimate male-male relationships in many plays and in The Sonnets.  
 
 
  Emma Stebbins Emma Stebbins (1815-1882) is remembered for sculpture produced in a ten year period between 1859 and 1869. While studying sculpture in Rome, she met and fell in love with actress Charlotte Cushman with whom she lived from 1857 until Cushman's death in 1876.  
 
 
  Alfred Lord Tennyson Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), who was Poet Laureate during much of the reign of Queen Victoria, wrote In Memoriam, the most beautiful homoerotic elegy in the English language, which meditates on his romantic friendship with Arthur Hallam.  
 
 
  M. Carey Thomas M. Carey Thomas (1857-1935) was one of the most prominent American educators of the early twentieth century. Thomas shared her home with Mamie Gwinn while serving as the second president of the women-only Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, a relationship that lasted until Gwinn married in 1904.  
 
 
  Virgil Virgil (70-19 B. C. E.) was a Roman poet and writer who wrote approvingly of male-male love in many of his works. The Aeneid offers the ancient world's most poignant account of male romantic friendship in the the story of Nisus and Euryalus.  
 
 
  Lillian Wald Lillian Wald (1867-1940), an American public health nurse and social reformer, is the model of a Victorian-era lesbian active in the Settlement House Movement. Though Wald drew almost all of her support from close female friends and used the language of romantic friendship when corresponding with many, she is not known to have established a long-term romantic attachment to any single woman.  
 
 
  Evelyn Waugh Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), a major twentieth-century English author, treated homosexuality paradoxically, depicting some of his homosexual characters sympathetically and subjecting others to homophobic abuse. The most memorable romantic friendship in his work is that between Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited.  
 
 
  Walt Whitman Walt Whitman (1819-1892) was an American poet who celebrated an ideal of manly love in both its spiritual and physical aspects. He figured male romantic friendship as the basis for a revitalized American democracy.  
 
 
  Anne Whitney Anne Whitney (1821-1915) was a Boston sculptor who, as a woman in a male-dominated field, struggled for equality, chose subjects--abolitionists, feminists, and blacks--that reflected her liberal political and social beliefs. She is said to have lived in a Boston Marriage with painter Abby Adeline Manning.  
 
 
 

 
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