“A beautiful, strong friendship to bless them both” : cross-gender friendship in The Woman in White and Little Women.


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The marriage plot is intimately connected to the form of the nineteenth century novel, both giving shape to and being shaped by it. Its dominance, however, often precludes the representation of other crucial relationships in fiction, especially cross-gender friendships. Scholarly attention to heterosocial relationships in the Victorian novel has often been eclipsed not only by studies of the marriage plot but by attention to same-gender friendships in this literary period. In this thesis, I examine two notable cross-gender friendships in nineteenth century fiction, namely, that of Walter Hartright and Marian Halcombe in Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White (1859), and that of Josephine “Jo” March and Theodore “Laurie” Laurence in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868). I highlight the ways in which these depictions demonstrate both the unique challenges and unique benefits of cross-gender friendship and consider the insights that these works offer for broader reflection on cross-gender friendship and on its representation in literature, as well as on the intriguing connections between narratives of friendship and our reading relationships to—and expectations of—the novel.



Cross-gender friendship. Cross-sex friendship. Heterosocial relationships. Friendship. Platonic relationships. 19th century literature. The Woman in White. Wilkie Collins. Little Women. Louisa May Alcott. Marian Halcombe. Walter Hartright. Jo March. Laurie Laurence. Marriage plot.