By Megan Powell, Hannah Spruce and Magali Prel
With it being Valentine’s Day yesterday, we know this holiday can be difficult to live through if you are single or feeling lonely, and it doesn’t help when we spend all day scrolling through social media looking at all the happy couples celebrating their love for each other. However, love comes in many shapes or forms: whether it’s love for your family, love for a friend, love for a pet or even love for yourself, Valentine’s Day is always worth celebrating! We know that getting into a sappy romance isn’t for everyone, especially on Valentine’s Day. But to help you get into the Valentine’s Day mood and fight away the Valentine’s Day blues, here are some classics we recommend that focus on platonic relationships. Whether it’s relationships between siblings, family or friends, these classics explore the depth and complexity of platonic relationships and highlight how equally important these relationships are.
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
In Sense and Sensibility, the central relationship is between two sisters, Elinor and Marianne. Throughout their life, they both attempt to find true love. However, the novel ultimately emphasises that even if a romantic relationship is desired by both sisters, the platonic relationship they have is far stronger than any romantic relationship. This is a powerful message to be vocalised by Austen in the 1700s. At the time, society was very limited for women in terms of their roles and opportunities. Their futures and fortunes depended entirely on the men that they chose to marry, presenting the dangers of living in a patriarchal society. Here, Austen gives the characters of Elinor and Marianne a chance to find understanding through their sibling relationship rather than through a romantic relationship with a man.
The contrast between the two sisters allows them to rely on each other and develop their friendship as sisters by offering each other new perspectives on a situation. Marianne aspires to find the same love that she reads about in poems and novels, but dreaming about the perfect love can only lead to tragedy. On the other hand, Elinor knows that there are many practical aspects to consider when choosing someone to marry. However, this causes her to pursue someone she cannot have. When she learns she can finally marry the person she thought she couldn’t have, she does not care that he doesn’t suit her criteria for marriage and follows her romantic feelings.
The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
Nancy Mitford’s 1945 novel The Pursuit of Love is the perfect Valentine’s Day book. As the title suggests, the reader follows the passionate and vibrant journey of Linda Radlett, through love and marriage. Despite her many love interests and flirtations, the person who stays by her side through the scandals is her cousin Fanny. Fanny narrates the book and is more reserved and observational compared to the impulsive Linda. Although the narrative explores Linda’s successes and failures in love and relationship it is also about her changing relationship with Fanny as they grow up and navigate the world. Mitford’s presentation of female sexuality and friendship is refreshing for the period as the novel highlights the significance of both in our lives. Fanny leads a more conventional life with an ordinary husband while Linda is more unpredictable, falling in love with an aristocrat, communist and a French duke. However, despite their differences, Fanny and Linda depend upon each other for support and a sense of constancy in unpredictable circumstances. A BBC adaptation starring Lily James as Linda and Emily Beecham as Fanny was released in 2021 to supplement the reading experience. Mitford’s series is a light-hearted rebellion against the constraints of love and class in the 1940s. However, it is also a triumph in its depiction of strong female characters and friendships.
‘A Painful Case’ by James Joyce
‘A Painful Case’ is a short story by James Joyce and is featured in Joyce’s collection Dubliners in 1914. This story could be considered as one of the most explicit novels that deals with platonic love, and in this case, a platonic affair. The central theme of the story details immensely the companionship of Mr Duffy and Mrs Sinico. Although this sounds like a simple, happy tale, it actually explores more sensitive emotions of loneliness and isolation. ‘A Painful Case’ was ordered to appear later in the Dubliners collection to conform to Joyce’s structure of a full exploration into life. Therefore, this story depicts the emotional battle that middle aged individuals might experience when trying to seek love later in their life and finding out that it might be too late. Mr Duffy and Mrs Sinico strike up an unlikely bond of friendship. Mrs Sinico is married and Mr Duffy can’t help but feel guilt over their platonic affair. This does lead to some confusion and Joyce’s use of the realism mode brings things to a halt.