The heroine is alone. Sometimes there is another woman, a competitor who is often more overtly aware of her sexuality than the heroine, but she is a shadow on the horizon. Sometimes there are potentially friendly females living in the next bungalow or working with the patient in the next bed, but they, too, are shadowy, not important to the real story, which consists entirely of an emotionally isolated woman trying to keep her virginity and her head when the only person she ever really talks to is the hero, whose motives and feelings are unclear. (1983: 249)*Not having read many romances from this period, I'm not sure whether this ever was actually an accurate description of romances (I suspect there will always have been exceptions). Nonetheless, it does remind me of the gothics. Could it be that the heroine's isolation, which was important in creating the plot and atmosphere of the gothics, influenced the portrayal of female friendships in other forms of romance at the time?
Snitow's description certainly isn't true of modern romances. Nowadays, as has recently been pointed out by Sharon Long, there are plenty of romance series where
Everything is hunky dorey in romance land. The women of the group get along famously. Like sisters even. They all HEART one another on sight and know that the guy has done the best job ever in choosing his mate.Could this be due in any way to the influence of feminism? Is it an expression of belief in female sisterhood? Certainly there would appear to have been some feminist influence on romance. Kay Mussell, for example, has described the more equal relationships between heroes and heroines as 'clear evidence of the influence of feminism on romances'. Female friendships, however, are not simply valued by feminists. Peter Darbyshire**, writing about certain inspirational romances, despite concluding that they 'vilified' (2002: 80) feminism, nonetheless also finds in them strong bonds between women:
Female characters frequently live at home or with members of their extended family in these books, and these characters are almost always all involved in nurturing, supportive relationships with one another. [...] it is often the grandmother or mother figures that instruct the heroines to be subservient in their relationships with men, thus locating the origins of the reaffirmation of traditional patriarchal values in female characters. (2002: 80-81).Whether or not one agrees with his opinion of inspirationals, it does serve as a reminder that female relationships are valued (perhaps for very different reasons) by people with a wide range of ideologies.
Is it, as suggested by posters responding to Sharon Long's comments that female friendships are an extra part of the 'wish-fulfillment' that romance provides, another aspect of the Happy Ever After ending? Are such friendships among women really so uncommon that they're more fantasy than reality? Sharon Long certainly seems to think so:
Let’s face it. Women do not get along that well in real life. Women are bitchy. They are competitive. They do not tend to LOVE one another on sight. Sure it happens. Every once in a blue moon, but the cold hard facts are that women, especially when you group them into a pack, do not all love one another and get along famously.Another response to her comments was that the women described in these series are going to be family members through marriage, and this does mean that they'll be predisposed to attempt to establish friendly relationships.
The prevalence of both the the friendless, family-less heroine of the past, and the loving families who welcome new sisters with eagerness and instantaneous affection raise questions about what readers and authors want family and female friendships to be (just as the 'secret baby' stories seem to be exploring how important it is to know one's biological family, in particular one's biological father). Quite how one interprets such depictions will depend on a close reading on the individual texts. Some authors may simply be following a trend, others may be drawing on their own personal experiences of female friendships, yet others may be expressing their ideals (and those of their readers) regarding relationships between women.
*For full reference see RomanceWiki bibliography.
** For full reference see the first page of the Romance Wiki bibliography.