Images of friendship: Literary depictions through the ages

Alberta Contarello, Chiara Volpato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present work aims to study friendship in historical literary texts to examine the basic structure and various modalities of this relationship as depicted through the ages. Five masterpieces of European literature chosen for their availability, relevance and popularity - criteria required in comparative studies - were content analysed and then submitted to cluster and correspondence analyses. The works span a wide period, from the end of the twelfth century to the mid-twentieth century. All of them were written by women. The results highlight both common and diverse aspects of the relationship in the course of time. As regards common aspects the central core of friendship appears to consist of intimacy, respect, mutual help, confrontation. The results of correspondence analyses illustrate factors which tie up with the basic dimensions encountered in cross-cultural research: `affect’, `intimacy’ and, to a lesser extent, `status’. Major differences over time regard the varying form of the relationship. An important change in friendship occurred in the passage from the sixteenth to the seventeenth century, with conflict increasingly emerging as a possible element. The results are discussed in connection with the literature on personal relationships and the topic of literature as a source of social knowledge is briefly discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-75
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Social and Personal Relationships
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Social Psychology


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