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Women friends

Umberto Boccioni, “Three women” (1909-1910)

For many centuries friendship was considered to be a solely masculine fact, a “lofty” sentiment, cathartic, which uplifted the spirit: Achilles and Patroclus, Euryalus and Nisus, and also David and Jonathan – literature and the text of the Bible itself offer us famous examples. Women remained rigorously excluded, their friendship was neither worthy of note nor merited being recounted and exalted in poems and songs. Even when Christianity introduced a more egalitarian concept of the relationship between the genders, philosophers and scholars continued to depend on the great classical tradition in which, especially in the Greek world, it was men alone who ennobled their strictly male affections in the schools and symposia. However, a space for female friendships was opened in the convents, either among the sisterhood of the nuns or, in exceptional cases, in the form of bonds between women who were out of the ordinary, which remained entrusted to their correspondence, such as that of Clare of Assisi and Agnes of Prague, analysed here by Gabriella Zarri.

The revaluation of female friendships, over and above the stereotypes on the superficiality of women, and the interpretation of their ties in terms of “elective affinity”, of spiritual and cultural elevation, do not date back very far and may not yet be fully achieved. This issue seeks to capture a few moments of this recognition: as well as Clare of Assisi, we look at the spiritual friendships of Chiara Lubich with her companions; the bond in the horror of the concentration camp between two exceptional women, Grete Buberr-Neumann and Milena Jesenska, Kafka’s Milena, female friendships seen though the image of the cinema, an extraordinary window which reveals I would not say the shadows but rather the ambiguities with which they are still viewed by male eyes. Overall, this is an image of friendship between women which has nothing to envy in the creative force of male friendships: an irresistible force, capable of ruling the world and of changing it. (anna foa)

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