Pals

John Bayley

  • The Oxford Book of Friendship edited by D.J. Enright and David Rawlinson
    Oxford, 360 pp, £15.00, April 1991, ISBN 0 19 214190 2

Do we have ‘friends’, or do we just know various people? There is something a bit sticky and self-conscious about the idea of friendship. Anyone can be in love and proud of it, but to have a ‘friend’ – no, it really won’t do. ‘I’m your friend,’ said Myfanwy to John as they crouched in the ‘dark and furry cupboard while the rest played hide-and-seek’. Betjeman got that about right.‘We’ve always been the greatest friends’ – that is the kind of thing the lady says about her dentist or accountant, or a woman she’s known for years and years and doesn’t trust an inch. Friendship, like patriotism, is one of those things that has gone off the scale of expression. E. M. Forster managed to combine both in the stickiest sentence he ever wrote: the one about hoping he would have the guts to betray his country rather than his friend. We still have the crude but at least practical convenience of ‘girlfriend’ or ‘boyfriend’. But can the past, and its writing, restore sense and civility to the idea of friendship?

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