Feelings and Emotions


Female friendship in eighteenth-century English literature


The English literature of the long eighteenth century offers abundant portraits of female friendship as a frequent form of sociability among women – sometimes sentimentalised as true spiritual companionship between pure and innocent souls, sometimes demonised as a devious façade for unnatural sexual desire. As opposed to men’s friendships, which centred on socialising in the public sphere, forms of attachment among women were associated with the intimate and the private.

Temple Friendship


This entry explores the diverse uses of the language and concept of friendship in eighteenth-century Britain. Though obviously central to sociable thought and practice, friendship was also caught up in philosophical debates about the instrumentality of feeling and the nature of social obligation.


While melancholy was essentially a solitary affliction, one that traditionally shunned society and regarded its activities as sham and a waste of time, or else sought out seclusion in order to indulge in self-pleasing fantasy, sociability was widely seen as a potential cure.



How individuals managed solitude, used their time alone productively, and made the transition between solitude and sociability in their daily lives were topics continuously addressed in writings from the long-eighteenth century. There was no vocabulary for loneliness in this period, but solitude was a state often associated with melancholy and thus frequently employed in a negative sense. A range of eighteenth-century writers warned about the effects of social isolation on spiritual, physical, and mental wellbeing.

 ‘William Godwin’ by James Northcote, oil on canvas, 1802. NPG 1236 © National Portrait Gallery, London

William Godwin (and his Diary)

William Godwin kept a detailed diary from the late 1780s until shortly before his death in 1836. It is an invaluable source on the radical sociability of the 1790s and its aftermath. But it raises questions about how he reconciled his extensive sociability with his critique of social conventions, manners and fashion.