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The Friendly Young Ladies (Virago Modern Classics)

3.37  ·  Rating Details  ·  240 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
Set in 1937, The Friendly Young Ladies is a romantic comedy of off-Bloomsbury bohemia. Sheltered, naïve, and just eighteen, Elsie leaves the stifling environment of her parents’ home in Cornwall to seek out her sister, Leo, who had run away nine years earlier. She finds Leo sharing a houseboat, and a bed, with the beautiful, fair-haired Helen. While Elsie’s arrival seems i ...more
Paperback, 280 pages
Published June 21st 1984 by Virago Press Ltd (first published 1943)
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Sep 09, 2012 Dorothea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think this is Renault's only contemporary novel (it's set in 1937; she wrote it during WWII) and (maybe?) her only one with a lesbian couple.

The Vintage edition includes an afterword Renault wrote in 1983, which is interesting but rather annoying because she mostly uses it as a soapbox to tell the younger LGB to stop marching around demanding that everyone respect their differences. She frames this as an explanation of why she wrote The Friendly Young Ladies -- she wanted to show that people i
Sharon Terry
Oct 15, 2014 Sharon Terry rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I was severely disappointed in this novel, by an author whose classically-themed books I enjoyed. I actually read the Virago 2005 reprint, which contains the Afterword by the author herself, but no other commentary.

The story concerns the timid, repressed Elsie Lane's great adventure in running away from her stifling, conflict-ridden, suburban life in Cornwall, to go in search of her older sister Leonora, who also ran away, ostensibly with a man (actually, a good mate). Leo, as she's known, has a
Jan 24, 2016 Shirleynature rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: funny, lgbtq
Groundbreaking, profound, intellectual, complicated, funny, thoughtful, and frustrating, but very worth reading! I bookmarked about a dozen pages of this book because the writing rang so true! I was surprised how accessible the language was in spite of being British.
Quote from the back cover: "Set in 1937...a romantic comedy of off-Bloomsbury bohemia...Mary Renault wrote this delightfully provocative novel in the early 1940s, creating characters that are lighthearted, charming, and free-spirit
Jul 31, 2015 Lucie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After I finished this, I had to do a little research into the author and how the book was received in order to feel like I'd really gotten it. The language is great; I was struck how how strongly I was seeing the scenes in my mind while I was reading. It's set in a time period I'm really interested in, and I liked getting another perspective. The thing I struggled with the most was feeling like I'd walked in on the middle of someone else's conversation, especially during exchanges between Leo an ...more
Oct 13, 2014 Bert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved Leo and her corduroy slack-wearing, cigarette-smoking, western-writing tomboyishness. Loved the casually bohemian tone of it all. The ending was a bit melodramatic and a bit unsatisfying but otherwise this was delightful and written with great charm and quiet insinuation.
Jul 17, 2014 Kat rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Though this novel begins with the story of an unattractive and unintelligent girl who lives with her family in Cornwall, fairly early on it switches to the more interesting lives of two women who share a houseboat on the Thames in the late 1930s, and the impact on their (lesbian) relationship brought about by the men they interact with. The novel would not pass muster with the politically correct crowd, but is honest and interesting in its way, and certainly readable. I believe it includes the b ...more
Jan 17, 2010 Becc rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: glbt-bookclub
I accept the author's preference for a more fluid depiction of sexual identity (evident in both this book's lesbian characters' sexual relationships with men and apparently in Renault's own life and that of her partner, upon which the aforementioned characters are apparently arguably based); and I can appreciate to some degree the author's critical reaction to Radclyffe Hall's rather more dismal and didactic lesbian novel (the infamous 'The Well of Loneliness') of a few decades earlier, given Ha ...more
Jun 07, 2010 Louis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lesbians
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jadi Campbell
Apr 29, 2013 Jadi Campbell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've reread this over and over again through the years. The Friendly Young Ladies may be read as a comedy of manners, a meditation on what it means to relate to others as sexual and intellectual equals, as an exploration of what identifies inner freedom (and the consequences thereof), and finally, as an absorbing tale of people who live very differently. Renault's delicate writing is perfect for this tale. In other hands the story would have been heavy-handed; the way she writes, it's very funny ...more
V.T. Davy
I found this book annoying. It was written in response to the downbeat, seriousness of “The Well of Loneliness”, which the author derides. However, it fails in its attempt to be upbeat and, at points, leaves one with a nasty taste in the mouth regarding the friendly young ladies’ behaviour. Peter’s male arrogance is nicely done and he deserves all he gets, but neither Joe or Leo deserved their unkind fate, which provided a very downbeat ending. Much is made in the novel of “how things like that ...more
Dec 10, 2009 Donson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is Renault's third novel, written during the war but set in the time period just prior. It deals with a sheltered young woman, who flees her dysfunctional family to search for her black sheep older sister, who fled the family a number of years earlier, following a disgrace about which no one will talk. She finally finds her sister living on a houseboat on the Thames with another woman in what is clearly a Lesbian relationship. The sister supports herself writing cowboy romances, for which s ...more
Victoria (Eve's Alexandria)
Read and adored The Charioteer last year and so was eager to read Renault's only lesbian novel. On the whole it's a success - emotionally taut, generous to all its characters - but the ending is compromised by the implication that homosexuality is an expression of past hetero trauma. There is hyperbole in the writing too, with Renault's signature fixation on the meeting of souls and hearts and fate. Still I admired it, especially the subplot of Elsie and Peter.
Ronald Wise
Aug 18, 2011 Ronald Wise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book immensely and had trouble putting it down at times — not due to action-packed drama, but from a keen personal interest in the nuanced interactions of its characters. The two "Afterwards" at the end of the book — one by Renault just before her death, and a later one by Lillian Faderman — were very useful in helping me to understand the author and encapsulate my reactions to this book. Though this novel is noted as an autobiographical story regarding the issue of heterosexualit ...more
Sep 22, 2014 Lizzy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
It started off a bit slowly, but by the end I was unable to put it down (even at the cost of being rude to my parents when they were talking to me.) The entire idea appeals to me--London, house boat, falling in and out of love, friendship. And it is wonderfully written. I disagree with the author about the ending, however. She claims it was too sappy, but I think it couldn't have had any other conclusion.
Since Renault is my favorite author, I've been trying to track down and read all of her earlier works, including this one. To say it was a disappointment is unfair, since I hold her on such a pedestal. And this book actually has in it the ingredients that would become some of her later, better books, including The Charioteer. But FYL sort of falls apart otherwise. The characters and setting are interesting as usual, but the story is really unfulfilling. And it's odd that the novel starts with so ...more
Nov 29, 2010 Christin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mary-renault

I am MAYBE 10 pages in and already I'm thinking, "hmm, they won't notice if I read for a few hours in my office right?"

I wanted a book that will last me through the weekend but not be too heavy. I might be in trouble.
Finished. Yeah, I'm a little disappointed in the ending, if Leo is meant to have left but that's not how I read it. I read it as her standing at the crossroads and we are left to fill in the rest with our own imaginations.
Nov 22, 2015 Jesi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer-lit
Renault wrote this as a response to Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness, as a much lighter, less doom-and-gloom story of lesbian life, set in 1930s Britain. It's definitely quirky and witty, but then my god it's wrenchingly sad. Like Renault's novel The Charioteer, this is a book that holds you and holds you and then in the final moments draws back and knifes you in the chest. It's not even the tragedy you would expect; it's somehow worse than that. Five stars. And five more stars for the sc ...more
Sarah Steed
Nov 19, 2015 Sarah Steed rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
1930s lesbians living in a houseboat on the Thames. What's not to love?
Jan 11, 2008 Megan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I read this in 2005 and found it to be incredibly frustrating. For one thing, don't believe any of the blurbs on the back of the book - this book is neither a romance nor a comedy. It doesn't really have much at all to say about artists communities in the '30s. And for that matter, it doesn't really have that much to say about lesbian relationships either. The characters are mostly either dispicable or tragic.

After reading this, I wrote a long exposition of my problems with this book here: http
Diane Walters
I had the audio book version. The narrator had a strong English accent and a melodic range to her voice. I couldn't get into the book. Every time I turned it on--I blanked out.
Emmanuel Vallecillo
Está bien el libro aun que esperaba más de el .
Alex Hogan
Aug 03, 2011 Alex Hogan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gay
I read this when I was about 15. LOL, unaware, of course, that this was THE Mary Renault, whom I discovered later as the writer of beautiful Ancient Greet stories.

It is a Lesbian story, altho that passed me by at the time.
Anywavewilldo Anywavewilldo
sad she had to put a heterosexual ending on this book - when she was queer by writing about gay men in ancient contexts she did so much better - so I can't say I liked the story but it was important she wrote it...
Katie M.
Oct 23, 2009 Katie M. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008, queer
Gay characters who TURN STRAIGHT. FAIL. (Slight win for writing an afterword many years later in which you express regret at having written such a lame turn of events.)
Claire Haeg
Jul 13, 2011 Claire Haeg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wartime psychological novel, and a very interesting timepiece with, as usual, great characters. Her usual interest in and sympathy for homosexuality is evident.
Jul 16, 2012 Misael rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Muy lento, con un concepto no del todo muy bueno, una temática muy real y con problemas psicológicos acercas de las relaciones inter-humanas,aburrido en su mayoría.
Sep 02, 2012 Sandra rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting Characters. I imagine it must have been quite scandalous for it's time. Not sure what to make of the ending though. It was good summer read.
One of the first books I came across that talked about lesbians, and quite an eye opener to a rather naïve young woman
Elizabeth Bradley
Why didn't anyone tell me about Mary Renault sooner??
Mary Ellen
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Mary Renault was an English writer best known for her historical novels set in Ancient Greece. In addition to vivid fictional portrayals of Theseus, Socrates, Plato and Alexander the Great, she wrote a non-fiction biography of Alexander.

Her historical novels are all set in ancient Greece. They include a pair of novels about the mythological hero Theseus and a trilogy about the career of Alexander
More about Mary Renault...

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