Synopses & 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 innocent enough, it is the first of a series of events that will turn Helen and Leo's contented life inside out. Soon a randy young doctor is chasing after all three women at once, a neighborly friendship begins to show an erotic tinge, and long-quiet ghosts from Leo's past begin to surface. Before long, no one is sure just who feels what for whom.
Mary Renault wrote this delightfully provocative novel in the early 1940s, creating characters that are lighthearted, charming, and free-spirited partly in answer to the despair characteristic of Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness or Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour. The result is a witty and stylish story that offers exceptional insight into the world of upcoming writers and artists of in 1930s London, chronicling their rejection of society's established sexual mores and their heroic pursuits of art and life.
"Renault's 1944 novel, republished in a Vintage paperback edition, is both sharp and light, a social comedy of sexual identity in which the issue is hardly discussed. Leave those conversations to the dim or doctrinaire, seems to be Renault's attitude. Most famous for her series of novels set in ancient Greece (The King Must Die, The Persian Boy
and so on), Renault takes the changeability of sexuality for granted. What may seem like the author's reticence is actually a mark of her sophistication, far beyond the hard and fast boundaries of identity politics."
Charles Taylor, Salon.com
(read the entire Salon review
"Undeniably charming...has an enormous nostalgic attractiveness." The New Yorker
"Written with rare insight." The Boston Globe
"A very lively and human story." The New York Times Book Review
"Reading Mary Renault's The Friendly Young Ladies is like settling down with a warming cup of tea only to find yourself warily wondering if that bitter flavor is the bite of almonds or the sting of cyanide. Renault's 1944 novel, republished in a Vintage paperback edition, is both sharp and light, a social comedy of sexual identity in which the issue is hardly discussed....Renault's refusal to spell out what is plain is a way of treating readers who don't understand that Leo and Helen are lovers (or ideologues who insist that they be either lesbian or straight) as unsophisticated party poopers. And her subtle insistence that sexuality is not always a determined thing is a much stronger argument for sexual freedom. The Friendly Young Ladies is not a warm book, but its acerbic charm is refreshingly free of sentimental eyewash. And someone at Vintage Books has abetted Renault nicely. The cover of this new edition features Diego Rivera's painting Natasha Z. Gelman showing a sleek redhead in an evening gown posed against a soft explosion of lilies. Rivera's immersion in sensuality here is worth every political canvas he ever painted." Charles Taylor, Salon.com
When seventeen-year-old Elsie runs away from home, she seeks out her older sister Leo, only to find Leo sharing a houseboat, and a bed, with the beautiful, fair-haired Helen. When Elsie decides to stay for a bit, she turns Helen and Leo's lifestyle upside down. An enchanting portrait of Bohemian life in 1930s London, this delightfully provocative romantic comedy was written in 1943 in opposition to the despair characteristic of Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness or Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour.
Set in 1937, 'The Friendly Young Ladies' is a romantic comedy of off-Bloomsbury bohemia.
About the Author
Mary Renault was born in London and educated at Oxford. She then trained for three years as a nurse, and wrote her first published novel, Promise of Love. Her next three novels were written while serving in WWII. After the war, she settled in South Africa and traveled considerably in Africa and Greece. It was at this time that she began writing her brilliant historical reconstructions of ancient Greece, including The King Must Die, The Last of the Wine, and The Persian Boy. She died in Cape Town in 1983.