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The Friend Paperback – September 16, 2003

4.4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Magisterial. . . . This intricate book—so suggestive and so valuably different from many 'popular' treatments of the history of intimacy—offers a promising way forward for historians of sexuality and the family."
(H.G. Cocks Albion 2004-09-01)

"Bray's book. . . both radically shifts our understanding of premodernity and points the way toward a more humane and useable postmodernity. . . . It tells a story that provides an alternative to the frequently false intimacy found in sex, a story that will speak powerfully to a new generation for whom the mechanics of sex (both heterosexual and homosexual) holds few mysteries, but for whom friendship is an uncharted territory."
(Tim Hitchcock American Historical Review 2004-06-01)

"Bray's loving coupledom is something with a proper historical backbone, with substance and form, something you can trace over time, visible and archeologicable. . . . Bray made a great contribution in helping to bring this long history to light . . . not just because his thoughtfulness and subtlety show what can (and cannot) be done with those materials, but because of his extraordinary ability to question the questions we ask of the past and to rethink the issues in a way that does less violence to the traces the friends have left behind."
(James Davidson London Review of Books 2005-06-02)

"Daring and important. . . It deserves to be read. Its implications stretch beyond the history of friendship, and challenge our very understanding of kinship in premodern Europe."
(Alan Stewart BBC History Magazine)

"It is precisely his painstaking quest for objectivity -- his refusal to conflate friendship with what we today call homosexuality -- that gives this book such contemporary relevance, and which ultimately makes it (as Bray puts it) 'a book about ethics'. It should be read not only as an exemplary piece of historical detective work and source criticism. By seeking to restore a space for friendship as a spiritual bond of public significance, this book also provides an indispensable frame of reference for current debates spiralling from the increasingly fraught relationship between homosexuality and Christianity." -- Alexandra Shepard, History Today
(Alexandra Shepard History Today 2004-03-01)

"Bray offers a fascinating history of male same-sex friendship, from the twelfth through the nineteenth century."
(Achsah Guibbory Studies in English Literature 1500-1900)

"Medievalists should read this book for its content, its method, and its revisionary view of a Middle Ages extending . . . . far beyond the Lockean 'civil society' that supposedly buried it. . . . The Friend is beautifully and engagingly written: the reader is treated as peer and confidant, embarked on a rather eccentric but wholly absorbing itinerary of church combing and tomb peering.”
(David Wallace Speculum)

"The Friend is a complex, multi-layered book that transports the reader through five or six centuries of religious rituals, tomb markers, letters between friends, manuscripts, and historical events. . . . It is also like a detective story in which the author and reader explore together thje mysteries hidden beneath and behind the tombstones and brass plaques. . . . But have no mistake this is a scholarly work with some important insights about the meaning of friendship in English culture."
(Peter M. Nardi Journal of Homosexuality)

"A masterful piece of interdisciplinary scholarship. . . . Anyone who is interested in the topic of friendship will find it worthwhile, as the book raises real questions about the very essence of friendship in the modern world."
(Benjamin de Lee Comitatus) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Inside Flap

In the chapel of Christ's College, Cambridge, some twenty years ago, historian Alan Bray made an astonishing discovery: a tomb shared by two men, John Finch and Thomas Baines. The monument featured eloquent imagery dedicated to their friendship: portraits of the two friends linked by a knotted cloth. And Bray would soon learn that Finch commonly described his friendship with Baines as a connubium or marriage.

There was a time, as made clear by this monument, when the English church not only revered such relations between men, but also blessed them. Taking this remarkable idea as its cue, The Friend explores the long and storied relationship between friendship and the traditional family of the church in England. This magisterial work extends from the year 1000, when Europe acquired a shape that became its enduring form, and pursues its account up to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Spanning a vast array of fascinating examples, which range from memorial plaques and burial brasses to religious rites and theological imagery to classic works of philosophy and English literature, Bray shows how public uses of private affection were very common in premodern times. He debunks the now-familiar readings of friendship by historians of sexuality who project homoerotic desires onto their subjects when there were none. And perhaps most notably, he evaluates how the ethics of friendship have evolved over the centuries, from traditional emphases on loyalty to the Kantian idea of moral benevolence to the more private and sexualized idea of friendship that emerged during the modern era.

Finely nuanced and elegantly conceived, The Friend is a book rich in suggestive propositions as well as eye-opening details. It will be essential reading for anyone interested in the history of England and the importance of friendship in everyday life.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (December 31, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226071812
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226071817
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #992,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Most of the chapters of this book begin with funerary monuments--of two men, or two women, who wanted to be buried together. Bray concludes that in pre-modern times, when life was lived more in public, and it was common for people to sleep in the same bed, the intimacy of friends was much greater than it is today, and was suffused with rituals, especially derived from Holy Communion. Were these relationships sexual? Probably yes, Bray concludes, but that isn't exactly the point, since that's a question we moderns are much more interested in than they were. It's more about how friendship has changed. The argument is subtle, and elegant--my one complaint is that sometimes the prose is too sinuous, when simple declaration would suffice. Some reviewers have even missed the point--they suggest that the friendships were NOT sexual, which isn't what Bray says at all. Incidentally, there's a terrific review of the book in the London Review of Books.
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Reading reviews of Alan Bray's _The Friend_ by some heterosexual critics--as by a few LGB ones also, I fear--is a dumbfoundingly astonishing experience. What book were these critics reading? Have they lost their critical faculties? Bray's book is largely a response to both John Boswell's (in)famous _Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe_ (New York: Villard Books, 1994) and its too predictably feral critics. Boswell contends that the eastern "adelphopoiesis" (Greek, `making brothers') rites are same-sex marriage ceremonies, whereas his critics aver they are merely ceremonies for ritual brotherhood or friendship (strictly platonic, little "p"). Addressing the corresponding western "ordo ad fratres faciendum" (Latin, `rite for making brothers') and the joint tombs placed primarily in churches memorializing such "brothers" or friends, Bray declares BOTH parties wrong (35-41), which is the point missed by some critics. In fact, Bray's enterprise is far more radical than Boswell's, though disguised in carefully constructed rhetoric. Whereas Boswell simply wishes to say there were ancient same-sex marriages, leaving our notions of friendship, marriage, lovers, sex, and the erotic largely intact, Bray would erase our great divide between friendship and sex--both in premodern times and today--reminding Americans, perhaps, of Walt Whitman's radical sexual politics. His rhetorical strategy is to get heterosexist readers on his side against Boswell and then hit them with the "sisterhood" between Anne Lister and Ann Walker in chapter six, by far the longest chapter in the book. Of course, to judge by the critical response, that rhetoric has been less than a stunning success. Let's have a quick look at the most relevant excerpts.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Alan Bray's "The Friend" is a fine and nuanced and elegant work from a writer who died too young. Bray's work on homosexuality in Renaissance England gave him a secure place in the gay studies field, but "The Friend" is something more. Bray expands a consideration of intimate relationships-- largely English, largely late-medieval and early modern --to consider not just whether such relationships were sexual (an issue he regards as not truly relevant to his main argument) but how friendships were used and seen in a political world still based on clientage, kinship, and private loyalties. What did it mean to be the proclaimed friend of a 16th-century magnate? What loyalties did two friends owe one another in business or public life? What were the badges of friendship? Of what did intimacy consist, and what things were "private" in our own sense? Bray is a consummate scholar and a fine writer--- and "The Friend" is a book that offers up a fascinating picture of the meaning of public and private loyalties in the late-medieval and early modern world.
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A detailed and involved account. Have patience while reading. It is worth the time and effort. The world is not as simple as it seems.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I needed this book for something very specific found in it and nowhere else. It met my needs on that point.
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