The Notion of Male Companionship and Male Friendship

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This chapter will provide an explanation of the theoretical foundation of this report. The concepts this piece of writing will concern itself with are masculinity, male companionship, Eve Kasofsky Sedwick’s theory of male homosocial desire, René Gerard theory on triangular desire and Aristotle’s attempt to define friendship as a whole.

The Confusing Term Friendship

From the time of Aristotle (384-322 BCE), the notion of friendship and even the term friend have fascinated philosophers. Aristotle, a famed philosopher himself, opines that “Without friends, no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods”. (Aristotle, and Ross. 2016: 307) In elaboration, every man seems to be quite iffy when the term “loner” is discussed at length. A loner is in his essence someone without any friends or even acquaintances and humans as species has all the right to be suspicious of someone who is outside the norm of sociality since homo sapience are social creatures. Yet, we as species seem to glorify the so-called ‘charming’ psychopath, who on service may interact well with people but underneath this façade a person with no close relations hide. Plus, this appearance of being social is more often than not a mask individual who engage in rather anti-social activities hide behind. Furthermore, Aristotle insist that friendship in and of itself is a noble gesture and is benefitting us greatly. When one is down one can seek refuge or even help from one’s comrades. In the early, friends are meant to keep us out of trouble although in some case they encourage it and in the golden years a friend should help with facing the limitations that comes with old age. In between our years of stupidity and our years of reflection, a friend is there to prove to us how good we can be and how good we may become. All these building blocks of friendship and what is meant to be a friend are beautifully illustrated through Doyle’s famed detective and his trusted companion from the moment they meet. So, for Aristotle: ‘To be friends, then, the must be mutually recognized as bearing goodwill and wishing well to each other’ (Aristotle, and Ross. 2016: 311)

In Like manner, Aristotle fancied that there were three forms of friendship, namely, “utility based”, “pleasure based” and “complete” or “perfect” friendship. The final form a friendship may take what other may call “true” friendship. Now, every companionship starts of as either a utility based on, i.e. classmates, or a pleasure based one which in most cases is based on a mutual interest. This cannot be truer in an era where promiscuity runs rampant and fandoms are more easily accessible with the help of the internet. Thus, Aristotle’s distinction of the different types of comradeship may give us a clue to why Mr Holmes and Dr Watson’s companionship is still going strong. Some even argue that it can all be boiled down to their friendship being a model we wish to reflect ourselves in or simply that we all seek to find a ‘true’ friend in life.

Someone we can see as a second self. The idea of a perfect friendship brings us back to Aristotle who descripts this reflection as “another self”. Yet, another prominent figure who touches on the same subject is Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) who writes as follows: “If a man should importune me to give a reason why I loved him, I find it could no otherwise be expressed, than by making answer: because it was he, because it was I. Thus, when searching for someone to mirror ourselves we look not to find a friend who is too much like ourselves but rather someone who can challenge us. In short, someone who has the qualities we lack. But then again, many say that “opposites attract” and thus one may question oneself why Mr Holmes and his arch-enemy Mr James Moriarty are not the best of friends. In their case if following Aristotle’s logic for friendship which states that in order for a friendship to flourish one needs “mutual goodwill and virtue”.(Aristotle, and Ross. 2016) These two pillars of friendship which Mr Moriarty lacks greatly even though he is as intelligent as Mr Holmes.

Masculinity and Male Friendship

In all material presented in this thesis Mr Holmes and Dr Watson are male and thus their behaviour and flourishing friendship will be influenced greatly by how men perceived at the time. Mr Whitehead observes that the definition of what a man may be has changed over time and social standing also impact the definition of what a man should be significantly. Men and masculinity are socially constructed terms and ideologies of a certain time also help shape what masculinity and men are or should be.

For instance, Brittan argues that we can talk about these styles of male behaviours almost like fashions. In the 1960s males had different hairstyles which changes doing the 1970s. Similarly, males experimented with macho and androgynous forms of identity. At the present time fatherhood is a popular masculine style.

The original novel and the 21st century adaptation may have been conceived at different time periods thus portraying masculinity in different manners. Yet, the core of the masculine behaviours Mr Holmes and Dr Watson’s act out are loyalty, duty and most importantly brotherhood.

The attributes which create the foundation for Mr Holmes and Dr Watson’s enduring friendship and their portrayal of masculinity are points which are generalised when discussing men’s friendship overall. Or as Mr Peter Nardi puts it.

Images of friendships both fictional and real were historically male-dominated. And, these agreements had their basis in bravery, loyalty, duty and heroism. Building upon this, women were often not capable of “true” friendships. On the contrary, in present day the ideal friendship is expressed by more feminine traits: intimacy, trust, caring, and nurturing. Such as a have excluded more traditional men from true friendship.

The quote above explains that originally friendship no matter the medium was a masculine affair and even claims that women were not able to sustain meaningful friendships given their core values. Aristotle, on the other hand, would strongly disagree with this claim since he argues that “true” friendship is based upon “bearing goodwill and wishing well to each other” (Aristotle, and Ross. 2016: 311). Such a definition is more akin to modern-day depictions of “true” friendship. But as Nardi also observes above would be that Aristotle’s description of “true” friendship excludes traditional men. Nardi goes on the explain that “friendships between men in terms of intimacy and emotional support inevitably introduce – in ways they never done before – questions about homosexuality”. (Nardi 1992: 1) In continuation of this he notes, by using G. Herek’s writings on this subject, that “heterosexual masculinity” are founded on independence, dominance, toughness and success (Nardi 1992: 1) These building blocks enable men to embrace their feminine side and also engage in homosexual acts. Consequently, such a close-minded definition of masculinity tells the male population that they should not have emotionally significant relationships with other men in fear of it being perceived as queer. Therefore, one may see Mr Holmes and Dr Watson’s companionship as an interesting case study of how male companionship can work wonderfully without any sexual advances.

In terms of bonds men create there are two distinctive types, namely comradeship and friendship. Lyman and his colleague Mr J. Glenn Gray define these two types as follows: “Comradeship is based upon an erotic of shared danger but is based upon a loss of an individual sense of self to a group identity, while friendship is based upon an individual’s intellectual and emotional affinity to another person”. (Lyman 1987) Additionally, he observes that male friendships are more formal and group-orientated than personal and emotional. Here, the friendship of the famed detective and his companion yet again strays from the norm since it starts out as a comradeship but quickly matures into a full fleshed friendship. If one should follow Aristotle’s distinctions of friendship, one would argue that in the case of Mr Holmes and Dr Watson it quickly escalates from being a “pleasure based” relationship, based on their shared interest in danger, to a “true” friendship.

Triangle Desire and Homosociality

Desires is a common human trait, whether it is to be noticed by one’s crush or getting that top position. Theoretically, desire affect us by placing us in a triangle as either the mediator, subject or object of someone’s fancy. According to René Girard’s book Deceit, Desire and the Novel (1965) Don Quixote uses Amadis as his mediator which basically means that Quixote uses his protagonist to mirror his deepest desires. In addition to this he comments on what he sees as true chivalry through Amadis by stating: “Chivalric existence is the imitation of Amadis in the same sense that the Christian’s existence is the imitation of Christ”(Girard 1965: 2). The nature of imitation or mimesis is a central component of this hypothesis. He goes on the explain that simple desire needs a subject and an object and that these essential components ‘can always be portrayed by a simple straight line…” (Girard 1965: 2). For instance, a subject can be teenage girl crushing hard on the actor (subject) who plays the main love interest in her favourite show. These two components are connected by this line. In more complex desires a mediator joints the group. And, this mediator can both influence the object and the subject. While the object is ever changing, the mediator is constant.

Another significant thing to mention is how passion and desire differs. Mr Girard explains it as follows:
As for passion… it begins only with that silence which Jean Prévost discusses so ably in his La Création Chez Stendhal. This passion which keeps silent is hardly desire. As soon as there is real desire, even in the passionate character, we find the mediator (Girard 1965: 21).

As described beautifully in the quote above passion works without a mediator while the mediator needs to be present for “real desire” to occur. Then there is the question of vanity and how we as individuals project such. And here Mr Girard points out that a vain individual gets his desires by living through others while a passionate individual finds his desires from within himself and not by living through others. (Girard 1965: 6, 19). In short, triangular desires can help us understand how humans relate to one another by giving us an insight into how our mind works. Additionally, it explains the spontaneous nature of our innermost passions because they only need a subject and an object. Yet, one should not exclude a mediator.

The last term which help us understand the complexity of relationships, especially friendships, is homosociality. This term concerns itself with the bonds individuals of the same sex create and is often confused with “homosexuality”. Yet, these concepts differ greatly in terms of meaning. As Kosofsky Sedwick remarks there is a “potential unbrokenness of a continuum between homosocial and homosexual” (Sedgwick 2015: 2) this means as far as men goes these two terms are more likely to be confused. She then draws on Mr Girard’s work by suggesting that “the triangles Girard traces are most often those in which two males are rivals for a female; it is the bound between males that he most assiduously uncovers” (Sedgwick 2015: 21). Besides this she also refers to an asymmetry which disturbs the relations between sexual and nonsexual male bonds (Sedgwick 2015: 23) which could lead to confusion.

In continuation of this there are many forms of homosocial bounds, where the most notable would be homosexual desire, another would be cuckoldry. Cuckoldry is very prominent in William Wycherley’s The Country Wife (1675) which means the “central position of the play emphasizes heterosexual love chiefly as a strategy of homosocial desire”. (Sedgwick and Koestenbaum. 2015: 23) Furthermore, when talking of cuckoldry, one has to mention that it is a very hierarchical action which includes a dominant personality and a submissive one, and the passive one in this act has to be ignorant to the fact he is being mocked. On the contrary, when a lady is a part of the equation male do not have to worry about being perceived as potentially feminine. The key here is that: “The homosociality of this world seems embodied fully in its heterosexuality; and its shape is not that of brotherhood, but of extreme, compulsory, and intensely volatile mastery and submission”. (Sedgwick and Koestenbaum. 2015: 66) In the case of Mr Holmes and Dr Watson, they are not competing to get the attention of a young lady but rather who solves a given enquiry first. So, the urge to solve the crime first is how cuckoldry materialises within the confines of their relationship.


On a final note, the likeness of these two terms is put into question when discussing the friendship of these two famed men. The questioning of their relations is especially prevalent when Mrs Hudson assumes that they may be gay due to their housing arrangement and how closely they end up working together. Such arrangements also make the reader or view speculate to whether or not their relationship is purely a friendly one or if there may be more to it.

Cite this paper

The Notion of Male Companionship and Male Friendship. (2020, Nov 12). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-notion-of-male-companionship-and-male-friendship/

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