Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Pleasure of Her Company” is a study of marriage, intimate friendships between women, and how marriage and friendship fit—or do not fit—together. Florence’s curiosity about the Howards’ marriage comes close to voyeurism. The story states several times that Florence finds marriage a mystery, and Florence constantly tries to manipulate conversations so that Frannie will talk about Philip and their life together. Frannie is reticent, more of a listener than a talker, especially on this subject. Florence attempts to piece things together in her naïve way.

One of the most telling of Frannie’s few confidences is that she lost all of her women friends when she married Philip. She says she has not had a close woman friend since marrying Philip, although she had had three or four before. There is not room for both a close woman friend and Philip in her life.

When Frannie and Philip separate, Florence’s curiosity about their marriage intensifies. Again she tries to elicit confidences from Frannie, but Frannie says little. It is not until late in the story that Florence begins to realize that Frannie is slipping from her grasp, that she cannot contain her friend’s life within her own. Even as she sees Frannie’s life exclude her, she believes that at least they had a special friendship before the separation, before Helen. Philip disabuses Florence of this notion, telling her that their friendship was not what she thought it was. The intimacy she felt was a farce designed to smooth over a difficult period in the Howards’ marriage. Philip tells Florence that she cannot begin to understand marriage by studying someone else’s. She must solve the mystery and find intimacy in her own marriage.