There are two types of characterization in Female Friends. Because the novel is in a sense three rather randomly organized case studies, Chloe, Grace, and Marjorie are almost fully revealed to the reader. Only the fact that they, rather than an omniscient author, report and interpret their own lives makes the accounts less than completely reliable. Even then, the friends correct one another’s stories. For example, Marjorie doubts Grace’s tale of being raped by her father; Grace likes to dramatize herself, Marjorie tells Chloe, proceeding to suggest what probably did happen. The other characters in the novel, however, are presented through the vantage point of Chloe, Grace, and Marjorie. Therefore, their motivations are what these women assume them to be or what they themselves state. Certainly, Edwin Songford, Oliver Rudore, and Patrick Bates represent the worst traits which women note in men: They are insensitive, irresponsible, and dishonest; they dominate their women like colossi because they cannot subdue the world and the female seems a ready substitute for it. Unlike the female friends, however, they are one-dimensional.
If Weldon’s men are less fully realized than her women characters, they are at least not all evil. Marjorie’s parents reverse the usual feminist pattern: Her mother, Helen, is self-centered and heartless, while her father, Dick, is as badly treated by his wife as Chloe is by Oliver or Esther Songford by Edwin. There is no implication that Marjorie’s husband, Ben, was inconsiderate, and although Grace’s first husband was a ruthless empire-builder, at the end of the book, she seems to have linked herself to a better person. Because she admits that not all men are evil and that not all women are good, and because she suggests that the victims of both sexes can learn to refuse their roles, the author has created a novel which is both more realistic and more hopeful than it might otherwise have been.