There is no author who has been as significant in articulating and developing ideas about friendship as Cicero, and no modern text that can compare to his De amicitia in its influence on the ways in which friendship was understood and written about over the following centuries. On the contrary, few modern philosophical works even consider friendship and none has come to be seen as indispensable to anyone currently engaged in writing about it. Friendship was certainly discussed in sermons, letters and essays in the late eighteenth century, but increasingly towards the century's end and throughout the nineteenth century, it is to fiction rather than to philosophy that one needs to turn to find extended discussions of friendship.
The discussion of friendship that appeared in fiction at this time was in many ways very different from that which had continued from classical times until the eighteenth century. One of the most significant of these differences was evident in the central place of women, both as the subjects whose friendship featured in fiction and increasingly also as the authors who wrote about it. Indeed, the now quite widely discussed rise of the woman novelist and of the “woman of letters” in the course of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries can also be seen as heralding the move of women into a predominant place in writing about friendship. Many of the women writers who published novels in this period have now been entirely forgotten but a small number retain a significant place in the literary canon.