The Victorian debate about marriage and the changing place of women in a maledominated society has been well documented. Feminist critics have gone on to analyse the importance of female friendship in terms of the ‘woman question’ and the ambivalent status of unmarried women; accepted behaviour in the context of friendship has informed work on masculinity, for instance by Richard Dellamora and Matt Cook; further studies of both male and female relations in the period have discussed the significance of ‘romantic friendship’ as a euphemism or perhaps displacement for what we would now term homosexual or lesbian feeling. In Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, Eve Sedgwick insightfully qualifies such a view, commenting: ‘What counts as the sexual is … variable and itself political’ (15). But long before the upsurge of gay and lesbian studies, the nineteenth century itself had hosted a long-running debate about the nature and role of friendship in its own right.