Charlotte, Penelope and Henrietta: Friendships in Pink

This post was written by Betty.


Rereading the Pink Carnation books made me think more about the portrayal of female friendships, especially that of Henrietta Selwick, Charlotte Lansdowne, and Penelope Deveraux. The three characters first appeared together in The Masque of the Black Tulip, which became the story of Henrietta and Miles. Seen huddling, whispering and giggling together in a corner of Almack’s Assembly Rooms, they are introduced as Henrietta and her two best friends. I saw them as typical friends experiencing an evening out and discussing events. Since Henrietta is trying to attract the attention of Miles in this setting, he became the focus of the conversation. Miles had noticed Henrietta was there by hearing delightful laughter that could only come from Henrietta. When he disappears to get Henrietta lemonade, Penelope makes a snide comment about how long it is taking and where else he might be. Charlotte, on the other hand, soothes Henrietta by giving a plausible excuse. Hearing this, Charlotte’s grandmother made a derogatory remark about “namby-pamby good nature” coming from her mother’s side, weakening the Lansdowne line. Wow! That might say a lot about Charlotte’s shyness. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

This opening peek into our three friends gave me the initial impression of Henrietta being a vivacious, well-adjusted young lady seeking romance with someone she has a crush on. Charlotte is the quiet, caring, supportive friend, willing to help in any way, and putting herself in the background, thinking no one could be interested in her. Then there is Penelope – sarcastic, brash, flirtatious, willing to go to extremes to catch an eligible man. Trapping gentlemen on the balcony is mentioned right from the start as an acceptable ploy. Later on in the story, Henrietta’s two friends are willing to help her in her pursuit of Miles, even going so far as to camouflage themselves as bushes to spy on Miles riding out with another woman. However, while Penelope was always along for the ride, I didn’t see her as being supportive. She came along, but in every scene – tea at the Uppingtons’, a trip to the bookshop, and the hilarious disguise at Hyde Park – Penelope was always critical of Hen or Miles in some way. She really wasn’t pushing for this relationship, whereas Charlotte said she had always noticed their closeness over the years, and wasn’t surprised it would turn to love.

So, I asked myself, how did this friendship work? I think each personality brought something different to the relationship. Penelope’s daring attitude and willingness to take risks brought an exciting, adventurous spirit to the group. She had a flare for the dramatic and wasn’t shy about saying what she thought, whether it was sarcastic, flirtatious, or risqué. Henrietta seemed to me to be the most well-rounded of the three. She was confident, capable, humorous, and definitely possessed the charm to be entertaining and converse with anyone. However, she could also be sensitive – sensitive to Charlotte’s loneliness, Penelope’s carelessness, and sensitive to the point that her feelings could be hurt. Charlotte, while quiet, shy, and willing to stay in the background, was also observant, able to see things others did not. Perhaps this was because of her position so often in the background, never sure where she belonged. But Charlotte was also supportive and strong enough to be by her friends’ sides whenever they needed her. While Henrietta and Charlotte were the ones who often had to rein in Penelope, they could also imagine the excitement her escapades could bring. Henrietta could sense Charlotte’s loneliness and even asked Miles to dance with her, so her friend could enjoy an evening. Henrietta and Charlotte were a comfort to each other whenever needed. So, yes, this friendship worked. But what did future changes in their lives do to the friendship?

Fast forward to The Temptation of the Night Jasmine. Charlotte and Penelope are together for the Christmas and New Years’ celebration at Girdings. Henrietta doesn’t arrive until a number of days later because she is now married. Penelope is as flirtatious as ever, attracting the attention of men she really doesn’t even like. She captures Turnip for several scenes including under the mistletoe and had already been on the balcony with him in Pink II. While Tommy Fluellen shows definite interest in Penelope, she is content to let this handsome man follow her around like a puppy dog with little acknowledgement because he is not of the proper social standing. While recognizing that most of the men there are a sorry excuse for “eligibles,” she nonetheless sets her cap on Lord Freddy. As for Charlotte’s interest in Robert, Penelope continues with her snide comments to the point of hurting Charlotte’s feelings – she wants Charlotte to live in the real world, and not envision a life with Robert, whom she feels is not truly interested in Charlotte. Once Henrietta arrives, she wants to hear everything and gives Charlotte support and encouragement for her feelings for Robert. She is Charlotte’s confidante. Both notice a change in Penelope, indicating that she has become wilder, taking chances that could get her into trouble. Penelope seems to feel that Hen has betrayed the trio by her marriage, and doesn’t act as close. There is even a hint of jealousy. Penelope’s actions finally lead to her being compromised by Lord Freddy. Penelope has risked her reputation, but her friends don’t desert her. Of course this sets up the next book, Penelope’s story.

So, what is the state of the friendship now? Will it survive, and what is the responsibility of each young woman in this relationship? Would you fit comfortably in this group of friends? Have you experienced any relationships like this? Sometimes it is harder for three to be friends than two.

My thoughts also went to the friendship in the modern story between Eloise and Pammy. Pammy is definitely the more domineering of the two. I know opposites attract, but I often wonder how Eloise puts up with Pammy. She seems to think Eloise’s life can’t be complete without a man, and is always pushing her to meet and date. Their personalities are different as well as their taste in clothes and men. Pammy is frequently changing boyfriends. Her idea of a relationship seems definitely different than Eloise’s. But, maybe Eloise just needs someone to keep pushing her so she can gain some confidence. Also, I am wondering if a comparison can be drawn between Charlotte’s and Henrietta’s friendship and Eloise’s and Pammy’s? Or perhaps Charlotte and Penelope with Eloise and Pammy? Again, I am interested in all of your opinions.

Hope you are enjoying The Temptation of the Night Jasmine. Let’s discuss chapters 8 – 16 on Friday and through the weekend!

3 thoughts on “Charlotte, Penelope and Henrietta: Friendships in Pink

  1. Pingback: Eloise and Pammy – Best Friends Forever | The Bubble Bath Reader

  2. Hi, Betty! I enjoyed this post! I don’t have the wherewithal to adequately respond right now. I do think that the relationship between Herietta, Charlotte, and Penelope will last as they mature. I say that because they truly care about each other and have been through so much. They continue to show their loyalty and caring for each other. I love how they accept their differences.

    I am not sure what the parallel is with the modern friendship; that is a good question. I definitely think that Eloise gains more from the friendship than is maybe first apparent. I think there is something special about a friend who has known you since those young growing up years. Also, I sort of think that while Pammy is more flamboyant, she only dominates to the extent that Eloise allows her to. And Eloise understands Pammy’s hidden vulnerabilities that motivate some of her behavior, much like Penelope, maybe? Do you think Serena could be added into this mix?

    • I think you’re right, Paige. Eloise allows Pammy to dominate her. Maybe it has something to do with knowing each other for so long. Also, it could be that Eloise wishes she could be a little like Pammy. Serena could definitely be added. I see her as very vulnerable, and Eloise could be just the person to be a good friend to her.

      Henrietta, Charlotte, and Penelope will probably be friends for life. I think they look out for each other and work better than a group of three would normally be expected to work.

      Thanks for commenting, Paige!

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