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Dear friends and readers,

I've written a blog after studying the counterbalancing pattern of women friends/sisters scenes in a number of Andrew Davies's films and especially those films derived from Austen's books and books he treats (or are) very like hers, e.g., Wives and Daughters, some unexpectedly so, e.g, He Knew He Was Right, Fanny Hill.  These scenes provide a secondary story of sorts, one the plot-design is not dependent on, but which comments on the main plot-design, often critically.  What I discovered was that the relationship between Charlotte Lucas and Elizabeth and the scenes they have together correspond to what Terry Castle, Suzanne Juhasz and others have called the marginalized women story, which they see as ghosting lesbian women, women who prefer strongly not to marry for whatever reason, and show how they are severed from needed moorings of society. What makes Charlotte Lucas interesting is she has a chance to and decides to marry.  Her friendship with Elizabeth is interrupted and more or less permanently she is cut off from the one meaningful relationship of her life.

I've discerned a countervailing pattern against the dominant heterosexual romance one in Austen:  it's seen more emphatically in the film adaptations with their use, creation and emphasis on dramatic scenes.  You can "read" not only Davies 1995 P&P (and before him Weldon's 1979 P&P) and Davies's 2008 S&S from the point of view of women's scenes set up as women's scenes (pairs of friends, sisters, companions, cousin, aunt and niece), there are so many and taken together they critique romancing of marriage as a wonderful solution to a woman's need to survive. They make it clear it's not love that drives women but need for money and respect. 

Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle) and Charlotte Lucas (Lucy Scott) walking together during Elizabeth's visit to Huntsford, with Maria Lucas (a simpleton in the movie) following behind

More: that Davies's movies has these sister-friend pair scenes frequently and consciously as a pattern within the Austen movies. Other writers do this (Fay Weldon in the 1979 P&P, Sandy Welch in the 2009 Emma but I think he goes further than these in making these scenes question the main plot, provide counters to it. I've found he provides this alternative angle in his non-Austen movies too; for example his Fanny Hill, and Little Dorrit. He emphasizes the loss of the mother and tragic joy in finding her too late in Bleak house.  For men he will do the same: men's friendships, sometimes presented homoerotically (even in The Tailor of Panama, also Sleep with Me has males confiding instead of females) and he will find homoerotic couples where in an original text there are only the vaguest of hints or none at all, say Tattycoram and Miss Wade in Little Dorrit; I love his depiction of the love between Sergeant George and Phil Squod in Bleak House.

I've become aware of these pattern through close-reading Austen's letters. As I wrote last time (Letter 32), I don't think we can say Jane Austen was a lesbian (even if she loved Martha -- we just can't get back there beyond the lack of documentation), but the patterns of not marrying, of rejecting any ideas of marital bliss at all in the letters, the mockery and harping on the horrors of childbirth and punishments women receive belong to the pattern of spinster women and lesbian writing one can discern in the 18th century. The way one discerns the rejection of heterosexual romance whether because the women just does not want marriage (endless babies,  being subject to a man) or prefers woman, the depiction remains the woman reluctant to marry, forced into marrying, the marginalized spinster.

From this angle, it's Charlotte Lucas who emerges as one of the most intriguing women characters in Austen.  In Davies's 1995 movie Charlotte and Elizabeth are continually interrupted by men in the immediate way when they try to confide, first by Mr Collins

and then by Mr Darcy. And then permanently when Charotte marries as marry she must. Charlotte must give up the most meaningful relationship of her life to marry.  She comes closest to embodying what Terry Castle calls "the apparitional lesbian," the woman who in a modern book might have come out, been a lesbian, but has to be marginalized, whose agon we watch in the wrong terms she is given (false options she wishes she could do without include Mr Collins -- if only she could get her house, room, chickens without him).  I've found such a figure in Trollope's Barchester Towers: Charlotte Stanhope described in ways that hints she's a lesbian, but alas it's vanished or erased altogether in Plater's film adaptation.

From this angle all the incessant talk about Charlotte and Mr Collins marrying is swirling around a lack of understanding of what disturbs conventional readers: i;e., that Charlotte does not want to marry. "She's not romantic."  All husbands would be a trial to her; paradoxically she discovers that this one is so egregiously socially awkward with people it's easy to keep him at bay (alas, except at night and so she can't avoid sleeping with him). Ruth Perry's famous "Sleeping with Mr Collins" has missed the point.  It's not that sex is not shown, but that heterosexual sex is a matter of indifference in the book, and this stands in for dislike of it and the forced sex of marriage, loveless or not.

I wrote a blog last year about how in P&P and S&S Davies shows us two sisters journeying through life together, in P&P supportive, and in S&S at least from Marianne's point of view, vexed and hurtful (Emma Thompson's 1995 S&S brings this out much more adequately). Now I think just as interesting a pattern is that which is cut off half-way through:  Charlotte and Elizabeth. Certainly it's very moving.

Here is a sample of the trajectory:  Elizabeth and Charlotte at the Netherfield Ball, Charlotte not caring for this experience, it's a strain

Charlotte painfully begging Elizabeth to visit her at Huntsford; she told Elizabeth Jane should show more emotion, but more than Jane, Charlotte is proud and hard put to show how much she feels but cannot keep jer need for her real beloved (Elizabeth) in either:

The pain of her fist hello again:

I've yet to study the pairs of women thoroughly in Davies's Emma, Northanger Abbey, A Room with a View, or Wives and Daughters (and perhaps I'll do two more, Fanny Hill and perhaps say He Knew He Was Right -- not sure about that last). A preliminary run-through showed that Davies' Emma makes these pair scenes between Harriet and Emma the real plot; Davies's NA substitutes Eleanor for Henry Tilney at key moments building up Catherine as finding a life-long companion in Eleanor and Davies's A Room with a View really makes Charlotte Bartlett and Lucy Honeychurch the central third couple of the film, where in Merchant-Ivory's version they are part of an ensemble. 



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 13th, 2011 04:48 am (UTC)
Gwyn: "Marriage was really a mixed blessing to women at this time, wasn't it Ellen? Although marriage rescued them from the 'Old Maid' status, it also meant that the woman became no more than the husband's chattel and as childbirth was such a risky business, marriage could also be a deathtrap. More than one woman who was financially secure surely chose to remain single!"

I replied: es, my idea is the way we discuss Charlotte misses the basic point; it's not should she have married him, but why should she have to marry at all? And I take into consideration the other sisters. This is part of my (mythical) book which will taken me the next 20 years :)
Jul. 13th, 2011 04:49 am (UTC)
Gwyn: "Women's friendships were often 'disturbed' by marriage as if their husbands were not friendly/they lived far apart or they did not move in the same social groups meetings would be few and far between and letter writing did nopt always fill ...the gap - especially if one woman did not want her husband to know [for whatever reason] she was writing to a.n.other - she could rarely get a letter to anyone without his knowledge. So often we need to 'bang on' to those reading these books that they must be read with contemporary eyes to those of the writer and inhabitants of the novel! I look forward to your book, which may appear at the same time as my putative one about my naughty 2x g.grandfather, born not that long after Emma Wodehouse!"

Me: "I also wanted to make the point that Charlotte stands for the kind of women who does not want to marry, and that includes lesbians. This idea -- not wanting it at all -- is what makes her a lightning rod. On your point, we do experience so...me of this today: women go where their husband's jobs are; they have conflicts to keep up with friends; there is still this real pull away from the self going on. Another reason Austen is so relevant. I should say I have written 5 chapters of it, so it's not so mythical as I make out. But it goes very slowly."
Jul. 13th, 2011 04:51 am (UTC)
I'm made cheerful by my project, Gwyn . Austen herself never fails me and different as they are, the films of her books are from them. Today I'm studying the 96 Emma and the 99 Wives and Daughters by Davies and they help. I sometimes feel the less I have to do with the modern world outside the small circles I inhabit maybe the better.
Jul. 21st, 2011 01:03 pm (UTC)
Charlotte Lucas
I found Ellen's comments a few days ago about Charlotte Lucas having no real interest in romance and marriage fascinating.

I've always thought of Charlotte as "settling," and have
always appreciated Austen's balanced treatment of her, which defends the choice, at least ostensibly, as wise and prudent. Now, I think, yes, Charlotte truly is indifferent to marriage and capitulates probably--albeit opportunistically--because she is starting to fully grasp the ramifications of a dependent old age. The sex doesn't matter that much because, for her, it would always have been something to have been endured. As Ellen points out, the marriage does disrupt her
friendship with Elizabeth, an important relationship. As Ellen also points out, Charlotte would have been happy to get the house, chickens, income, status, without the added burden of Mr. Collins.

Several other things come to mind: Charlotte is enormously effective and skillful at using social convention as a shield: she calmly deflects all of Elizabeth's shock and judgment by hewing unwaveringly to a very conventional line of comment about Mr. Collins after her engagement. She also manages Mr. Collins with similar ease. She knows the rules and uses them to her advantage.

Secondly, and these are the kinds of things that keep me returning to Jane Austen: Charlotte and Elizabeth's is not an entirely all kindly, all loving relationship. Beneath the surface simmers tension, at least on Charlotte's part: there must be at least a tiny bit of one-upmanship in becoming the heir to Elizabeth's home; she must realize the advantage she thus has over Elizabeth in being "settled." It is she, should Elizabeth not marry, who will have the opportunity to be
the benefactor after Mr. Bennett dies. As we have learned from the letters, Austen was acutely aware of these seemingly petty (but not) status issues and the ramifications of losing a family home. And while not aimed directly at Elizabeth, we can't help but believe Charlotte, who is no fool, is aware of and annoyed at Mrs. Bennett's constant barbs towards her and her condescending assumption that she is an old maid, no rival to her own daughters. It had to have pleased Charlotte to have so blindsided Mrs. Bennett in gaining Mr. Collin's hand.

Later, after Lydia's disgrace, when the family receives a vile,
pompous letter from Mr. Collins, the letter notes that Mr. Collins has learned from Charlotte that the parents for a long time let Lydia run wild. It's catty of Mr. Collins to include that in the letter, but captures some of the gossip that was no doubt going on all along about the Bennetts, and reveals that Charlotte's view of the Bennetts was not all kindness. She might have been tempted to say to Elizabeth: Don't judge me for what I married; look at your own family. Of course,
this is simply an undercurrent. Charlotte and Elizabeth also have a strong, positive relationship.

Diane R.
Jul. 21st, 2011 01:26 pm (UTC)
Charlotte Lucas
I really had not thought this out before: yes, Charlotte will take Longbourne and she knows it. Not only has she for the moment one-upped her friend and would, should Elizabeth not have married well or at all, been in the position of benefactor, the one who invites Elizabeth to her home. Mrs Bennet's continual barbs before the marriage to Collins probably did not fall on deaf ears; at any rate her ruthless taking of Collins (which reminds
me of the behavior of the sisters to one another in _The Watsons_) is certainly an unlooked-for revenge.

I agree also that Charlotte is a past mistress of the use of conventions to shield, unwritten rules to manipulate: first to parry any questions by Elizabeth about her real feelings about Collins, and second to manipulate
the socially awkward Collins. (As I've said, he can be fitted into a defintion of Aspergers and Tom Holland in the 2005 film insightfully plays him poignantly that way).

My point was that the usual endless fraught discussions over Charlotte's marriage may have been circling round the point in the way of dull elves. The interesting question is not that of defending or attacking Charlotte for her choice of marraige, but rather that her choice is dependent on how she doesn't want to marry anyone at all. She is not "romantic you know." She never was sentimental about men. She does not look for love from men. What does it matter to her who takes her body at night in return for she didn't want anyone There's the hot spot, the one that is opened to us to think about. what disturbs all these conventional readers who want to endorse marriage.

She's the ghost presence of a lesbian or less sexually the woman who doesn't want to marry. (I've thought Mr Woodhouse is a comic rendition of this idea as Emma until that sudden reversal at the close of Emma is a serious
rendition and Miss Bates an example of what happens when you act or don't act on it.)
Jul. 21st, 2011 01:47 pm (UTC)
Charlotte Lucas
Thank you for posting this, Ellen. Charlotte Lucas has always fascinated me. I almost wish that someone would write a novel from her perspective, though in the course of P&P, little happens to her. I would love to read a novel that delves into Charlotte Lucas' character. Of all the women in P&P, Charlotte seems to hunger for freedom the most, not just from her lot as unwanted and unmarried elder daughter without a penny of her own, but from her lot as a woman inherently dependent on the largesse of men. I wonder indeed what secret hunger burns in her breast. Is she an artist, like Austen herself, or is she simply a woman who, like Virginia Woolf, hungers for a room of her own, a place sacred and set aside only for herself?

Christy English
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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