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.