The Well is an Australian novel by Elizabeth Jolley, which was published in 1986. It was made into a film in 1997 starring Pamela Rabe and Miranda Otto and directed by Samantha Lang.
This essay will focus on the book, as the Dominance/submission aspects of the relationship between the two women isn’t obvious in the film. This essay also has spoilers for the book.
In the novel, Hester Harper is an older, wealthy woman who confident and forthright. She had a governess as a child and had enjoyed learning from her. Hester is a well-spoken woman who plays the piano and appreciates elegance.
The action of the novel begins when Hester brings in an orphan girl in her teens—Katherine—to do the cleaning. She is quite taken with the girl—especially with her exuberance. Merely watching her dance gives her the greatest pleasure.
She spoils the girl—buying her anything she likes. She also tries to teach Katherine to speak properly—to make her more refined.
After Hester’s father dies, she sells the farm for a hefty sum and the two women move to a remote cottage where Katherine continues to basically be a service-oriented submissive (whilst still calling Hester Miss Harper) and Hester pays for everything.
They wash one another’s hair in lavender-scented shampoo and brush one another’s hair regularly, as well. At one point they purchase matching silken nightgowns. Their lives begin to revolve around pleasure—eating the most delicious foods, shopping and generally enjoying themselves.
Katherine grows up during this time—by the end of the book she’s in her early twenties, but Hester is still making clothes for the girl that are a bit too young for her—trying to keep her a child and innocent.
Though there’s an intimation that Hester is sexually attracted to Katherine in one sentence—it’s more that she finds watching Katherine dance to be sexually fulfilling enough—there’s no sexual exchange between the two women.
The relationship isn’t one-sides. Katherine enjoys looking after Hester. If she sees Miss Harper is upset about something she’ll bring her something sweet to eat because she knows she likes sweets. She obediently hands her personal letters over for Miss Harper to read. She obediently does anything Miss Harper asks.
The D/s aspects of their relationship are never discussed, of course, not stated, but as I was reading the novel I kept thinking: Hester is trying to improve Kathy, Kathy enjoys looking after her Miss Harper, Hester pays for everything and never wants her to leave…
They just needed to sit down and have a negotiation. Just admit you want a 24/7 total power exchange. It’ll make your life easier, ladies.