Sunday, March 27, 2011


The 1996 made-for-television version of Emma, starring Kate Beckinsale as the title character and Mark Strong as Mr. Knightly, was directed by Diarmuid Lawrence. I found this version to be similar to the 1996 one in its traditional interpretation of the novel. Many of the scenes were nearly identical to the original plot- from Emma’s walk through the field, to the happening upon Mr. Churchill in the woods, to the actual script.

The Beckinsale version of Emma is much less glamorous than the other film adaptions; it focuses not only upon Emma’s high society lifestyle, but also upon the direct and indirect interactions with the poor. The adaption also has newly devised scenes, making it an artistic interpretation of the original, and differentiating it from the previously made version. An aspect unique to this version is Emma’s matchmaking, much of which is interpreted through imaginative dreams that she has. These scenes appropriately stay in line with Emma’s bold imagination and her faith in herself to match people together. While some are outright strange, each offers a personal insight as seen directly through Emma’s daydreaming.

Beckinsale’s characterization of Emma is not immediately dislikable. Her imperviousness and boldness are akin to Austen’s original Emma, without being too obnoxious for the majority of the film. The sense of charm Beckinsale instills in her Emma makes her slightly more likeable than in different adaptions, however, it does not redeem her so much as to make her stray too far from her true characterization. Beckinsale’s chemistry with Strong’s Knightley is believable; the two work well together in creating the complicated relationship that exists between the two. The film itself is captured in muted, calm tones, which matches the acting. Furthermore, the emphasis on music is an integral aspect of the film, as evidenced in the numerous dance scenes, the pianoforte scene, and throughout the travel scenes. While not as popular as the 1996 Gwyneth Paltrow adaption, the Kate Beckinsale version offers many unique insights into the characters and story of Emma.

Emma (miniseries) 2009

The most recent adaptation of the novel Emma comes courtesy of BBC with its successful 2009 miniseries, starring Romola Garai as Emma and Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley. Unlike some of the other modern versions of Emma, the time constraints for this version were not as strict because it was filmed and shown as a miniseries, not a two hour movie, allowing for a faithful and relatively complete adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel.

One aspect of this adaptation that sets it apart from other versions is the way the writers and directors present scenes that are told in the novel through a narrative voice or through dialogue between characters. Because of the freedom that comes with shooting a miniseries as opposed to a regular movie, the filmmakers have the opportunity to draw out every scene instead of just allowing character dialogue to tell a story. The audience can fully see what is happening in addition to just hearing it described. An example of this, from the very beginning of the first episode, is when Emma, Frank Churchill, and Jane Fairfax are shown as children and their family situations are made known to the audience right away. The narrator discusses what happened with each of them in their childhood, while the audience can also see Emma with her governess, Miss Taylor, following her mother’s death and Frank Churchill leaving his father, Mr. Weston, to live with his aunt and uncle. This scene serves as a good set-up for the rest of the story and helps eliminate any confusion that the audience may have about each character’s relationship to each other.

Another favorable aspect of this adaptation of Emma is the fact that certain characters, specifically Mr. Woodhouse and Mrs. Elton, are given more screen time than in some of the other films. While they are not the most important characters in the book, Michael Gambon and Christina Cole, give great performances, showing audiences the overly cautious Mr. Woodhouse and the incredibly self-centered and annoying Mrs. Elton as Austen portrays them in the novel.

However, without a doubt, one of the greatest parts of the miniseries is the chemistry between Emma and Knightley, thanks to Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller. Their relationship is faithful to that within the novel, and although Garai was actually 27, not 21, during the filming, it is still believable that her Emma is 16 years younger than Jonny Lee Miller’s Knightley. Miller, being the correct age of 37, plays the protector of Emma, being concerned about her but never overbearing or controlling. In contrast, Emma is played as very young and naïve, not quite as stubborn as readers of the novel sometimes see her. Despite their different personalities, their union does not seem forced and serves as a welcome and happy ending to the miniseries.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Concepts of Marriage in Jane Austen's Emma

Jane Austen’s Emma presents a heroine very different from those we have read in her previous novels. “Handsome, clever and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition” (1), it appears that Emma, unlike many of Austen’s protagonists, is under no pressure to marry into a superior social and economic situation; in fact, she makes it very clear from the commencement of the novel that she intends to avoid marriage at all costs. While the reader finds Fanny Price and the Bennett sisters constantly searching for a proper match, Emma turns to facilitating proper matches for others. How do Emma’s views of marriage differ from the heroines that came before her? What message do you think Austen is attempting to give us from Emma’s initial choice to remain single? Is Austen criticizing Emma for her unorthodox beliefs or simply recognizing that with high class distinction comes the privilege of independence? How does this message change when Emma uncharacteristically chooses to marry Mr. Kingsley?
Emma has little in common with Austen’s other heroines, but her character parallels a few secondary characters scattered through her novels. In Mansfield Park, Mary Crawford is an accomplished socialite described as “remarkably pretty” (32) and, with twenty-thousand pounds, financially stable. Miss Crawford is one of Austen’s only young, female characters other than Emma who possess good societal standing, wealth and beauty from the beginning of her respective novel. While a fundamental difference exists between the two characters in that Miss Crawford is actively pursuing marriage, her similarity to Emma cannot be overlooked. Do you agree that marked similarities exist between these two characters? If so, how is Austen commenting on marriage given the different positions that Mary Crawford and Emma Woodhouse take on the subject?
Emma’s tendency toward matchmaking reflects the meddlesome and frivolous Mrs. Bennett of Pride and Prejudice. Upon hearing word of “a young man of large fortune from the north of England” (1) is coming to Netherfield, Mrs. Bennett’s mind immediately snaps into matchmaking mode for her four daughters.  This moment calls to mind Emma’s tendency toward fixing up “proper” marriages – the first of which the reader finds herself in as the novel opens. Emma continues this matchmaking with Harriet Smith, providing her with guidance of social decorum that mimics the role of a governess. It seems odd that Emma would take such a motherly role toward Harriet when she was under no such obligation. Characters such Miss Taylor and Jane Fairfax had no other financial option than working as governesses. Why do you think Emma take on such a motherly role with Harriet Smith? How does her treatment of Harriet relate to Mrs. Bennett’s treatment of her daughters? Does Emma consider influencing others a leisurely activity or is it meant to show her own unconscious desire to marry? How do Emma’s actions toward matchmaking change throughout the novel and how does this correspond to her motherly treatment toward Harriet?

Who is Emma Woodhouse?

Can we read the first sentence of Emma in the following way?: “Jane Austen, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and has lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her” (1).

Upon examining Emma we find some distinct similarities between Emma Woodhouse and her author, Jane Austen. The reader can’t help but wonder if the character of Emma is based off of Austen herself, that perhaps she might be offering a sort of critique of her own character while asserting her power of authorship. The first and most obvious similarity of Emma to Jane Austen is the role she takes on as a novelist. It seems often times that it is Emma who is displaying Austen’s typical “free and direct discourse” as she attempts to sense the feelings, words, and motives of other characters. She even forces herself into their lives and puts them in whatever situation she sees fit, most notably with Harriet. Emma, the match maker, after being pleased with the match she made with Mr. and Mrs. Watson, tries to match Harriet with Mr. Elton, just as Austen the author sets her characters up in certain situations “uniting some of the best blessings of existence” through the characters in her novels. Is her failure a critique of Austen as a novelist? Does Austen ever fail in her match making?

Emma’s judgments of characters is ever present throughout the novel. She attempts to examine the character of Mr. Elton concerning his match for Harriet:

This man is almost too gallant to be in love… I should say so, but that I suppose there may be a hundred different ways of being in love. He is an excellent young man, and will suit Harriet exactly; it will be an ‘Exactly so’ as he says himself; but he does sigh and languish and study for compliments rather more than I could endure as a principal. I come in for a pretty good share as a second. But it is his gratitude for Harriet’s account (48).

This is but one example of Emma offering her own judgment of the different characters in the novel, in this way, she plays the role of author, offering the reader judgments in the way that Austen usually does as narrator.

Emma even takes on the role of author in the way that she speaks for the characters, particularly Harriet. After reading Elton’s charade, “[Harriet] was not wanted to speak. It was enough for her to feel. Emma spoke for her” (71). She then goes on to praise herself for the match and even says "It will give you everything you want--consideration. independence, a proper home" noting ever so pointedly what Harriet's desires are without Harriet uttering a word. Such is the characteristic of free and direct discourse: this is not an epistolary novel where the characters seemingly speak for themselves without any intrusion or creation of feelings or words by an author. Emma takes on the role of the author and even goes so far as to speak for the characters, inserting her judgments and feelings in the way that Jane Austen would as author. Ferguson cites Casey Finch and Peter Bowen who say ““the development in Austen’s hands of free indirect style marks a crucial moment in the history of novelistic technique in which narrative authority is seemingly elided, ostensibly giving way to what Flaubert called a transparent style in which the author is ‘everywhere felt, but never seen.’” (162). In Emma, the author is surely “everywhere felt” but she is also always seen because in some ways it seems that Emma is the author herself, ever present throughout the novel.

We cannot help but note that this is the first time the protagonist of an Austen novel is not striving for marriage, in fact she is only trying to set up others' marriages and appears to be perfectly content with her single life. Of course, we cannot ignore that Austen herself never married but only wrote about marriage. Though Emma is anything but "Dear Aunt Jane," the novel might be offering a glimpse into who Jane Austen really was, outside the confines of her heavily edited letters. In Auerbach’s Searching for Jane Austen she quotes Leanoard Woolf who “called the happy marriages in Austen’s novels ‘a kind of compensation daydream for her failure in real life” (31). What if Emma Woodhouse is Jane Austen’s portrayal of herself, unmarried, a creator, author, spectator, and intruder of other’s lives? Their difference might be that Emma eventually married, and perhaps this was what Austen may have wished of herself. Was Jane Austen offering a critique of herself through Emma? Is this novel just fiction, or is there something behind the character of Emma? Is it even possible to discover anything about the author’s own life through the lives of her characters? If so, what can we learn about Jane Austen through her novels?

Also note, if we find that Emma could not possibly be an avatar of Austen, are there any other characters that could be?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Emma (1996)

Like no other traditional adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, this film truly brings all of the characters to life. Jeremy Northam (Mr. Knightley) and Gwyneth Paltrow (Emma Woodhouse) convey so much emotion and vivacity through their evident chemistry on screen. And not only do the characters come alive, but also the entire story accurately captures Austen’s famous wit and sharp humor. This adaptation of Emma was written and directed by Douglas McGrath, a comedian as proven by his work as a writer for Saturday Night Live. McGrath’s comedian humor in collaboration with Austen’s wit delivers one of the most sparkling and modern adaptations of Emma.

All of the actors are perfectly suited to the characters that they play: Tony Collette as Harriet, Greta Scacchi as Mrs. Weston, Alan Cumming as Mr. Elton, and Ewan McGregor as Frank Churchill. The only exception is Mrs. Elton, as portrayed by Juliet Stevenson, who does not seem to answer to Austen’s description of her “perfect beauty and merit” (170). However, Stevenson’s depiction really highlights and illustrates Mrs. Elton’s ridiculousness of manners, as she shouts “Knightley” and “Mr. E.”

This film is bright, scenic, and artistic. Every scene resembles a painting, with highly decorated backdrops and picturesque landscape. The costumes, although at times too light and almost see-through, especially on Emma, are close to accurate, being of the correct fashion of Austen’s period. The dancing scenes, as in all traditional Jane Austen adaptations, are elegant with lengthy, intricate routines. Overall, in this aspect, the film is nicely and accurately done.

One of the most comical scenes in the film is when Emma and Mr. Knightley argue over Harriet’s refusal to Robert Martin’s marriage proposal. In the novel, this scene takes place inside the Woodhouse house, Hartfield. However, in McGrath’s film, Emma and Mr. Knightley are outside, occupied with archery, when this conversation takes place. Interestingly, while Emma thinks that she is in the right and holds all of the key information, she hits the target and even makes some shots that are very close to the bullseye. While proudly hiding her own role in Harriet’s refusal, Emma is like a stubborn cupid, aiming with bow and arrow. As soon as Mr. Knightley suspects the role that Emma had to play in Harriet’s refusal, he begins to hit all of the bullseyes, while Emma’s arrows miss the target completely, causing Mr. Knightley to say “Try not to kill my dogs,” as her arrow scarcely misses the poor creatures. This scene, although not entirely true to the novel, is an example of how McGrath took Austen’s characters and story and told it in a fresh, new style and still retained all of the story’s essential elements, even exaggerating some of the best of Austen’s humor and wit.

McGrath’s Emma is an altogether true and new adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel. With its many comedic elements, it stands out from the rest of the traditional Emma adaptations and really shows off the novel as a comedy of manners.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

"Clueless"- Well Not Really to the Gensis of Jane Austen

Despite a title alluding to the a state of being lost, the film is right on par with Austen’s original intent with Emma; to critically engage with modern day society through the eye of a female character who is grappling with the society herself. The setting for Emma is early 19th century England, a place where people traveled by carriages and wrote letters to one another. “Clueless” brings the viewer into the world of Beverly Hills circa 1995. There are sports cars and cell phones. However there is still a female protagonist trying to deal with all of it.

Cher is a high school student who goes to school to social first and learn second, but ends up getting an education through those around her. She sets up two of her teachers in an effort to get better grades for herself and the school overall. Her friend Dionne and her boyfriend Murray are an example of an unhealthy relationship filled with bickering and name calling. So she turns to also single and less socially aware Tai with an eye of making her over and giving her a healthy relationship. She shifts Tai’s attention away from the cliché early 90’s teenage boy, Travis, and toward a more proper suitor Elton, who would in-turn wants Cher. After rebuffing him, Cher pursues a boy named Christian who ends up being a shopping buddy rather than a boyfriend. Finally at the end she ends up with My Knightley, who is transformed into a socially concerned college student named Josh. In line with the novel, it does not matter that he is her former step-brother. Also Tai turns back her attention to Travis and everyone lives happily ever after.

In the midst of all this pursuing, the references to early 90’s America are, to quote Tai, not sporadic. The movie opens with Cher using a computer to pick out her outfit. She receives her report card in her first period and proceeds to call Dionne on her cell phone to report the bad news. Travis makes a comment about the band Nine Inch Nails and compares them to The Rolling Stones. Murray shaves his head a party and claims to be “keeping it real”. Tai holds up a cassette tape containing the song she supposedly had with Elton. The only one who is not partaking in the culture is Christian, who is a throwback to the culture of the 1950’s, a fact he is aware of when asking if a jacket would make him look like James Dean.

At the end of the film I walked away with two thoughts in my mind. I was aware of the outrageous and over the top nature of the culture of the film’s setting and I was able to over look the mixing and matching of partners and enjoy the love stories of the film. These were the same two thoughts in my mind at the end of Emma and all the other novels we have read in this class. For that reason alone I dub this a successful adaption of a Jane Austen novel.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Effeminate Mr. Woodhouse: Patriarchy in Jane Austen’s Emma

Throughout the works of Jane Austen that we have encountered thus far, the appearance of unorthodox parental figures has become a staple. More often than not, the protagonist’s family is composed of an array of highly exaggerated characters who can never seem to find a balance between the two ends of the parenting spectrum: the over-involved and the lackadaisical. Interestingly, in Austen’s Emma, the heroine has not been raised by the stereotypical family unit of both a mother and a father. Rather, Emma must rely on the guidance of her father, as “her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses…” (1). Mr. Woodhouse, an incredibly effeminate man, has dear intentions yet is often clouded by his anxiety-ridden nature. Though Emma has a deep love and affection for her father, she can credit most of her upbringing and decorum to her governess, Mrs. Weston. The portrayal of Mr. Woodhouse’s character lends insight on the delineation of gender in Emma, as well as the importance of family dynamics in relation to maturation and the effect of patriarchal systems on society.

While most would expect the widower and patriarch of the Woodhouse family to be a strong leader, Austen strips Mr. Woodhouse of masculine qualities and leaves the reader with a neurotic, exaggerated, and oftentimes ludicrous old man. Mr. Woodhouse’s aversion to change and, furthermore, matrimony, perhaps rubs off on Emma and provides an explanation for her total investment in the romantic happiness of others. Mr. Woodhouse’s ridiculous character is exemplified when the narrator explains his view on Miss Taylor’s marriage. As stated on page 9, “….and from his habits of gentle selfishness and of being never able to suppose that other people could feel differently from himself, he was very much disposed to think Miss Taylor had done as sad a thing for herself as them, and would have been a great deal happier if she had spent the rest of her life at Hartfield.” The juxtaposition between Emma’s father and that of Mr. Bennett from Pride and Prejudice is startling. Mr. Bennett seemed to have a detached relationship with most of his daughters, while Mr. Woodhouse’s world is mainly composed of Emma. Though both fathers clearly have their own faults and flaws, the two seem to share a particularity for selfishness and isolation. What do you think Austen is suggesting through the perpetual creation of weak father figures in her novels?

In addition to the general idea of patriarchy in Emma, I’d also like to focus on Mr. Woodhouse’s constant concerns and worries about health and other related afflictions. When Emma shows her father her painting of Harriet he proclaims, “I do not know anybody who draws so well as you do. The only thing I do not thoroughly like is, that she seems to be sitting out of doors, with only a little shawl over her shoulders- and it makes one think she must catch a cold” (47). Dialogue from Mr. Woodhouse often seems as though it should be coming from a loony old lady. Though his character obviously works on the surface level as comedic, do you think that Austen effeminized him to elevate the character of Mr. Knightley? Knightley never hesitates to criticize Emma or put her in her place, which not only seems like an almost parental thing to do, but also juxtaposes that of Mr. Woodhouse’s actions. Mr. Knightley’s reaction to Emma’s painting greatly contrasts with Mr. Woodhouse’s. He conversely says, “You have made her too tall, Emma,” to which she internally acknowledges that he is correct (47). Mr. Woodhouse seems oblivious, while Mr. Knightley is almost too attentive to Emma and her flaws. Thus, I’m suggesting that Austen’s heroines often gravitate to men who provide more stability and guidance than their father figures. Do you have any thoughts as to why Jane Austen would choose to use emasculation as a vehicle to achieve this idea?

Birthright and Social Rank

When the reader is first introduced to Emma, they discover that despite being a wealthy woman, belonging to a family that “all looked up to” (Austen 9) within their town of Highbury, she does not actually have many friends. The friends that she does have, like Mrs. Weston, her former governess, and Harriet Smith, she in a way makes into her own projects by playing “matchmaker.” While the friendship between Emma and Mrs. Weston is natural considering they lived in the same house for many years, it seems as though Emma’s friendship with Harriet Smith is for the sole purpose of Emma’s entertainment and benefit. Harriet, while not born into the privilege that Emma was born into, has a pretty settled life already with her position at Mrs. Goddard’s and a love interest in Mr. Martin. Emma attempts to change all of Harriet’s circumstances by making her into a good match for Mr. Elton, a member of the clergy.

Upon hearing of Mr. Martin and his profession, Emma says, “A young farmer, whether on horseback or on foot, is the very last sort of person to raise my curiosity” (Austen 29). She is very quick to judge Mr. Martin and believes that her friend, Harriet, can do better than him. Emma jumps to conclusions when Martin proposes to Harriet in a letter, assuming that Harriet wants to decline. She says, “Dear affectionate creature!—You banished to Abbey-Mill Farm!—You confined to the society of the illiterate and vulgar all your life! I wonder how the young man could have the assurance to ask it. He must have a pretty good opinion of himself” (Austen 53). Although it is obvious that Harriet has feelings for him, as she defends him as not being conceited, she ultimately declines. Do you think that Harriet decides to refuse Mr. Martin strictly because of Emma’s influence and opinions or do you think that she herself believes that she can marry someone of a higher social rank?

A short time following the refusal, Emma and a family friend, Knightley, have a conversation about Harriet and Mr. Martin. Knightley, being a friend of Mr. Martin, encouraged him to propose to Harriet and he is shocked and angry to learn that she refused him, with some help from Emma. Emma insists that the refusal occurred because Harriet and Mr. Martin were not equals. Knightley agrees, saying “No he is not her equal indeed, for he is as much her superior in sense as in situation. Emma, your infatuation about that girl blinds you…She is the natural daughter of nobody knows whom, with probable no settled provision at all, and certainly no respectable relations” (Austen 59-60). Do you agree with Knightley’s claim that Emma is blinded by her friendship with Harriet to see that she is in such a low social rank? Do you think Emma has a double standard, judging a man’s position in society more harshly than a woman’s position, or is she just too fixed on the idea that she wants Harriet to marry Mr. Elton? Do you think that Harriet’s lack of parents or her unknown family circumstances limits her options for moving up and into good society?