Sunday, December 16, 2012

"Emma" by Jane Austen

Let me begin by admitting that Emma is not my favorite Austen book.  I think it makes me laugh just as much as Pride and Prejudice, if not more.  And Mr. Knightley is my third-favorite Austen hero, after Persuasion's Captain Wentworth and P&P's Mr. Darcy.  But I don't like Emma Woodhouse very well.  And since I have to want to be friends with most of a the characters in a book (or movie, or TV show), this is the main reason I don't like Emma all that well.

Why don't I like Emma Woodhouse?  Partly because she is vain and arrogant, as she herself admits toward the end:  "With insufferable vanity had she believed herself in the secret of every body's feelings; with unpardonable arrogance proposed to arrange everybody's destiny."

But I think mostly I can't like her very well because she is so meddlesome.  If only Emma had left well enough alone, Harriet would have married Robert Martin when he proposed by letter.  And then, of course, the rest of the book wouldn't exist, but still.  She's also quite bossy, and I dislike bossy people.  Probably because I'm kind of bossy myself, or I can be, but it's something I try to overcome in myself, so I guess I expect other people to struggle against their own bossiness too.  Mr. Knightley, for example, is also bossy, but he becomes less so by the end of the book.

And yet, the 1996 film version of Emma is my favorite of all Austen movies.  Why?  Emma (Gwyneth Paltrow) is still meddlesome and bossy.  Mr. Knightley (Jeremy Northam) is still gentlemanly and thoughtful. Harriet (Toni Collette) is still naive and sweet.  Mr. Elton (Alan Cumming) is still officious and grating.  And Frank Churchill (Ewan MacGregor) is still duplicitous and teasing. 

But each one of those characters are somehow a bit more likable in the movie than in the book.  Emma has an uncertainty about her that keeps her for being quite so demanding.  Harriet has a look of intelligence that balances out her docile obedience to everything Emma says.  Mr. Elton... okay, he's not more likeable, he's still an ingratiating fortune-hunter.  Neither is Mr. Knightley, but only because he can't possibly be more likable, hee.  But Frank Churchill comes off as mischievous more than simply cheerful and heedless, which makes me like him better (despite Ewan MacGregor's terrible wig.  I swear it is actually pink cotton candy!)  I think the only character I like better in the book than the movie is Miss Bates (Sophie Thompson), who is more intelligent and less pathetic in the book.

So anyway, I like Emma better than Mansfield Park, but mostly because of Mr. Knightley and the movie version.

If you're not up on your Austen, this is the one where Miss Emma Woodhouse plays matchmaker for her friend Harriet Smith, with disastrous results.

(Originally posted on Hamlette's Soliloquy on Sep. 4, 2012.)


  1. Quite wonderful! I agree with you! Now I just need to watch the 1996 Emma...

  2. Finally someone that agrees with me about the 1996 Emma!! I think it's the best Austen adaptation I've ever seen as well! I love it, and find that it is one of the only feature length (not mini-series) adaptations of a classic book that is really well done. Granted, some things are cut out of the story, but they did a really good job at capturing the spirit of it, I think! And it is hilarious, the costumes are beautiful, and so are Emma's hairstyles (is it me or is the current trend with classics adaptations to have plain, frumpy costumes??) and the mannerisms of the cast are not too modern. I found the costumes in the 2009 Emma much too plain looking for someone who was supposed to be as wealthy as Emma. Also, half the time the 2009 Emma's hair-do looks like it's about to come loose. And I find the actress acts too modern. I know that's vague, but I found the same thing in the Keira Knightley version of P&P, it felt anachronistic.

    About the book, I disagree with you. It's one of my favorite Austen's, and I love Emma, even if she is vain and arrogant and bossy! Mr. Knightley is my favorite Austen hero, and one of my favorite heroes of all time! I really like this review! :)

    1. I have not even watched the 2009 version because I love the 1996 so much, and the person playing Emma in the 2009 just... I don't like the way she looks, which is petty, but really, her face annoys me, and I can't bring myself to watch a whole movie of her. Whereas Gwyneth Paltrow is elegant and lovely and sweet. And her hair! I soooooooooooo wish my hair would do those things. I think I have too much of it, as it will never stay on top of my head, much less look amazing like hers.

      And you're right, it's hilarious! That bit where she takes down Harriet's picture and replaces it? I collapse in giggles every time. I haven't seen this in WAY too long, and I'm planning to watch it next month to review for the Period Drama Challenge I'm participating over on my other blog -- and I think I will give away my old VHS copy when I do, as I have the DVD too now, but haven't been able to bear to part with my VHS.

      Mr. Knightley pretty well ties with Mr. Darcy for my second-favorite Austen hero (dear Captain Wentworth coming first), and I cannot imagine a better portrayal than Jeremy Northam's. His "Badly done, Emma!" pierces me to the heart every time. Love it.

      Thanks for stopping by :-) Glad you liked my review!

    2. Ahh, the VHS is the only copy I have... I might have to bust it out soon and watch it... it's been too long! I've seen it so many times I have large sections of it memorized :). There are so many subtle funny things like the picture swapping throughout it. The "Try not to kill my dogs" line is one of my favorites. Maybe I should watch this tonight...

    3. I love to mutter "Oh dear" so that someone will ask, "What?" so I can say, "Oh, something about the deer for the venison stew..."

      And any mention of pork inevitably brings up "PORK, Mother!" :-D

    4. HA, yes! It's one of the most quoted movies in my family. :)

  3. Hmmm...I can't say I like anyone more or less in the film version. I truly wish I'd read the book first, that might change my opinon, but of course, I can't tell. Knightley is a prince and how every woman that reads this doesn't fall in love with him, I'll never know. Maybe they all do. Nice review.

    1. I saw the movie first, probably 3 or 4 times before I read the book. And I've only read the book twice, while I've watched the movie many more times because it was one of the few videos my roommates and I had in college.

      Glad you enjoyed my review :-)


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