Between the Lines Book Club: Film Adaptations of Emma

between the lines book club logoEmma is an outlier among Jane Austen novels. Other Jane Austen novels feature a genteel but impoverished heroine who must triumph in the face of one or more rich mean girls. In Emma, the main character is the rich mean girl, although she’s not mean so much as misguided and, let’s face it, snobby. Austen always points out the many foibles of her heroines, but none are as entertainingly, gloriously, persistently and spectacularly flawed as Emma. Also, as Richard Rodi points out in Bitch in a Bonnet Vol 2, Emma is remarkably short on tension. If the Bennett girls (from Pride and Prejudice) don’t marry, they could end up on the street. If Emma doesn’t marry – so what? Even Emma is cool with not marrying. The person playing a high stakes game is supporting character Jane Fairfax, and most of her story happens off the page.

 

Both in spite of these things and because of them, Emma is probably Austen’ most beloved novel aside from Pride and Prejudice. Who can resist watching Emma miss every clue that is lobbed at her head?   Who can fail to roll on the floor laughing when Austen drops anvils of foreshadowing (“I shall never fall in love” HAHAHA EMMA YOU ARE SO FUNNY)? We hate Emma enough to enjoy seeing her humbled and we love her enough that we love to see her triumph. Plus this book has some of Austen’s most roll-on-the-floor funny supporting characters.

 

As part of my latest Emma immersion project I watched the two most famous film adaptations of Emma. The 1996 film version of Emma is a more-or-less period faithful adaptation starring Gwyneth Paltrow, while Clueless, from 1995, gives us a loose version set in high school with Alicia Silverstone playing Cher (Emma). So who’s the winner? Let’s break it down, shall we?

 

Best Emma: Gwyneth. She actually glows – did they just follow her around with a backlight, or what? Her concern for Harriet is sincere and so is her pride, and sad Emma after the picnic is the saddest sad ever. Also, she tries to cheer Harriet up by showing her puppies, and when Harriet isn’t sufficiently cheered she all but throws the puppies at her head in a desperate attempt to perk her up. You have to love that.

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I had a very satisfying epiphany when I realized that Gwyneth is basically playing herself. The reason people hate poor Gwyneth is that she comes across as having all of Emma’s worst qualities – no sense of her own privilege, a compulsive need to give everyone advice (most of which is incredibly unrealistic, see: privilege) and a definite sense of herself as All That. But I always have a soft spot for her because I suspect the presence of Emma’s best qualities – by all accounts from people who know her, she’s a good friend who just wants to make people happy. Also she’s a hell of an actress, and she sure brings her ‘A’ game to this movie.

 

Best Clothes: Emma version again. Behold:

 

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Best Mr. Knightly: Jeremy Northam. Sweet Merciful Heavens that man is sexy. I’ll be in my bunk.

 

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Best Supporting Cast: Emma. Juliet Stevenson as Mrs. Elton, y’all. You can’t compete with that. Plus we get Ewan McGregor unleashing lethal quantities of charm as Frank Churchill.

 

Best Ensemble Cast: Clueless. The cast of Emma is full of standout, A-list actors who show off. That’s fine, because the characters in the book spend a lot of time trying to out-grandstand each other, and it’s funny. But a more central theme in the book is of community. Emma involves a core group of people who know each other all too well. Even the characters that arrive from elsewhere and shake everything up have been thoroughly dissected by gossip before they arrive at the village. So it’s really important that the cast of Clueless works as an ensemble. The high school works so well as a metaphor for a small village in which everything is everyone else’s business, and I believe that these people know each other intimately in a way that I don’t believe in Emma.

 

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Funniest Movie: Aside from Juliet Stevenson mangling the scenery and clearly having the time of her life, Clueless is much more funny than Emma. Maybe that’s because I like simple pleasures, and the humor in Clueless is more accessible than Emma. But I think that Emma focuses more on contemplating society and Clueless just rips society to shreds and throws popcorn all over the remains. I give you Brittany Murphy’s greatest burn (“You’re a virgin who can’t drive!”), Cher’s desperate efforts to improve herself (“I thought they declared peace in the Middle East.”), and the tumultuous relationship between Cher’s friends Dionne and Murray. The one-liners just keep coming, and even though they are relentlessly 1990’s they also tie in perfectly with the themes of the book.

 

Most Heartwarming: I’m gonna go with Clueless again. Take the scene in which Cher points out the best qualities of all her friends, or the scene in which her father reminds her that she takes care of everyone in the family. A lot of the heartwarming comes from the fact that while in general I think Gwyneth is a better actress than Alicia, Alica is wonderful at showing how badly Cher wants to be a good person, and how hard she tries.

 

Most Romantic: Emma. Did I mention Jeremy Northam. Here, have more Jeremy.

 

 

 

 

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Between the Lines Book Club: Sir Walter Scott Reviews Emma

between the lines book club logoThis month, we are reading Emma in book club.  Leave a comment below, and/or join us in person at Arden Dimick Library, on February 28th at 10:30AM!

Jane Austen published anonymously, but her identity was such an open secret, an  d her books had achieved sufficient acclaim, that the Prince Regent asked her to dedicate a book to him.  The book she dedicated was Emma, and it was quite awkward as she loathed the Prince Regent but there are some requests that one cannot easily refuse.

The job of reviewing books is about as old as the job of writing them, so Austen’s books had a lot of contemporary reviews, mostly positive.

In 1815, Sir Walter Scott reviewed Emma.  In the review, Scott defends the practice of reading novels (novels were considered a mite scandalous – certainly a big waste of time and brain power).  Scott gives a short history of the novel, discussing how the fantastical novels that were fashionable for so long are giving way to a new genre – the realistic novel:

We, therefore, bestow no mean compliment upon the author of Emma, when we say that, keeping close to common incidents, and to such characters as occupy the ordinary walks of life, she has produced sketches of such spirit and originality,that we never miss the excitation which depends upon a narrative of
uncommon events, arising from the consideration of minds, manners and sentiments, greatly above our own. In this class she stands almost alone; for the scenes of Miss Edgeworth are laid in higher life, varied by more romantic incident, and by her remarkable power of embodying and illustrating national character. But the author of Emma confines herself chiefly to the middling classes of society; her most distinguished characters do not rise greatly above well-bred country
gentlemen and ladies; and those which are sketched with most originality and precision, belong to a class rather below that standard. The narrative of all her novels is composed of such common occurrences as may have fallen under the observation of most folks; and her dramatis
personae conduct themselves upon the motives and principles which the readers may recognize as ruling their own and that of most of their acquaintances. The kind of moral, also, which these novels inculcate, applies equally to the paths of common life, as will best appear from a short notice of the author’s former works, with a more full abstract of that which we at present have under consideration.

The review is interesting not only because it’s exciting to hear what Austen’s contemporaries think about her, but because Scott gives such a detailed picture of how different Austen’s novels are, and why they work:

The author’s knowledge of the world, and the peculiar tact with which she presents characters that the reader cannot fail to recognize, reminds us something of the merits of the Flemish school of painting.  The subjects are not often elegant, and certainly never grand; but they are finished up to nature, and with a precision which delights the reader.

You can find the full review at Only A Novel.

Between the Lines: What to Read While You’re Reading Emma

between the lines book club logoOne of the fun things about reading Austen is that so many people have written about Austen.  Her books are light on the surface (the plot is usually who will marry who) and dense underneath (history, class, gender, satire).

These days my favorite collection of Austen commentary is the hilarious and astute Bitch in a Bonnet:  Reclaiming Jane Austen from the Stiff, the Snobs, the Simps and the Saps by Robert Rodi.  I don’t always agree with Rodi but he’s fun to read, fun to argue with (mentally) and very astute.  You can read my review of Vol 1. at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  He covers Emma in Vol. 2.

What Matters in Jane Austen, by John Mullen, is a book of commentary that points out the social clues and the themes that appear in Austen.  For a preview check out this article, “Ten Questions on Jane Austen”, several of which apply directly to Emma.

Study guides get a bad reputation because sometimes people read the guide instead of the book.  Dude.  Don’t do that.  Having said that, I find the website Shmoop to be a great resource.  I read it either after the book or alongside it and no matter how many college degrees I acquire, the authors of Shmoop always manage to point out something I’ve missed.  Here’s a link to their page on Emma.

Just for fun:  I like to read Austen while flipping through my beloved copy of The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler.  It’s a lovely book that was made into a lovely movie – and it involves the Sacramento Public Library!

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Between the Lines Book Club: A Short Biography of Jane Austen

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This month in Between the Lines Book Club we are reading Emma, by Jane Austen.  Join us in the comments or in person on February 28th, at 10:30, at Arden Dimick Library in Sacramento, CA!

Jane Austen was born in 1775.  She was one of eight siblings, all of whom were boys with the exception of Jane and her sister Cassandra.  Jane and Cassandra lived together throughout most of their lives.  They both experienced failed engagements and never married.

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Jane was something of a tomboy as a child.  She and Cassandra were educated at home and at boarding school.  Jane made prolific use of the library of the time – it was a subscription library and you paid to be allowed to request that various books be sent to you for a set period of time.  Jane was a prolific writer as a child and a teen, writing plays for the family to perform as well as funny stories and essays.

Jane is often portrayed as someone who lived a small, parochial life, but she was actually quite well-travelled within Britain.  She lived for many years in the tourist town of Bath, and travelled all over the English coast.  She also loved visiting her brother in London where she went to the theater and the shops.  Through her brothers in the Navy and relatives in India and France, she had access to information about the world at large and life at sea (she manages to sneak a spectacularly dirty navy joke into Mansfield Park).  Austen published her books anonymously but her identity was an open secret and she achieved a modest amount of fame.  Then, as now, her most beloved work was Pride and Prejudice.

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Jane died in 1818.  The cause of her death is unknown, although it is frequently thought to have been Addison’s Disease.  Her novels  Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published posthumously.

You can find more at my post “10 Things you Didn’t Know about Jane Austen” and in my book Pride, Prejudice and Popcorn: TV and Film Adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre.  It has a section about Jane Austen’s life and is available from these retailers for .99:

Amazon        Barnes and Noble     iTunes      Harlequin.com

 

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Between the Lines Book Club: Emma, By Jane Austen

between the lines book club logoReady for a light romance for Valentine’s Day, with some pointed comments about gender, relationships, manner, and class?  This month in Between the Lines Book Club we are reading Emma, by Jane Austen.  If you’d like to join us in person, we’ll meet live at Arden Dimick Library, in Sacramento, CA, at 10:30AM on February 28, 2015.

Emma is a classic novel about a young woman who believes herself to be a wonderful matchmaker but who is, in fact, completely clueless about matters of the heart.  Jane Austen wrote of the novel, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.”  Despite this prediction, Emma is Austen’s best-loved novel aside from Pride and Prejudice.  Emma is young, smart, beautiful, and rich, and finds herself with not much to do.  She settles on matchmaking as an occupation, which is a disaster as Emma knows nothing of her own heart or anyone else’s.  Hilarity ensues.

You can join us online here or in person on February 28th.  Enjoy!

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Book Review: Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas

cover of Jane and Twelve DaysJane and the Twelve Days of Christmas is the latest in a long line of Jane Austen mysteries by Stephanie Barron.  In this series, Austen is something of a Miss Marple character (but younger).  Jane runs into murder everywhere she goes (prompting considerable teasing from her family).

In Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas, Jane, her mother, and her sister Cassandra go to visit her judgmental brother, James, and his whiny wife, Mary.  They are rescued from the prospect of a dismal holiday by an invitation to The Vyne, a nearby estate.  There they meet:

  • William and Elizabeth Chute, master and mistress of the estate
  • Lady Gambier, her daughter Mary, and her son, Edward
  • Mr. Raphael West, a painter, son of the famous Benjamin West, who shows a marked interest in Jane
  • Lieutenant Gage, a naval messenger, who seems to have a romantic interest in Mary Gambier

Since this is a mystery, someone has to die, and someone from the part must have done it, but who?

This is a cozy mystery, and it’s a little bland – on the other hand, it’s not too dark or disturbing for holiday reading.  The real delight here is the description of a Regency Christmas.  I also got way too much enjoyment from the doll clothes that Jane and Charlotte make for their niece.  On the first day of Christmas they give her a doll.  Each subsequent day brings a new outfit.  This was enchanting on many levels – it was sweet, it felt magical and fun, and the descriptions of the outfits are both lovely and educational.  Similarly, in this book we hear about the Yule Log, the Children’s Ball, and of course Charades.

This particular book is out in time for Christmas shopping, and it’s in a lovely hardback edition with a deep red background and gold writing.  Clearly the marketing department knows a good gift when they see one.  I’d say this book is for a particular reader – a Jane aficionado, but not a Jane snob, since I think the version of Jane we are presented with is much less acerbic than the actual Jane was.  I enjoyed the book greatly as a relaxing, interesting read that got me in the mood for the holidays.  Having said, that, it’s nothing terrible brilliant or exciting or deep – which is just as well.  During the holidays I’m much more capable of enjoying a light book than something new and deep!

Guest Post: 10 Reasons You Shouldn’t Compare the Modern Man to Mister Darcy, by Emmy Z. Madrigal

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen my writer friend Emmy and I discovered that we both blog and we both love Jane Austen, we cried, “BLOG SWAP!”  I’m the author of Pride, Prejudice and Popcorn: TV and Film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre.  Emmy is working on an adaptation of Northanger Abbey.  Here’s Emmy’s post, about the problems with holding out for a Mr. Darcy in the real world

1. Mr. Darcy was written by a woman.Yes, Jane Austen fulfilled our fantasies by writing a delicious character, but he is written from a woman’s point of view. He says the right thing (or wrong thing) at precisely the right time and approaches Lizzy with expressive and romantic language real men don’t use. “Hey, wanna take a trip with me this weekend?” can be just as tantalizing from a real guy as, “I must tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” Read his signs like you’ve read Pride and Prejudice, with care and attention to detail. Asking you to hang out with him, means you are special enough to spend time with. Give him a break on the flowery declarations of love.

2. Even Jane Austen didn’t write the Darcy in your head.

You’ve read her words, but you’ve blown Mr. Darcy into this full-blown fantasy that can’t compare to ANY real man. In your mind he is perfect, much more perfect than Jane’s text could speak of. Remember his faults, like being too uppity and assuming Lizzy is nothing because she is poor and lives with a family of nutjobs. You’ve mentally fast-forwarded through all his distain like you do on the DVD to get to the really juicy bits. Our minds have powerful forgiveness for faults when we’re fantasizing.

3. Perfect men are obnoxious.

Do you really want to be tied to a man so perfect, only his man servant sees him naked? Who knows how many girdles are beneath those perfect suits and that pants bulge might not equal happiness in the bedroom. Will he be as uptight while undressing you, or will his servants do that for him? If you think about it, Darcy is kinda creepy. He follows Lizzy around, being all uppity and superior and then involves himself in a family scandal. No one is that psychic to cater to your every need before you even ask. It’s rare to find that much gallantry in a man, especially one too perfect to be in the same room with your loud-mouthed mother.

4. Showing emotion is not a fault.

Being with someone so stoic could drive a person mad. This brings up images of dancing in front of him to make him smile like the royal guard dudes with the big fuzzy black caps. Will he show emotion while bedding you, or will you just receive a nice tap on the head and off you go? You want a man who shows chinks in his armor every once in awhile. You want one you can smile and laugh with, one who shows his passion for you and sometimes makes a fool of himself in the process.

5. No real man is free of fault.

And his faults are never as tame as being so proud he’s prejudiced! Let real men have faults and don’t compare them to Darcy unless you want them to fail every time. Find a man you can love despite his faults. Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to find his faults cute or romantic. If you can adore Darcy’s snobby attitude, making fun of Lizzy, calling her names, and putting down her family, maybe you can let Joe Schmoe’s fetish for baseball cards slide, eh? And just remember, women have faults too. Find someone who thinks yours are adorable and not to be corrected.

6. Times have changed.

10,000 pounds a year ain’t what it used to be. Falling for a man because of his wealth is like signing up for disaster. In the olden days, rich men tended to stay that way and if they didn’t, they still had their title to make doors open for them. In this day and age wealth is something that can change quickly. What if he loses an account, his mansion, or his job? Will you still love him when he’s jobless or his life situation changes? Are you wishing for riches to make your life easier or to truly be happy? Money doesn’t breed happiness and if the relationship isn’t built on something stronger, it’s doomed to fail.

7. Looks are fleeting.

What happens when Mr. Darcy turns 50, has the comfortable couch gut and starts losing his hair? You want someone you love for qualities other than looks. Ten to twenty years from now, do you want to be looking at him thinking, “Geez he WAS gorgeous, but now he’s a bit chubby and has rather odd ears.” Or do you want someone who you can love despite his graying temples and age spots?

8. What will you have to measure up to?

Do you want to be with someone that you constantly don’t feel good enough for? What will be expected of a girlfriend or wife of Darcy? Are you ready to manage Pemberley? Will you be expected to have perfect children before you’re ready? Will you have to raise your children as heirs to vast wealth, thinking only of riches and status? Would you be able to still live your own life, go out with the girls, or finish school? You want someone who appreciates your talents and has just as much fun discussing your interests as recounting his smelly old fox hunt!

9. What’s so great about Darcy anyway?

Does he have any hobbies? Does he do or accomplish anything besides keeping up his family estate? What are any of his accomplishments beyond being born into a rich, titled family? What is Darcy when these days you can have a musician, artist, techy genius, or an architect? An evening at Pemberley seems rather drab, sitting around reading, pretending to enjoy whist… in a corset no less! Wouldn’t you rather be in your comfy leggings, dancing at a concert or strolling the boardwalk?

10. You might be missing out on your Mr. Right.

Just because the guys you date don’t fit your cookie-cutter hero costume, doesn’t mean they’re unworthy. What if Mr. Wrong is Mr. Right for you? What if the jeans and t-shirt guy from the laundromat turns out to be the love of your life? Sure, you don’t want to struggle through life, you’d like to find rich Mr. Darcy, but how do you know that you plus t-shirt guy doesn’t equal success unless you give him a shot?

Emmy Z. Madrigal is the author of the Sweet Dreams Musical Romance Series and Anime Girl 1 and 2. Her love for Regency romances goes back to the days when she first discovered Mr. Darcy and was instantly besotted. Emmy believes that love can conquer all and that sometimes, love comes when you least expect it. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her own Mr. Darcy and son. To find out more, go to: sweetdreamsnovel.com