Emma

by Jane Austen

“Emma has been meaning to read more ever since she was twelve years old. I have seen a great many lists of her drawing up at various times of books that she meant to read regularly through—and very good lists they were—very well chosen, and very neatly arranged—sometimes alphabetically, and sometimes by some other rule. The list she drew up when only fourteen—I remember thinking it did her judgment so much credit, that I preserved it some time; and I dare say she may have made out a very good list now. But I have done with expecting any course of steady reading from Emma. She will never submit to any thing requiring industry and patience, and a subjection of the fancy to the understanding.”

I have seen the 4 film/BBC versions of Emma probably dozens of times between them all, not including the wonderful Clueless. So I thought I knew the plot of Jane Austen’s novel backward and forwards. And I did! However, the main thing the movies don’t convey is how unlikable Emma is throughout almost all of the book. I think the actresses who have played her, with the exception of one, just have so much charm that I could not help but overlook Emma’s faults and be captivated. Her character flaws become amusing little foibles in the movies that you smile at fondly. As Jane Austen wrote her though, she is judgmental, lazy, arrogant, and small-minded. She is foolish and even mean at times. I shudder to think what might have become of Harriet if Mr. Martin had not been so faithful and forgiving. And although she does learn her lesson and is suitably chastened, her character does not exactly experience a complete transformation. I could easily have seen her going back to her old ways if not for the continuing good influence of Mr. Knightly, who unaccountably really loves her from the beginning despite her faults.

I really enjoyed all of the extra detail and the characterizations of all of the players. The reader, Alison Larkin, was excellent. Particularly making Emma so initially unsympathetic, and then maturing her in the end. She made Mrs. Elton and Mr. Woodhouse so annoying but so funny, and her reading of Miss Bates was a scream: just as classic as Sophie Thompson’s portrayal in Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma.**4 out of 5 stars**

July 13, 2018

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