This having been my very first Austen novel, I can clearly see why she is known to be the “Chick-Lit Queen” of the 19th century. Jane Austen teased readers with the idea of a ‘heroine whom no one but myself will much like’. Emma Woodhouse is a ‘handsome, clever, and rich’ young lady with apt breeding and belongs to the affluent circle in society.
She is very keen in observing any budding romance from people around her, is famous for her match-making skills, yet thinks she will never be married. The novel opens with Emma being inspired to start on a ‘project’–that is to take the shy but friendly Harriet Smith unto her guiding hands and pair her off with Mr. Elton.
If this plot sounds strangely familiar, it is because the 1995 hit movie, ‘Clueless’, has been patterned after the character and storyline of Austen’s Emma.
It seems inevitable to make a bit of a character and plot comparison in making a report on this book:
Emma Woodhouse is represented by the character Cher Horowitz. Cher is the ‘It’ girl in her highschool, as Emma is also considered one of the most charming and influential young ladies in her circle. They both have a father who are both financially rich but protective. While Cher’s father, Mr. Horowitz is portrayed to be always busy with work, Mr. Woodhouse is more engaged in his daughter’s affairs–him being a lot older than Mr. Horowitz’s character. The subject of a makeover in the novel is Harriet Smith–and this is portrayed in the movie by Tai, Cher’s object of a makeover project. Both Harriet and Tai are depicted to be of a lower stature than Emma/Cher, and is thought to be less attractive. Interestingly, the young man whom Cher/Emma thinks is a good match for her friend is named Elton (both in the novel and movie). There was a slight variation as to Cher’s/Emma’s relationship with the young man who is to become her love interest in the end. In the movie, we remember that it was her step-brother, Josh whom she realizes she is in love with at the end. Mr. Knightley is the novel’s ‘original’ Josh, and he is the younger brother of Emma’s brother-in-law.
Both men (Josh/Knightley) are ‘positioned’ in the story as somehow related to Emma/Cher–someone very familiar and brotherly that the notion of having love blossom between them is unlikely. Both their characters are aloof and indifferent to Emma’s/Cher’s attractiveness, and are seen to be the silent and sensitive type of men who are often in the background, yet brings back Emma/Cher down to earth when her ideas and ways get too flitty.
There’s also a dual representation in the character of Mrs. Weston. Mrs. Weston was the long-time governess of the Woodhouse family until she got married to her husband who she met through Emma’s matchmaking. She acts as both Emma’s confidante and adviser, and in this–she is represented by 2 separate characters in the movie. She is both Dionne (Cher’s best friend) and Miss Geist (Cher’s History teacher).
Emma’s love interest for a brief moment was Mr. Frank Churchill–known as Christian in the movie. Mr. Churchill and Christian both possess an odd charm that is close to being effeminate. In the novel, Emma gets turned off when she found out that Mr. Churchill suddenly disappeared to go to London just for a haircut. The relationship, as we all know does not work out (it has not even started).
Both Emma and Cher realize their feelings for Mr. Knightley/Josh when Harriet/Tai confess of their own attraction for Knightley/Josh. Both the novel and the movie end in a wedding–that of Harriets and Robert Martin’s (novel), and Mr Hall and Ms. Geist’s (movie).
Though the plot and theme is light, shallow and does not really require deep thought, the novel certainly has a very feminine appeal that transpires generations. Austen focuses on the premium of class and stature–which is both a social issue in the past and present. Emma and Harriet often go to the shops to buy cloth–this, I believe represented modern-day shopping sprees with girlfriends.
The writing itself does not appeal to me very much. I noticed that the more important parts are told in narrative–parts, that are, in my opinion, should be given importance by way of dialogue. (Example: When Emma informed her father of their (her and Mr. Knightley’s) plan to marry, it was all third person narration. The more trivial stuff are given importance in party and dinner talks. But I guess, this is the main charm of the novel–its airy and light theme, which I can imagine surely thrilled 19th century young girls, as they continue to do so with women from all over–more than a hundred years after.
alicia silverstone as cher horowitz
gwyneth paltrow plays emma woodhouse