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Monday, February 01, 2010

Emma--Book and BBC

Emma Emma by Jane Austen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I re-read Emma for the third time alongside my soon to-be-cara sposo, Mr. VL, who is reading it for the first time. I have to say, now that I'm no longer a naive adolescent girl myself, I have even more appreciation for the way Austen captures the mindset of that particular epoch in one's development.

But this isn't a rapturous enough way to start--I'd always enjoyed the book, and admired its cleverness and wit, but this time I truly fell in love with it. It's as well-structured as Pride and Prejudice, with characters serving as symmetrical foils and doubles for each other, and it's a meditation on human folly, on our tendency to see others through the tinted glass of our own desires, proclivities and fears. Emma of course, is the worst example, guessing everything wrong down to her own heart's feelings, oblivious to everyone's real motives under the screen of the motives she would like them to have. But this tendency is true of every character, down to Emma's father, Mr. Woodhouse, who assumes all others have the same need for gruel and blazing fires in the summertime as he does. Even Mr. Knightley, who supposedly has perfect judgment and composure, chooses interesting moments to scold Emma--often related to his own masked feelings for her. In Austen's world we're all stumbling around in the blindfolds of our own perspective, our own human imperfection. There's an undertone of melancholy here, too, lurking in the corners of this comédie humaine. I actually burst into tears during a certain climactic scene in which someone is told she has borne something as no woman in England could--(of course it was 2 a.m. and I had the flu, but the emotions were genuine.)

I think it's a first-rate work of genius. Sometimes, dear readers, I'm inclined to say that there are two categories of fiction: 1-fiction 2-Austen. Jane Austen does everything your writing teachers and editors say don't do: she uses the passive voice, lots of linking verbs, adverbs, and general adjectives like "handsome" and "elegant" and "tasteful" and almost no physical or tangible descriptions of anyone or anything. And yet her world comes more alive than most contemporary writers who describe things with metaphors like the full belly of her grief scraping across her soul. Not that there's anything wrong with imagery. It's just that Jane does it all with such a light touch. Sigh.

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Now, for my thoughts on the BBC production.It's definitely growing on me--as other have noted, this production improves a lot after the first smirk and eye-roll filled hour and a half. I like that it brings out those darker, lonelier, more cramped edges of Highbury life. I find Johnny Lee Miller's Mr. Knightley absolutely charmant, and Garai's manic mannerisms have calmed down a bit. I think she gets certain aspects of the character, almost the opposite elements from the Paltrow portrayal--but neither actress can combine the naivete with the goodwill with the headstrong wit with the vulnerability lurking beneath it all--except, I maintain, Alicia Silverstone :)

Needless to say, I cannot wait til the conclusion, and I may have to re-watch the ballroom scene which is lovely--again, conventional Janeite wisdom has already come to this consensus, but I will add my voice to the chorus.

What do you all think so far? Is the miniseries improving for you also?


  1. I guess I'm one of the few who have enjoyed this version since the beginning. RG is a great actress and I like how they've emphasized the relationship between her and Frank Churchill in part 2. This series shows that they have the same mischievous spirit. Frank and Emma would be the most insufferable couple because they would only be interested in themselves. Austen saw that and I think this adaptation does too. Miller is def. growing on me as Knightly. He was great in the dance scene, which was fun and lively. In fact I think fun and lively is a great way to describe this mini-series.

  2. I read Emma over the holidays and there's something in what you say of getting older and enjoying it so much the more. I laughed out loud reading it and I can't remember doing that all the other times I read it.
    I also don't remember loving Mrs. Elton so much but oh, do I. She's so terrible but Austen pulls off her horridness in such a genius way. Mrs. Elton never steps out of character, she's never too much, she is always herself. It's like a watching a car crash over and over yet one cannot stop watching. And even though it's pretty much the same car crash again and again, there's different tweeks and facets each time.

    Garai is hard to take at first but mellows out as time goes on- thank goodness! I really like how the movie shows Knightly (if I can pull a Mrs. E there) loving his life- stepping out of his door in the morning, taking a deep breath and looking out over his land. He's a nice character to be more involved with.

  3. I also agree with the great enjoyment one have while reading the book again. But this is an experience i had with other Jane Austen' books.