Book Review: Emma

Emma
By Alexander McCall Smith

My Edition:
Paperback, 361 pages
2014, Anchor Books
ISBN: 9780804172417

Emma Woodhouse has grown up on her father’s large estate, complete with a governess. She’s just finished school and decided to start her own interior design business, but finds herself more interested in the doings of her friends and neighbors. She starts with her governess, Ms. Taylor and after taking credit for successfully fixing her up with family-friend Mr. Weston, Emma decides matchmaking is her new business. She begins sticking her nose into everyone’s business and soon learns that they don’t view her as helpful, but rather meddling and snobby.

I’m now all caught up on the books in this modern Austen project and I’m satisfied with how they’ve all turned out. Despite each novel having its own author and varied voices, I still think they have all captured the spirit of Jane Austen’s novels and feel like a series that belongs together.

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Movie Review: Emma

pic from wiki

Emma
Directed by Douglas McGrath

1996, Miramax Films
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Alan Cumming, Toni Collette, Ewan McGregor, and Jeremy Northam

You can read my book review here.

First off, I just read the tag line on this particular movie cover (poster?) and have to say, I think it’s incredibly stupid . “This spring cupid is armed and dangerous?!” That makes me think of Emma as a gun-wielding murderer,  killing people on Valentine’s Day. At the very least, it conveys a sense of action, which this movie lacks. That is mostly due to the fact that Austen’s novels are character, rather than plot driven, but still. Whoever came up  with that tag line did a poor job.

I watched this movie on Netflix, so I’m not sure if it was their fault, or I’m just not used to watching films from the 90s anymore, but the film quality was grainy and terrible and I just wanted to throw that out there. I think this film did a decent job of capturing the main points of the plot and accurately expressed the characters unlike Mansfield Park, so it has that going for it. Sadly, I felt the acting was very wooden – I can’t think of any other way to describe it. It wasn’t what I would call bad acting, but no one seemed to really convey emotion and as a result I was pretty bored while watching.

I noticed a couple minor character edits. For example, Mr. Knightley (Jeremy Northam) is adorable, and while he does look somewhat older than Emma, I think they downplayed the fact that he has 16 years on her. This was probably a good choice, but as this is the biggest age difference in Austen relationships (I think), I felt it was a unique point that was missing from the movie. They also made Mr. Elton appear to regret his marriage to the utterly obnoxious Augusta. In the book, he seems very proud of his match, and together they are an obnoxious couple. I think they tried to redeem his character by making him appear to regret his choice in a wife, and he seemed almost as fed up with her as everyone else.

There were some interesting transitions from scene  to scene where they used conversations. A conversation start and typically Emma would be commenting (sometimes internally) on something that would then apply to a different conversation in the next scene. It’s hard to describe. I can’t say I was blown away by this, but it was a  neat little effect.

This movie seemed to be missing a “rain peril” scene, as I mentally refer to them as. Whether written in by Austen or not, the Austen movie adaptations I’ve seen all seem to include a scene where someone is caught in the rain. In this, Knightley refers to riding through the rain, but we never see it. I’m so accustomed to it that I feel like it should have been included! We are rewarded with a kiss between the happy couple at the end though, so at least there’s that.

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This film was okay – a bit boring, and while the acting wasn’t terrible, it lacked anything remotely resembling feeling and therefore I wasn’t really invested in it. I don’t feel like I wasted my time watching, but I’d certainly never watch it again. I can at least appreciate that it did a fair job of sticking to the source material. If I had to give it a rating, I’d say maybe 2.5 of 5 stars.

Book Review: Emma

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Emma
By Jane Austen

My Edition:
Hardcover, 512 pages
2010, Penguin Classics
ISBN: 9780141192475

From Amazon:  Beautiful, clever, rich – and single – Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protégée Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected.

What I liked:
This is the first time readers are given a heroine who is well-off. I don’t think that the Bennets or the Dashwoods were meant to be shown as truly poor, because they probably never would have married  as well, but maybe middle class. But Emma Woodhouse is very well off and isn’t a heroine that’s striving to be part of the upper echelon (even if it’s just to take care of her family) like we’ve seen before. She doesn’t even desire to marry, which felt refreshing. Other Austen heroines do seem to strive for a little something better, and I like to see them achieve that, but Emma has everything she needs in life and would rather see others happily married than herself. I like Emma as a character – she’s confident (maybe overly so), lively, and talented, and watching her matchmaking schemes unfold was amusing.

There seemed to be more over-the-top characters in this book. Mr. Woodhouse, the Eltons, Miss Bates, Harriet, and Mrs. Churchill. Miss Bates was especially ridiculous, with her never-ending speeches. I think we’ve all met someone like that before – you can hardly get a word in edgewise and if you do it’s ignored, because they simply want to talk about themselves or what they know. At one point, Emma says something rather cutting to Miss Bates about all the stupid things she says, and while it was mean, there was a bit of justification. After having to read through so many pages worth of her nattering, I had a little “oooh burn!” moment. Don’t we all want to tell someone off? It was less passive aggressive than most of  Jane’s insults, so it felt fresh.

Emma grows as a character and begins to notice her faults as a matchmaker after repeated blunders. She’s a bit of a silly girl as the book begins, and it was nice to see her mature by the end. Her relationship with Mr. Knightley was different too – most heroines happen to meet the man they marry at a party or something, and then develop a relationship from there. Emma and Knightley have grown up together and are already fast friends when we’re introduced to them.

What I didn’t like:
At first I had a hard time keeping track of the characters. There seemed to be so many more “main” characters in this book than any other Austen book I’ve read. There 5 main couples in this book, plus additional characters like Mr. Woodhouse, and Mrs. and Miss Bates. I actually went on wikipedia to look up who some characters were, because they were being mentioned in the book, yet with no detailed information on who they were, leading me to believe I had missed something. They were later introduced to readers, but I feel it would have been more helpful to have that information early on.

Also, Miss Bates drove me up a wall. I know that was intentional, but her monologues were so boring that I ended up skipping over most of them – if she actually said anything important to the plot, I missed it.

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Overall, Emma is another enjoyable Austen novel. Now that I’ve read all her completed novels, I can say that I don’t dislike any. Pride and Prejudice is still (and always will be) my favorite. I think maybe Sense and Sensibility and Emma rank equally for second place, with Mansfield Park and Persuasion in third. I’m not sure where I class Northanger Abbey – as when I read it, I just didn’t understand what she was going for. I have a better understanding of the plot and her intentions now, and I think if I read it again, it would be right up there with Emma.