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October 12th, 2009


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01:30 pm - Emma
I have been watching the four-part BBC1 adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma. My initial thought was: what's the point? I really liked the Gwyneth Paltrow/Jeremy Northam adaptation, with Alan Cummings as Mr Elton, and I didn't feel another one was required (though I see that film was made thirteen years ago - blimey).

However, now I have seen two episodes and I feel that this version does have something new to offer. My son - who knows 0 about Jane Austen - sat with me and watched part of the first episode. After a while he remarked 'So basically, this is story about someone who is really unpleasant and wrong about everything?' And he's spot on. Didn't Austen say Emma was 'a heroine whom no one but myself will much like'? My son also said 'I wish there had been a revolution in England in the early 19th century, because people like that would have been shot.' And this version indeed makes the class politics more explicit than other adaptations I have seen. Knightly's goodness is linked to his stepping outside of the rigidities of class more readily than any other character.

I think this version makes Emma more outrageously wrong and youthfully cruel and ignorant than other versions I have seen, and rightly so, I think that is what the story requires for full impact. And it does this without (whatever my son thinks) making her completely unsympathetic and unlikeable.

Knightly, incidentally is played by Johnny Lee Miller and I was all 'What? He's too young!' but he isn't that young any more and I think he does a jolly good job.

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Comments:


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From:del_c
Date:October 12th, 2009 01:31 pm (UTC)
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I'm both watching this (by iPlayer at the moment as I keep missing the broadcasts) and re-reading along, and I agree it makes Emma nastier than most adaptations, but I don't agree Mr Knightley is stepping outside class boundaries so much as communicating across them in a way Austen feels is proper. I don't think she'd approve of stepping across.

In his disagreement with Emma about Harriet and Mr. Martin, he is not speaking of Martin as someone Emma should socialise with, since he himself does not. He is speaking of Harriet as someone Emma should not socialise with. It is she who is crossing class boundaries, not he.

I think Austen approves of Knightley because he is one of the few characters in the story who insists on maintaining the proper boundaries, when everyone else allows Emma to transgress them, to everyone's eventual pain. Mr. Woodhouse and Mrs. ?? (Emma's former governess) are both against him in this, and will soon be found to have been terribly lax and libertine.
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From:communicator
Date:October 12th, 2009 02:00 pm (UTC)
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I know what you mean. I think that because Jane Austen felt that class division was quite settled, she was able to acknowledge in her personal life and her writing the value of people of 'lower' classes. She portrays dignified and intelligent servants (for example Darcy's housekeeper) and obnviously a shedload of vain ignoramuses of high status.

Knightly is like this (I think). He is not about to let Farmer whatsisname possess the farm, he will always be the owner, but within the rigidity of the class system, he can find his tenant an admirable person.
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From:gfk88
Date:October 12th, 2009 01:49 pm (UTC)
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What's annoying me about this version is that they all dress up in the olden-times clothes but are behaving more or less like modern people. They flounce around, breeze in and out of rooms, wave at each other out of windows, and so on.

Surely what's great about Austen is the difference between what people think and would like to do/say, and what they are required to do by the social conventions of the time. So stripping away all the restrictions strips away a lot of the fun, too.

I thought she was pretty irritating when I read the book 20 years ago, but now she just seems dumb in the way that all young people are dumb. Perhaps we judge our peer group more harshly than we do other people. At least Emma's nowhere near as annoying as the wet-as-water heroine of Mansfield Park, which I happened to read recently - she just sat around feeling sorry for herself.

[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:October 12th, 2009 02:06 pm (UTC)
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Oh, Emma is so much better than Fanny Price, what a drip she is. I agree that as Emma gets younger relative to me she gets less culpable. My son, being the same age, feels she should be summarily executed.

The informality of movement was shown in the Kiera Knightly film of Pride and Prejudice too. It may be that there is a modern historical view that pre-Victorian people were a bit rough and ready - still at the 'chamber-pots emptied out the window' stage. Perhaps rural people, even landowners, may have been like that.
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From:azdak
Date:October 12th, 2009 03:27 pm (UTC)
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It may be that there is a modern historical view that pre-Victorian people were a bit rough and ready - still at the 'chamber-pots emptied out the window' stage.

Or perhaps it's just that the modern film-maker wishes Austen's books were more like Tom Jones. There's a reason you don't get chamber pots in Austen, any more than you get them in Racine.
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From:communicator
Date:October 12th, 2009 03:54 pm (UTC)
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No, and to be fair you don't get them in this production of Emma either. I just mean that people may have run about and waved out the window and so on, more than we used to think. I think corsets and so on may have been a bit less oppressive at that time too.I was watching Room with A View again the other night and boy they all looked terribly uncomfortable.
From:abigail_n
Date:October 12th, 2009 06:28 pm (UTC)
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Wait, there's another adaptation? Is Andrew Davies making another stab at a P&P-style hit?

As others have said, Mr. Knightley isn't really a class warrior. In the novel, he's praised for having a proper understanding of class, and behaving according to his - being kind and generous to his tenants and neighbors, but not overly familiar with his social inferiors, as Emma is with Harriet. The novel's ending finds class order restored, with each eligible character married to a person on their own level.
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From:communicator
Date:October 12th, 2009 06:49 pm (UTC)
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Yes, a new adaptation, but it isn't by Andrew Davies. It's written by Sandy Welch who wrote the recent Jane Eyre (checking IMDB, 2006 so not that recent).
[User Picture]
From:tehomet
Date:October 12th, 2009 09:07 pm (UTC)
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Knightly's goodness is linked to his stepping outside of the rigidities of class more readily than any other character.

Do you think so? I just thought (when reading it, while watching the Paltrow version, and watching the current version) that he's simply a kind man. IMHO Emma is chastened for being cruel to the spinster lady but not really for being such a busybody. :)

Austen's highest virtue is kindness, closely followed by intelligence, in my opinion. I always thought that she thought that characters like Lady Catherine weren't distasteful for being disgustingly rich, but for missing the opportunities that being disgustingly rich brings for doing good - perhaps a noblesse oblige approach to class, rather than a challenge to its structures.

Did you see the film version of Mansfield Park in which IIRC Jonny Lee Miller played Edmund? That adaption was almost completely different to the book, and thank god, as the book is fairly dull, in comparison to the others.



[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:October 12th, 2009 10:19 pm (UTC)
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Do you think so?

I'm going to answer this comment, just because a few people have made this point in a few different ways.

Yes, I do think so. I think Knightly relates to people more as people, rather than as social roles, than say Emma or Mr Elton or his brother or Frank Churchill do.

For example, he thinks Emma is being ridiculous to say he should ride in a carriage instead of on horseback. Most of the other examples of stepping out of role that come to my mind as I type this do admittedly double-up as examples of kindness, but I think kindness is a response to recognising people as having an inner life.

I'm (obviously) not saying that Knightly is a class warrior, but that he is less hung up on the subject of his own status than the other characters in the book.

I don't think it's noblesse oblige that is advocated, I think it is authenticity within the constraints of society.

[User Picture]
From:del_c
Date:October 12th, 2009 11:28 pm (UTC)
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Bits of this adaptation occur out of phase with bits of the novel for reasons of pacing, but I can say the whole horse/carriage thing is absent from that particular part of the book. I'll keep an eye out for its appearance, if any, in other chapters.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:October 13th, 2009 10:48 am (UTC)
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Now you've thrown me and I can't distinguish book and drama in my mind. A good excuse to reread

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