As you may be aware, the American cinematic classic Clueless is based on Jane Austen’s Emma. Being a sensible man of well-refined tastes, I enjoy Clueless very much. Therefore, I gave the source material a chance.
Jane Austen’s classic story of fancy English people falling in and out of love was first published in 1815. Since it is set two centuries ago, the social structures, concerns, and mores in the novel are much different than those that we live with today. While it can take a few chapters to understand the mindset and culture of the story’s time, it’s fun for the reader to transport his or herself back to Regency-era England. Most of the well-to-do characters don’t have any real troubles beyond who to eat dinner with and where to throw a party. It’s like Gossip Girl! In fact, Gossip Girl and Emma reminded me a lot of one another: good-looking wealthy people that the town revolves around don’t have any major concerns, so they must make them up.
Emma is not plot heavy – it is mostly about people eating meals together and judging one another’s manners and conversational skills. Repartee abounds, and I enjoyed it immensely. The protagonist, Emma, was Austen’s prototype for modern television’s antihero. Austen stated that Emma was not written to be particularly likable. She is rich, good looking, witty, and at times condescending to those whom she deems unworthy of her status. She can be a mean girl. She has no impetus to learn or grow or change because things are going pretty well!
That being said, I found Emma likable because she seems to be trying her best, given her circumstances. That’s the best I can ask of anyone. She has a good heart, and her governess tried to make her sensitive to those around her. While imperfect, Emma does try. Many of Austen’s protagonists face financial troubles, and perhaps for that reason I found the more middle-class characters in Emma as the most interesting and sympathetic. I assume this was intentional and there may be some conscious or unconscious commentary by Austen in that contrast between the socialites and the almost-socialites. Without giving anything away, I would say that by the end of the book, Emma benefits greatly from her middle class connexions.
I enjoyed the book for the setting, the repartee, and vocabulary, and all of the cheeky English characters. It was the most fun I’ve had with an Austen novel.