Every week on our Facebook page, we share a memorable quote from “Emma,” so we decided to share them here as well. Check out the slideshow below and let us know which is YOUR favorite! And be sure to like our Facebook page to keep up with our quotes, news and fun Jane Austen links!
Jane Austen might have written a heroine that readers may not much like, but Emma has been brought to life on screens big and small numerous times and in numerous eras. These adaptations can fit any mood and personality. Read on to see which might fit you best.
If you want to see a “darker” side of Highbury…
“Emma” (1996 TV movie) This adaptation (written by Andrew Davies) isn’t all sweetness and light. It highlights the working class, with pointed glimpses of kitchen maids clearing plates; footmen hauling food and tables up Box Hill; Knightley’s tenants — including Robert Martin — working the fields; and ragged young beggars accosting Harriet on the path. Plus, if you love candlelit scenes, dark-wood sets and dark brown dresses, well, this is the production for you. But watch out for this Emma: Kate Beckinsale plays up her haughty side — she’s a little more mean girl than golden girl. She is not afraid to tell it to you straight.
If you like fashion statements …
“Clueless” (1995) Plaid? Check. Sailor dresses? Check. Structured jackets? Check. If your fashion philosophy is “go bold or go home,” “Clueless” is your best bet. The film may be 20 years old, but the costumes are still inspiring fashionistas today. And if you grew up in the ‘90s, phrases like “As if!” and “Whatever!” are still part of your lexicon. Alicia Silverstone’s Cher Horowitz is a lovable modern Emma, with her heart in the right place even if her plans don’t always work out. She’d make a terrible study partner, but a fantastic shopping buddy … just don’t let her drive you anywhere.
If you love Martha Stewart …
“Emma” (1996 feature film) This film is like Gwyneth Paltrow’s hair: perfectly coiffed, no strand out of the place. Cool, (mostly) calm and sophisticated, this adaptation has a sheen of Hollywood glamour. Who wouldn’t want to live in this version of Highbury? Like Emma, the film strives for perfection; it may occasionally fail, but we love it anyway. Paltrow’s heroine is full of helpful hints about love and marriage and even how to embroider. If she ran the Internet, she’d start a lifestyle site like … well … Goop.
If you need cheering up …
“Emma” (2009) Stubborn, exuberant and fun. Did I just describe this adaptation or Emma herself? Actually, it’s both. The life of any party, Romola Garai’s Emma could befriend anyone (even if she doesn’t like them), so she’s sure lift your spirits — if you get on her good side, that is. This lively Emma might stop you from marrying that cute farmer down the way, but she can also lift your spirits. It’ll take some time, though: At four hours in length, this adaptation deserves a full lazy afternoon of viewing.
If you’re a Harriet fan …
“Emma” (1972) Ignore the low-budget production values, the stagey sets and the dated “welcome to the Regency 1970s” look. You can’t help but love this adaptation’s chipper, charming, slightly dim and sweetly indecisive Harriet, played by Debbie Bowen, far left in a striking turquoise bonnet. Doran Godwin brings Emma to prim and proper life, but it’s Harriet who steals the show. You just want to pull an Emma yourself and tell her: Harriet, honey, don’t listen to Emma. Listen to me. (Word the wise: You can find this miniseries here.)
If you have a short attention span …
“Emma Approved” (2013) Don’t have two hours or an afternoon to spare? This Web series (which we recapped!) is perfect if you have five minutes here, 10 minutes there. This 21st-century Emma (Joanna Sotomura) is a business-savvy version of Cher Horowitz: a self-centered fashionista who thinks she knows what’s best for everyone — except herself. Betcha can’t watch just one episode though. It can be thoroughly addicting.
If you love social media …
“Emma Approved” (2013)
In this day and age, it’s hard to go a day without hearing a reference to something someone saw on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. “Emma Approved” allows viewers to experience the story through characters’ social media feeds and blogs.
This one is a hard choice! If you’re looking for an earnest Knightley, Jeremy Northam’s iteration (1996) is sweet and big brotherly without veering into avuncular territory. Jonny Lee Miller’s 2009 version is a bit tougher, less earnest and more pragmatic with a touch of humor. Brent Bailey from “Emma Approved” plays down the “Knightley knows best” attitude in favor of treating Emma more as an equal.
With “Emma”, Jane Austen was unsure how the public would take to her heroine — whom she knew no one but herself would much like.
Now “Emma” is in the top 10 of at least one list of the 100 best novels of all time. But what did critics and readers think of it when it was first published? A quick glance at reviews from the period as well as letters from readers, writers and Jane Austen’s relatives and friends:
An unsigned review in the June 1816 Literary Panorama: “The story is not ill-conceived; it is not romantic but domestic …”
Monthly Review: “a strain of genuine natural humour …”
British Critic, July 1816: “an amusing, inoffensive and well-principled novel …”
Gentleman’s Magazine, September 1816: “… delineates with great accuracy the habits and the manners of a middle class of gentry, and of the inhabitants of a country village at one degree of rank and gentility beneath them. … if Emma be not allowed to rank in the very highest class of modern Novels, it certainly may claim at least a distinguished degree of eminence in that species of composition. It is amusing, if not instructive.”
Sir Walter Scott, Quarter Review: “Emma has even less story than either of the preceding novels. … The plot is extricated with great simplicity…. The author’s knowledge of the world, and the peculiar tact with which she presents characters that the reader cannot fail to recognize, reminds us something of the merits of the Flemish school of painting. The subjects are not often elegant, and certainly never grand; but they are finished up to nature, and with a precision which delights the reader.”
Reader Lady Morley: I did not say that I did not like Emma — only said that I did not like it so much as Mansfield Park or Pride & Prejudice — nor more I do. Yet I think there is much of it that is admirable. … Her talking characters talk too much. The pages filled with Miss Bates & Mrs Elston wd. make up one of the volumes & that is more than can well be afforded. Still their conversations are certainly admirable.
Writer Maria Edgeworth: “There was no story in it.”
Irish poet Thomas Moore: It was “the very perfection of novel-writing.”
The Librarian of the Prince Regent: “It is gone to the Prince Regent [to whom the book was dedicated]. I have read only a few Pages which I very much admired — there is so much nature — and excellent description of Character in every thing you describe.”
And what did Austen’s relatives think? Jane jotted down opinions on the book; out of 43 opinions, 12 were negative, six wholly praised it and four said they thought “Emma” was the best work she’d published by then. But 17 said they still liked “Pride & Prejudice” more.
James and Mary Austen said they didn’t like it “as well as either of the 3 others. Language different from the others; not so easily read.” Mary’s cousin said it was “certainly inferior to all the others.”
Jane’s friend Anne Sharp had sharp words: She liked the book “better than MP. — but not so well as P. & P. — pleased with the Heroine for her Originality, delighted with Mr K — & called Mrs Elton beyond praise — dissatisfied with Jane Fairfax.”
Brother Frank: “Liked it extremely, observing that though there might be more Wit in P&P — & an higher Morality in MP — yet altogether … preferred it to either.”
Mrs. Austen: “Thought it more entertaining than MP, but not so interesting as P&P. No characters in it equal to Ly. Catherine & Mr Collins.”
“Jane Austen: A Life,” Claire Tomalin
“Jane Austen’s Letters,” collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye
“Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels,” Deirdre Le Faye