Monday, January 25, 2010

A Renewed Interest all things Austen.

Due to the insane snowfall and with nothing else to do, my sister and I spent the last two days obsessively watching all four parts of the BBC's Emma. It aired several months ago in the UK and is now showing here, Sunday nights on PBS, but Lizzy and I -being the rather impatient creatures we are- watched the whole series (four hours!) in low-resolution via Youtube. Let me assure you,
It is amazing.
I've always been an avid Jane Austen fan--stereotypically so, given my status as a formerly-homeschooled female-- so of course I'm excited every time a new installment (in what has become almost a genre of its own) presents itself. With that said, though, there's something about this particular production that may appeal even to the regency-reluctant. The screenplay takes a few liberties with Jane's story that, instead of modernizing or detracting from the plot, actually help an audience that may have never read the book understand some of the complexities of Emma's world (social customs, womens' life in that time, etc. etc.)... all without sounding too trite or obvious for the hardcore Austenites.
In keeping with Austen's incredible understanding of human nature, every attempt is made to flesh-out and delineate characters who, in former renditions, never received more than a passing nod as a plot device or behavioural caricature. Miss Bates, for instance, is not simply written-off as a horrible prattler, but backed up with all of the insecurities and sadness that would explain her quirks; Mrs. Elton- often portrayed as a plain-looking, buzzing annoyance akin to the inconvenience of a housefly- is beautiful, arrogant, and almost devious in her snobbery and ill-will towards Emma; Mr. Knightley's brother confronts life with a largely cynical outlook and dry sense of humor, which combats the insatiable nervousness Isabella, Emma's sister, seems to have inherited from their father. Romola Garai gives the lead character an intense animation and zest for life that self-absorbed Gwyneth Paltrow could never have mustered, and though Johnny Lee Miller's Knightley is, admittedly, neither as dashing nor as humourous as the one I grew up watching, as Lizzy puts it "He grows on your like a wart," which is fitting for a leading-man who *isn't* the leading man until the end of the story.
Overall, I thoroughly recommend it and may even endeavor to make Eric watch it. I never force chick-flicks on him, but it's that good.

In all of Austen's work Emma has always been the character who I most relate to and who makes me most uncomfortable.
My family always accused me of being an Emma, with my annoying need to match-make and unfortunate knack for never being able to hold my tongue. She is probably the most vulnerable and awkward of Jane's leading ladies, unbalanced, with a desire to help people which is always hampered by her own snobbery or impulsiveness. There were multiple times while we watched this when I had to cover my face in shame while my sister looked at me with that "You have SO done that" expression. When I first watched the Gwyneth Paltrow version the comparison was almost flattering, as Emma took on a "practically perfect in every way" sort of persona, whereas this version --which is most true to the book-- just makes me squirm. That brings me to my question,

If you were a literary character (doesn't have to one of Jane Austen's,) who would you be?

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