I have seen Clueless … a few times. It’s not germane to know exactly how many, and also I’ve lost count. In my defense, Clueless is amazing. I’ve seen it so many times, in fact, that I can’t read Emma–even for a readalong where Emma Approved is the adaptation to discuss — without a thick overlay of Clueless: When Emma first starts spending time with Harriet, all I can think of is this:
Occasionally I worry that I’m not addressing the novel on its own terms, but mostly I feel glad that Alicia Silverstone’s fundamental adorability and goodness makes it possible for me to keep liking Emma Woodhouse even when she’s being terrible. And she is being pretty terrible in the first volume of Emma.
Where other Jane Austen heroines are slightly outsiders, or teetering on the brink of the possibility of outsiderdom, Emma Woodhouse is wealthy, beautiful, and happy to remain single all her days.
“But still, you will be an old maid! and that’s so dreadful!”
“Never mind, Harriet, I shall not be a poor old maid; and it is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a general public! A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid! the proper sport of boys and girls, but a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as any body else.
Her motivation isn’t achieving any kind of security — she’s as secure as a person can be. It’s really just finding ways to fill her empty days, whether that be with charitable works (likeable!) or pseudo-charitable works like fixing up Harriet with a posh guy (ick). Jane Austen admitted from the outset that Emma was a heroine nobody but herself would much like, and a big part of that is the privilege Emma’s lived in all her life.
Luckily, Alicia Silverstone! Look how cute she is when she’s self-satisfied!
Jane Austen is a smart lady. The storyline that frames the first volume of Emma is about someone who takes Emma’s obsession with class to its logical conclusion. Mr. Elton, the match Emma wants for Harriet, thinks of Harriet the way Emma thinks of the Martins: Good enough in her place, but not a person deserving of any serious consideration or respect. His mindset isn’t the least bit different to Emma’s, just aimed in another direction.
Another piece of brilliance by Jane Austen is that she’s given us an unreliable narrator, and it’s fun — because the stakes are low — to watch Emma’s certainty and enthusiasm as she races full-tilt towards disappointment. You know that Emma is basically good-natured, and also that she’s untouchable by external forces, so she’s only going to do damage to herself. While, you know, growing as a person, and fighting with Paul Rudd over the remote control.
If you aren’t watching Emma Approved, by the way, I recommend it to you once again. Currently it’s on hiatus, and you can catch yourself up before its return in February. The series so far runs to basically the end of the first volume of Emma, when Mr. Elton hits on Cher in the car.
The writers do a fantastic job at making Emma difficult to like at first, and then letting you see the chinks in her armor of self-confidence. Joanne Sotomura, who plays Emma, has wonderful chemistry with Brent Bailey, who plays Mr. Knightley; they perfectly capture the mixture of affection and mutual bossiness (is that fair to say, mutual bossiness?) that these characters have for each other in the book.
EMMA APPROVED I MISS YOU SO MUCH PLEASE COME BACK.
(Nota bene: I have started rewatching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries as a substitute for Emma Approved. It’s interesting to rewatch it, having seen the new stuff they tried with Emma Approved. I’m watching one episode on a Monday and one on a Thursday, and it is great. I will still be really excited when Emma Approved comes back. Emma and Alex Knightley are adorable, and I want to see poor nervous Harriet find happiness.)