Emma Readalong!: Part One

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!

Awww. But also, ew.

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.

Wish my life gave me more opportunities to say this.

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.

Oh Joanna Sotomura, you are just as cute as a little button.


(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.)

  • I rewatched Clueless during the Christmas holidays and it was just the best thing. I will definitely give Emma Approved another try very soon!

    • Gin Jenny

      Isn’t it? I rewatched it recently too, and I never get tired of it.

  • Well, okay then! Off to youtube to watch…

    • Gin Jenny


  • I was a little iffy about “Emma Approved” at first, feeling that some of their choices were out of character for Emma but I do feel that they were necessary in order to make even the most Emma-adoring viewers find her irritating. If you’ve read the book a few dozen times, it’s hard not to love Emma from the first page on every reread. And the last few episodes of “Emma Approved” leading up to the hiatus were so good that I am really hopeful for how the show/story will continue.

    • Gin Jenny

      What kind of things did you think were out of character? It’s been a while since I watched the early episodes so I can’t totally remember…

  • I had such a hard time reading Emma because ALL I could think about was Clueless!

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahahahaha, totally fair. Clueless is so wonderful!

  • I’m really happy that you brought Clueless into the conversation for me because it makes Emma a lot more fun to read. (I think I’ll need to watch it when we finish reading Emma).

    That’s a great observation about Elton/Harriet and Emma/the Martins. I’m hoping that Emma will mature a bit and grow to see the Martins in a different light. (I’m not holding out hope for Elton.)

    Gahhhh. I miss the show too! It needs to come back ASAP. I was initially on the fence about continuing with the series but reading the book and the last few episodes hooked me.

    • Gin Jenny

      There is no hope for Elton! I am excited to meet the wife he eventually ends up with though — it’s one of my favorite things about the book Emma when the Eltons come back and Mrs. Elton is such a pain in the butt.

      WHY IS IT NOT CURRENTLY FEBRUARY. I’m glad the creators took some time off to regroup, and my head wants to them to do that as often as they need to in order to make Emma Approved awesome. BUT MY HEART. WANTS IT BACK.

      • anna

        this is why I’m not watching Emma Approved. Its hard to wait without having seen it. Waiting for the end with having seen it would be miserable

  • Clueless is amazing. I like Emma too, though not as much as Cher.

    I binge watched The Lizzie Bennett Diaries around Christmas, but I’ve only made it eight or nine episodes into Emma Approved. You’ve renewed my interest; I’m going to go check it out!

    • Gin Jenny

      Emma Approved gets better when Harriet shows up and the whole Martin storyline starts kicking in (I think). The stuff they added at the beginning is fine but not as interesting to me.

  • So, I binged on Emma Approved over Christmas, this is your fault. Haha.


    I don’t think I can read Emma now, I love Clueless and Emma Approved too much.

    • Gin Jenny


      Aw, you have to read Emma now! It’s so good! You have to read it. It’s really funny and I love it, maybe even more than Pride and Prejudice.

  • Karen K.

    I’m still waiting to see The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on DVD, because I can’t sit through multiple webisodes — I want to watch it on the big screen, all together. Also, I’d have to sit through the theme music over and over, and it gets really annoying when you’re marathoning episodes. I saw the creators at the JASNA convention last year and they were great.

    And I completely agree about reading Emma — the first time I actually sat and read it I wanted to throw the book across the room because she was so annoying. She gets better though. And I highly recommend the Naxos Audiobook narrated by Juliet Stevenson, who played Mrs. Elton in the Gwyneth Paltrow movie version of Emma. It’s a great audio and she’s a wonderful narrator. The most recent BBC adaptation with Romola Garai is also excellent, though she and Jonny Lee Miller are too close in age.

    • Gin Jenny

      That’s fair! I can sympathize with that. I like the theme music even when marathoning episodes, but with webisodes it’s very very easy to think, like, “Oh, I’ll just watch one more! It’s only five minutes!” and the next thing you know you’ve watched twenty of them and it’s two in the morning.

      Awesome! Thank you for those recommendations! I will try that audiobook and that adaptation even though I sort of dislike Romola Garai (and Jonny Lee Miller).

  • Ela

    Another coincidence ahoy – I have just read ‘Emma’ after watching the recent BBC adaptation. I may have seen ‘Clueless’ only once or twice, but I did have a few “rolling with my homies” flashes when Harriet was thinking of Robert Martin!

    The (2009) BBC adaptation was good, but not great. I thought Lee Miller was very good as Mr Knightley; I thought Garai as Emma was less good, though she did manage some things very well, maybe due to the way she was written more than because of her performance.

    I didn’t find Emma so annoying from the beginning, maybe because I knew, from familiarity with the story, how she was going to mess up later on! And I do think Austen gives convincing and plausible reasons for why she is the way she is.

  • I really like Emma Approved. I think the way they’ve built her character and showed that she does see when she’s made a mistake is really lovely. I love her and Knightley too. So cute.

  • Yes to everything in this post. 🙂 And let us not forget, when gushing about “Emma Approved,” the adorable Brent Bailey!

    Now I am really wanting to reread all of Jane Austen. Maybe next year!

  • I haven’t seen Clueless and I should. But have you seen the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma movie? Adorable

  • I made you something! https://imgflip.com/gif/8ipqq

  • (It’s a gif of “You guys got coke here?” from Clueless) 🙂

    • Gin Jenny

      I wish you could see my face right now. I LOVE IT I WILL CHERISH IT FOREVER.