Although I was one of those awesome nerds in high school that loved Jane Austen and truly read all the books by her we were assigned, I am not sure that I have actually picked up an original from her since then. I have both read and watched many adaptations and retellings (some repeatedly…2005 Pride & Prejudice, I’m looking at you), but not original texts. So when I saw that Prompt #11 for The Reading Women Challenge 2020 was “Read and Watch a Book-to-Movie Adaptation,” and realized a new Emma film was set to be released this year, it seemed like to perfect time for a revisit.

Emma by Jane Austen

“With insufferable vanity had she believed herself in the secret of everybody’s feelings; with unpardonable arrogance proposed to arrange everybody’s destiny. She was proved to have been universally mistaken; and she had not quite done nothing – for she had done mischief.”

Emma is, as you could likely guess, mainly about/from the POV of the titular Emma Woodhouse. She is rich and smart and pretty, dotes on her (particularly needy) father, and is determined to remain unmarried. However, that determination for herself definitely doesn’t stop her from getting all into other people’s relationship business. And when a scheme of her goes pretty poorly, a scheme she insists on following through with despite warnings against it from her good friend Mr. Knightley, she finds herself in the center of a whole swirl of relationship drama. A swirl that, no thanks to Emma, does end with many happy pairings…including her own, very unexpected, one.

I recently saw a meme with a really hilarious one-star review of Pride & Prejudice that, although technically for a different book than this one, really does sum up Austen’s work. It said something along the lines of “just a lot of people visiting each other’s houses.” I legitimately laughed out loud at that because it’s so freaking accurate. But at the same time, you really have to respect the depth of exploration of interpersonal relationships and the sociocultural traditions and propriety of the period. Plus, the wit and intelligence of the writing, from the dialogue to the pacing to the subtle (and not-so-subtle) calling out of some of those proprieties and traditions for their ridiculousness…it’s nicely done. Honestly, I forgot how searing and insightful, and sarcastic, Austen’s social commentary was. And she really can write an MC. I mean, Emma should truly be unlikable, for so many reasons, but somehow, by the end, you find yourself cheering for her and kind of loving her? Maybe it’s her eventual self-awareness, her willingness to both feel bad about and outwardly admit her misjudgments and mistakes, and the fact that she is open to changing her mind about (many) another character, for better or worse. I guess I don’t mind the self-importance if she also has some true moments of growth. Plus, its much more reasonable that she have so many flaws (and still have people that love her)…cause like, isn’t that all of us? Also, I just have to say, I read “contemporary” literature romance for the successful happy endings, so I was definitely into the way everyone found their right match by the end, the karmically good and the karmically…less good.

So yes, this was just a very fancy romantic comedy. Lots of misinterpretations and misunderstandings that are frustrating in an amusing way because they work themselves out by the end. But it’s so smartly written and well-realized and socially discerning (admittedly for, yes, one very particular type of society). A humorous and entertaining and cozy (in a nostalgic sort of way, for me) read.

Regarding the 2020 movie adaptation…I am on the waitlist for it at the library and will update this review to include some quick thoughts on that front as soon as I have watched it! Andddddddd, updated to add: Well, the movie was incredibly pleasant and entertaining. The snarky and underhanded humor of Austen’s writing is perfectly played up and I loved that they chose to go all in on that vibe so much. Overall, I thought the acting was solid. Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse was really a highlight for me (he was a fav in the book as well, honestly, as far as comedy). It stayed close to the novel, as far as script. Honestly, I’m not a movie-reviewer, so I don’t know a lot about what normally gets critiqued, but bottom line is that I can say I really enjoyed watching this. So, take that for what it’s worth!     

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