Final Thoughts on Emma

I wrote last time about Emma and the accuracy of the most recent BBC adaptation, and after finishing the book I decided that it only went wrong in a couple small places. These places have nothing to do with plot but are more about capturing my sense of how people would have behaved at the time, or at least how they behaved in Jane Austen novels. I found the physical closeness of Emma and Frank Churchill during the Box Hill scene to be too much, and Emma does not run tearfully into Donwell Abbey to tell Mr. Knightley she can’t marry him because she can’t leave her father, but except for those two moments, I think the movie got it exactly right. I think I’ll have to watch it again some time.

Now that I think about it, though, I’m remembering something else that struck me upon finishing the novel: the ending of the movie is very romantic, as one would expect from an Austen adaptation, but the novel is much more prosaic and practical. There are romantic moments in the book when Emma and Mr. Knightly finally get together, but very, very quickly we are past that and on to the details of how they will live after the wedding. The book goes on for a surprisingly long time after the romantic revelations. I know some critics have written about the way that the marriages in Austen aren’t always as ideal as they might seem or as we might like and that Austen is perhaps being more critical of the institution than we generally think. I’m not sure what I think of that claim, really, but certainly in Emma attention is as much on practical logistics as it is on romance. Rather than storming into Donwell Abbey in tears telling Mr. Knightley she can’t marry him because of her father only to have him comfort her and assure her that she can, in the novel she calmly thinks to herself that they won’t be able to marry while her father is alive. She’s willing to accept this. She’s happy when Mr. Knightley figures out a way to care for her father, but it’s not a particularly dramatic scene.

But, of course, it’s too much to ask of a movie that it acknowledge this prosaic aspect of the novel, and, frankly, I would have been disappointed if it had.

7 Comments

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7 responses to “Final Thoughts on Emma

  1. I’ll have to keep an eye out on netflix for the appearance of the adaptation. It sounds like fun and is always so nice when a film does Austen right.

  2. Mr W

    I agree with you about the ending of the book, and how it frustrates the desire for a romantic ending. As I recall, there’s also a very long passage at the end of the book, after all the revelations and so on, where Mr Knightley does a close, harrumphing reading of over Frank Churchill’s letter. Almost as though the book is more about reading and interpreting human behavior than it is about love.

  3. Emma is one of the Austen novels I’ve yet to read (along with Mansfield Park), but I have seen a couple of adaptations of the book and am glad to hear the most recent (which I also really liked) does a fairly good job at staying faithful to the text. I suppose they needed to take in how it would translate into film and make a few tweaks for dramatic purposes? I really do need to read the book, though!

  4. I agree about the practical/anti-climactic ending, not just of Emma but of most Austen books I’ve read. I don’t know if it’s evidence of a critical attitude toward marriage on Austen’s part or not…but that’s an interesting idea. Also agree that I’m willing to forgive movie adaptations for upping the romance factor a bit! :-)

  5. I loved the new BBC film, and I agree that perhaps a little more romance than Austen intended is a good thing…modern movies don’t have much of it, and it fit nicely here. I have to keep remembering that marrying for love was unconventional and brave in those days!

  6. Stefanie — definitely look out for it! It’s perfect for when you’re in an Austen kind of mood.

    Mr. W — yes, exactly! You are right about Knightley reading Churchill’s letter, and I agree completely that the book is about reading and interpretation as much as anything else. I’m reminded of how important Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth is in P&P and the way she seems to fall in love with him while reading the letter, implying that her falling in love depended on her ability to read.

    Danielle — you have a treat in store for you then, whenever you do get around to reading Emma! I can see why they made the few changes they did — the film would disappoint quite a lot of people if they didn’t.

    Emily — yes, absolutely about the romance factor! I should go hunt down the criticism on Austen’s marriages, as it would be interesting to refresh my memory. Oh, and it would be fun to reread other Austen novels as well :)

    Debby — I’m glad you loved the film too! Emma was lucky and unusual in her ability to marry or not to marry, and to choose whomever she wanted without regard to money. Many, many women couldn’t do that, as you say.

  7. I think the movies in general are far more romantic than the books. And not as funny. But what can you do in 2 hours?

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