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.