When I was in high school I watched Clueless many times with my sister. Twenty-five years later I realized it was a retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma. Emma, the protagonist, is what the New Testament calls a “busybody.” She is a loveable one, to be sure.
Emma’s motives are laudable. As she wants to improve the tastes and situation of her inferiors, she unfortunately crosses a line, however, when she forces decisions on her inferiors, decisions that actually work against their best interests.
Upon being rebuked by Mr Knightley, Emma is made painfully aware of what she has done. It seems irreparable. It is through others’ pursuit of Emma, often at great embarrassment to all involved, that Emma learns the danger of meddling in other people’s love lives. From Mr Elton’s
We all know Emma. We even might have been Emma. In this story, though, we might get distracted by Emma. Mr Knightley, on the other hand, is a far more interesting character. Although it is often by contrast with weaker men such as Mr Elton and Frank Churchill, Mr Knightley exhibits true manliness. It is not a manliness of machismo; rather, he shows us firm resolve and true perception. Here are a few examples:
“”There is one thing, Emma, which a man can always do, if he chuses, and that is, his duty; not by manoeuvring and finessing, but by vigour and resolution. It is Frank Churchill’s duty to pay this attention to his father. He knows it to be so, by his promises and messages; but if he wished to do it, it might be done. A man who felt rightly would say at once, simply and resolutely, to Mrs. Churchill–‘Every sacrifice of mere pleasure you will always find me ready to make to your convenience; but I must go and see my father immediately. I know he would be hurt by my failing in such a mark of respect to him on the present occasion. I shall, therefore, set off to-morrow.’–If he would say so to her at once, in the tone of decision becoming a man, there would be no opposition made to his going.”
On a more amusing note,
“Emma’s very good opinion of Frank Churchill was a little shaken the following day by hearing that he was gone off to London, merely to have his haircut.”
Emma sees this, to be sure, but she cannot see it as anything but judgmental.
I cannot express complete satisfaction at the ending of the book. It was protracted. I knew what was going to happen at the end, yet Austen gave the impression she was tying up loose ends that did not actually exist.