Sunday, November 10, 2013

Not Quite Emma Approved

Friends, I am adding some JANE AUSTEN to your weekend.

Because everyone could use a little more Austen in their lives. ;)

If you're an Austenite like me, you probably have heard of the charming Lizzie Bennett Diaries, a youtube adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.  Imagine Elizabeth Bennett living in the modern day and making video diaries about her life, and the Lizzie Bennett Diaries is what you get!  I hugely enjoyed it and thought it was extremely well done, although at times, I have to admit, a bit too modern for my somewhat prudish tastes.

Can we just take a moment to appreciate how perfectly in good taste Jane Austen's novels are, though?  There's never a crude joke you have to cringe at, or innuendo or language you have to ignore, or bad behavior passed off as virtue.  So much entertainment these days (I'm not talking about the Lizzie Bennet Diaries in particular, just media in general), even the shows and movies I absolutely love for 98% of the time, seem to have that 2% of stupidity.  I just don't get it.

Sorry.  Getting off my soapbox now. ;)

ANYway,  when I heard that the producers of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries were planning another youtube adaptation of a Jane Austen novel, this time Emma, I got pretty excited.

The new series is called Emma Approved, and it started about a month ago.  They post two new videos to the channel every week, and they haven't gotten too far into the story yet, but I'm afraid....I'm not loving it. :(

It's really too bad, because it is very pretty to look at, it's based on a book I love, and I even think the actors are pretty great in their parts.

But I don't like Emma.

And I don't mean the actress, I mean the way the series is depicting Emma as a character.  She's kinda obnoxious.  She's so outrageously and obliviously self-centered.  She's just not likeable.

Now the true Emma Woodhouse of the novel is self-important, and I know that does turn even some Jane Austen lovers off.  But I think she's misunderstood by those that think she's only a spoiled brat.  They're not looking deeply enough.  The Emma of the novel is a good and caring person in spite of being self-absorbed.  Her self-centeredness is not of the pernicious kind.

In fact, the main reason we know that Jane Austen's Emma is self-important is because we're reading about her in a book.  We get to see her thoughts and see her in the privacy of her own home, when she's with her closest friends and family and may puff herself up a little more.  When she takes credit for the Westons' marriage, she does it when only her father and Mr. Knightley are present.  She would never have talked that way in public.  We all speak more freely and sometimes more unfairly, when we're with our nearest and dearest.

But actions speak louder than thoughts or words, and in Emma's actions, you find so much more than a snob.  She is so good to her father and always looking out for his comfort.  She is kind to her neighbors too, even if it is somewhat grudgingly at times (in the case of the chattering Miss Bates).  Take this scene, when she visits a poor family in the neighborhood:

Emma was very compassionate; and the distresses of the poor were as sure of relief from her personal attention and kindness, her counsel and her patience, as from her purse.  She understood their ways, could allow for their ignorance and their temptations, had no romantic expectations of extraordinary virtue from those, for whom education had done so little; entered into their troubles with ready sympathy, and always gave her assistance with as much intelligence as good-will.
This isn't the behavior of an ego-maniac who might avoid the lower classes or who just wants to be able to brag about how charitable she is.  Emma genuinely cares about those around her and truly wants to help.  Sometimes, we know she can be a little too helpful when it comes to trying to make matches, but her intentions are good.

Gwenyth Paltrow as Emma from the 1996 movie

Above all, Emma is not a self-aggrandizing snob.  She doesn't go around publicizing how amazing she is, and maybe that's what bothers me most about Emma Approved.  Partly it might be the fault of the platform the story is being told on; if Emma is making the youtube videos herself, we only see her when she's on display.  We don't get to observe her unobserved, the way you can in a book.  So it's not as easy to establish Emma as a snob unless she herself shows it to us.

But still, I wish the new adaptation had kept more of the subtlety of Emma's snobbery.  The youtube incarnation of Emma so self-absorbed, and that is just not the true character of Emma.  The true Emma is always elegant, much too elegant to flaunt her superiority so crassly.  In the youtube series, Emma comes off as more of a Mrs. Elton type.  (If you haven't read the book, then you should drop everything and GO READ IT RIGHT NOW, but just so you know, Mrs. Elton is an intolerably obnoxious character, always praising herself to the skies).

Jane Austen's Emma likes her own way and has a pretty high opinion of herself, but she is attentive to the needs and feelings of those around her.  In the video series, Emma only seems to care about herself, and that also really bothered me.  In the videos, Emma tries to talk and trick her friend Anne Taylor into marrying Mr. Weston even when Anne has second thoughts.  Emma seems totally insensitive, only caring about preserving the match because she made it herself.

In the book, first of all, Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston have a very happy marriage and there are no second thoughts.  In the second place, Emma would NEVER be so insensitive as to urge a friend into a marriage she weren't sure of.  All of Austen's heroines, Emma included, are keenly aware of what a commitment marriage is and would rather remain single than marry the wrong man - and would never pressure a friend to marry a man they didn't care for.

I think the writers must have thrown that plot twist in to show us how over-the-top their Emma is, valuing her own track record of successful matches over her friend's future and happiness.  But in doing so, they warp Emma into a cold-hearted, uncaring person, something very different from who she is in the novel.

So Emma Approved left me with a sour taste in my mouth from the very start.  I suppose it could improve; presumably they're getting us ready for Emma's transformation later in the story.  But I think it was a mistake to give her such a coldly ego-centric personality at the start.  Apart from the fact that it is NOT accurate to the book, it makes Emma an unappealing character.  In the Lizzie Bennett Diaries, Lizzie was always likeable and relatable and fun, and she was part of what made that series such a success.  Hopefully the Emma of Emma Approved will become more likeable like Lizzie and more like the Emma of the novel.

Have you been watching Emma Approved?  How do you think the youtube Emma measures up to Jane Austen's Emma?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

1 comment:

  1. I've been watching Emma approved and had it still been in its first month or so I would have agreed. But now that we're somewhat further I must disagree. :) Emma slowly but surely learns and starts to doubt etc. The video persona is just that, a front for the video. In real life she is much more likeable and that real life person begins to shine through the projected one after a while. :)