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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Having a Jane Austen birthday party that is Emma approved

Today, we celebrate the 240th birthday of Jane Austen, one of my favorite authors whose influence upon literature and the role of women in society is still being felt in pop culture.

Since this is also the 200th publishing anniversary of what many consider to be her masterpiece, it only seems fitting that my blog post party in her honor be hosted by Emma Woodhouse.

Second only to P&P's Elizabeth Bennet in fan admiration(despite her creator's claim that no one but herself would like very much), this title heroine ,with her overindulged sense of superiority that is readjusted for the betterment of her character, has become quite the iconic as well as ironic lady in Austen land.

There have been several film versions of Emma(mostly made for TV) and a couple of modern day reinventions that have become just as beloved as the classic version of the story.

To start things off, we have a look at the opening credits for the most recent BBC/Masterpiece edition of Emma, starring Romola Garai who had Jonny Lee Miller as her Mr. Knightley.

While I was not thrilled with some of the creative choices made here(too much backstory given to characters meant to have a bit of mystery about them, for one), this is a enjoyable take on the novel and the credits are rather elegantly done:

 It's not just for Emma herself that we take to this story; the many amusing characters such as overly cautious Mr. Woodhouse, charmingly naive Harriet Smith and the goodhearted Westons are part and parcel of what makes the fictional village of Highbury such a literary high spot.

In the Pemberley Digital webseries, Emma Approved, one of the most beloved characters was given a thoughtful modern makeover. The talkative Miss Bates was introduced here as Maddy, an accountant with her own small business and hobby of making homemade preserves that have interesting flavor combinations.

Much like the original, Maddy's devotion to her mother and niece Jane Fairfax, along with her chatty demeanor, made her a family friend that Emma was happy to help, although not when it came to taste tasting her latest creations:

Not every character is likable here, which can be just as amusing but for very different reasons. Some of them start off as potential pals like the flirtatious Frank Churchill or the always agreeable Mr. Elton but all too soon, their true colors begin to appear and not to their best advantage either.

Mr. Elton's real intentions towards Emma are revealed in a carriage ride after a Christmas party that allowed him to take in too much of the host's good wine. However, his feelings of disdain for Harriet Smith, who Emma had been hoping to pair him up with, were soberly delivered.

When it comes to on screen versions of Mr. Elton, one of the best and most humorous performances belongs to Alan Cumming in the 1996 theatrical adaptation that had him pitching woo to a less than enthused Gwyneth Paltrow:

As to Mr. Knightley, my favorite performance comes from the BBC made for TV version(adapted by Andrew Davies) with Mark Strong playing opposite Kate Beckinsale.

Mind you, I like what Jonny Lee Miller(who also played Edmund in the 1999 Mansfield Park movie) did with the role and Jeremy Notham was suitably charming along side Paltrow. Yet, since the Beckinsale Emma is my preferred version of the book, Mark Strong goes right along with it.

He does take to the serious elements of the character rather well and may come across as harsh at times but when it's time for Knightley to show his more softer side, Strong provides plenty of romance there, tempered with good sense of course:

So, happy birthday to Our Dear Jane and a most happy anniversary to Emma, whose celebration will continue throughout the next year to come.

Having a December birthday is tricky, especially when it comes so close to Christmas, and I do wonder if Austen was inspired by that dilemma when she wrote that whole holiday party chapter of the story. Emma does get a sincerely unwanted gift there, thanks to Mr. Elton, that nearly wrecks the festive nature of the day not just for her but for poor Harriet as well.

Let us cheer up from that gloomy thought with a lively dance number, always a good choice in any Austen story. This sassy salute to Clueless set to the tune of "Fancy" ought to be a merry method of ending things on a good note:

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