Jane Austen: She was still looking at him with the most speaking amazement.
Cher Horowitz: I was just totally clueless.
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Yes, since you ask, Jane Austen is my favorite author. And, yes, I have spent the last 14 years of my life hanging out online with other Jane Austen obsessives, talking about—well—Jane Austen: her novels, the adaptations of her novels, other people's sequels to her novels, her life. It never gets old.
This week, Emma is my favorite novel. It's not always Emma. I tend to cycle through her six completed full-length novels, but Emma lands on top of the list more frequently than, say, Sense & Sensibility.
Like any good Jane Austen obsessive, I've seen all the adaptations I could get my hands on (repeatedly). We obsessives crave more Jane Austen. Unfortunately, we'll never get any more novels, but we'll settle for new interpretations, particularly if said interpretations involve people like Colin Firth and Jeremy Northam in buckskin breeches and cravats. The years 1995 and 1996 were golden for those of us with the Austen craving. BBC and A&E gave us the delicious six-episode adaptation of Pride & Prejudice with the aforementioned Colin Firth. We had Emma Thompson's extraordinary adaptation of Sense & Sensibility with—ahem—Alan Rickman. We had a feature film of Persuasion with Ciaran Hinds as the stalwart Captain Wentworth. We had Douglas McGrath's vision of Emma with Jeremy Northam as everyone's beta hero, Mr. Knightley, and we had the ITV adaptation of Emma with the slightly angry, but no less attractive, Mark Strong. Nothing to complain about here. Lots of Jane Austen movies. Lots of yummy men in knee breeches. Lots to talk about.
But, somehow, the two Emma adaptations just didn't do it for me, yummy men notwithstanding. Oh, they were fun to watch and they touched on the essence of Jane Austen's wonderful characters, but they weren't quite right.
And then I saw Clueless. Clueless, you ask? The valley-girl movie with Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz? To which I answer, “Yes, Clueless. The best adaptation of Emma yet made.”
For those of you who haven't been reading Emma repeatedly for 20 or 25 years, I'll just remind you that she's the character Jane Austen called “A heroine whom no-one but myself will much like.” She's bossy, interfering, and perfectly convinced of her own superior knowledge of what other people should do. In a well-meaning way, of course.
The two adaptations of Emma released at the same time as Clueless tried for that endearing self-absorption that I always found in the character of Emma, but both fell short, in my opinion. I'm afraid that Gwyneth Paltrow was simply vapidly self-assured and Kate Beckinsale angrily assertive (actually a good match for Mark Strong's angry Mr. Knightley—one hates to imagine the breakfast table in that household).
Alicia Silverstone's Cher, however, has a happy belief in her own knowledge and abilities and is, appropriately, clueless about the effect her machinations have on the people around her. This, in my opinion, is Emma at her best. She is, in fact, Jane Austen's Emma in Beverly Hills: “handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition.” Even though her meddling aggravates you, she's hard not to love.
Clueless is not only an adaptation of Emma, but an homage to Jane Austen. The movie captures both the hubris and the humor of the heroine and her story. I laugh at Cher and, eventually, root for her. Thank you, Amy Heckerling. This is the spirit of Jane Austen's novel.
Myretta Robens, Pemberley.com