Posts Tagged ‘Emma Woodhouse’

Inquiring readers: I saw Emma. 2020 last March with my friend and neighbor, Jane, who was delighted with her first exposure to Austen’s favorite heroine. I began to write about the film, but laid the post aside when COVID-19 began to spread rapidly. I recently re-watched the DVD multiple times. The more I viewed the movie, the more I appreciated director Autumn de Wilde’s choices for retelling Emma’s story.

Many admirable reviews have already been written about this film and Autumn de Wilde’s directing, acting, fashion, sets and locations. The comedic and more absurd scenes were those that stayed longest with me. They, and the sumptuousness of the film’s photography, set it apart from other Emma adaptations. Here, in no particular order, are my thoughts.

Emma. 2020 begins with a contraction of Austen’s opening line:

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

The first scene demonstrates much of Austen’s opening statement. At dawn, just before sunrise, we see Emma walking across a lawn with a female servant and a footman, who holds a lantern to light the way. Inside a greenhouse, our heroine points to flowers, which the servant snips. While the scene is not in the book, Autumn de Wilde economically sets the stage for the viewer. Only a high born lady behaves in this manner, for Emma could have cut the blooms herself. I laughed silently in the theater; in private viewings I laughed out loud.

This sequence demonstrates that Emma is beautiful and rich, and that a rare life event has come to distress her—the loss of a beloved governess and mother figure. Miss Taylor is to wed Mr. Weston and move to his house, hence Emma’s reason for choosing the flowers for the wedding bouquet. The scene also demonstrates de Wilde’s eye for art and beauty. The colors and setting of this scene, and its quiet calm remind me of one of my favorite paintings by John Singer Sargent, although its subject matter is different.

Painting of Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose 1885-6 John Singer Sargent. The Tate Gallery. Public domain image.

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose 1885-6 John Singer Sargent. The Tate Gallery. Public domain image, Wikimedia Commons

Inside the wedding chapel, we see the citizens of Highbury and their reverential attitude towards the Woodhouses as they take their seats in the front row pew. We also meet Mr. Elton (Josh O’Conor), whose exaggerated gestures and hand movements are a sight to behold, and Miss Bates, played to perfection by comedian Miranda Hart. More about both later.

But, But, Butt!

We first see Mr George Knightley (Johnny Flynn) astride his fine steed heading towards his magnificent house (Wilton House). He walks to his chambers through an exquisite interior filled with furniture draped in Holland covers, and enters his personal rooms. His valet awaits him as he undresses. My heart flutters, females around me gasp, and male viewers wonder what all the fuss is about, as we feast our eyes on Mr Knightley’s sculpted backside. He casually shaves in the nude and washes himself from a basin, then is dressed by his manservant. His attitude in this intimate setting is as casual as Emma’s when she directed someone else to cut flowers for her.

In another scene, a lady’s maid, who has just finished dressing Emma, leaves her alone. As she warms herself in front of the fire, we see that Regency ladies did not wear underpants. These items were considered shocking, for ladies wore stockings and a chemise under their gowns, while knickers and drawers were worn only by lower and working class women. This is the most flesh that any Emma in any film adaptation has shown, albeit in profile. I wonder if de Wilde drew inspiration from this 1796 caricature entitled “Comfort” by Matthew G. Lewis?

print cartoon of a lady warming her bare backside near a fire.

Comfort, 1796, M.G. Lewis. New York Public Library digital collection, Public domain print.

The heroine and hero, Emma Woodhouse and Mr George Knightley

Anya Taylor-Joy (Emma), possesses the fine acting skills necessary to play this complex young woman. After seeing her in The Queen’s Gambit, I (we all) predict a stellar career for this young actress, who was 23 when she was cast. Her expressive face changes like a chameleon’s, and her unusual features–beautiful at times, but not so pretty when she’s being haughty, argumentative, angry, or devious–sets her apart from the other blander-faced actresses who have portrayed Emma.

Taylor-Joy, as well as 36-year-old Johnny Flynn (Mr Knightley) are well cast for their roles and each other. George Knightley, the hero of the piece, is 16 years older than Emma, a not unrealistic age difference given that it was common for a young woman to marry an older man in Austen’s day. In this film, the actors are physically well matched. Both are unusually handsome people who share an undeniable chemistry on screen. This attractive combination overcomes any distaste the viewer might have towards Mr Knightley’s tendency to preach at Emma like a stuffy old uncle, or to her misguided and almost ruinous interference in Harriet Smith’s life.

Screenshot of the actors in the film

Screenshot of thumbnail images for Emma. 2020

Mr. Woodhouse transformed

Mr. Woodhouse, played by Bill Nighy, is still the fearful hypochondriac Austen created, but in this film the man is broadly comical, which audiences acquainted with Nighy’s acting roles would naturally expect. Austen readers will not quite recognize Nighy’s Mr. Woodhouse, whose first entrance as a vigorous man, bounding down the stairway and landing with a jump, is a surprise and good for a chuckle. Emma caters to him as usual, but more as a fussy daughter than as someone caring for an infirm man old before his time. Nighy’s facial ticks and physical mannerisms are priceless, but his outer awareness of Emma’s needs and emotions, while touching in the film, are not in Austen’s book (unless I missed something). The actor’s interpretation is of a pampered man who spends his cozy, privileged life in fear of germs, drafts, and rich foods, and losing the last of his family (an adoring daughter) to marriage. He wants his comforts to stay exactly the same.

Bartholomew and James, the draft dodgers

Nighy and the two footmen, Batholomew and James, form a Regency version of the Marx brothers, and provide a series of comedic interludes. While the two footmen never speak, viewers know from their expressions and physical mannerism exactly what they’re thinking. Aside from their usual footmen duties, which are onerous, they are in charge of anticipating Mr Woodhouse’s every need and defending him from drafts—whether from a window or cold air entering an insufficiently heated room, or to hide their master behind a series of screens to provide privacy for Emma and George Knightley at the end of the film. (Austen’s Mr Woodhouse would not have been so observant.) 

Mr Woodhouse surrounded by screens to protect him from drafts

Publicity still of Mr Woodhouse protected from drafts

B & J’s crowning moment comes when they unveil Emma’s simple watercolor portrait of Harriet in a too ornate frame selected by Mr Elton. As they reveal the portrait within the awful frame, their eyebrows twitch, their eyes brighten with excitement, and their mouths and cheeks emanate humorous contempt. A tight-lipped Mr Knightley, knowing what Mr Elton intends, remains sternly quiet.

James and Bartholomew flank the frame as Mr Elton is about to reveal its contents.

The moment before James and Bartholomew reveal the portrait in Mr Elton’s frame. Detail of publicity still.

Food, food, glorious food

Regency tables were indeed laden with an outrageous variety and quantity of foods during special occasions, such as a wedding breakfast, private ball, or holiday dinner. In this film, the food served during tea service was over the top insane. During Austen’s era, afternoon tea was meant to be a small stopgap meal between breakfast and a dinner that was served quite late by the upper classes. Emma would have offered visitors, such as Harriet and the Eltons, simple sandwiches, biscuits, and small cakes with a cuppa.

Still, it gave me a chuckle to see Harriet Smith’s eyes bug out at the sight of all the goodies on the tables in front of her and behind her, and look to Emma for direction on when to start eating, which never came. Better yet, in a later scene in honor of Mr Elton’s new bride, both tables groaned with even more sponge and tea cakes, cucumber sandwiches, strawberries, cookies, crumpets, chocolate truffles, and more. When Mr. Elton reaches for a cookie, Mrs Elton instantly slaps her caro sposo’s hand away, telling us in no uncertain terms who wears the knickers in that family!

Image of Mr and Mrs Elton taking tea

Mr and Mrs Elton at Emma’s tea. Publicity still, cropped

The most memorable table scene is reserved for Miss Bates, who shouts at a dinner in honor of Miss Fairfax, “MOTHER, YOU MUST SAMPLE THE TART!” Whereupon Mr Woodhouse persuades the always silent, nearly deaf Mrs Bates to sample something less rich so as not to upset the digestion. (Miss Hart’s unforgettable delivery earned a place in the film’s promotional ads.) 

He loves me, he loves me not. Oh, no! I love another man! Oh, drat. I was wrong.

Harriet Smith is Emma’s naive victim and putty her hands. Played by Mia Goth, she is, in my opinion, the best Harriet of all the actresses who have portrayed her. After Miss Taylor wed Mr. Weston (whose successful union Emma credits herself for achieving), she casts around for another match making opportunity and settles on Harriet, the natural daughter of an unknown somebody. Despite Mr Knightey’s warnings, Emma convinces herself of Harriet’s noble connections and takes the gullible young girl under her wing.

Mia Goth’s interpretation of this naive and fickle young woman, so easily persuaded by her betters, is priceless—from her wide-eyed expressions, innocent reactions, cute duck-ish gait, to her puppy-ish adoration of Emma. More importantly, this Harriet’s inconstancy is believable, for she craves Emma’s approval. In short order, she falls for Mr. Martin, rejects his sincere proposal of marriage (in the hope of pleasing Emma); is persuaded to fall for Mr. Elton, only to soulfully mourn his rejection; then falls for Mr Knightley when he asks her to dance after Mr Elton cuts her to the quick at the Weston’s ball. When she realizes she was wrong in her perception about Mr Knightley returning her affection, she is easily persuaded to fall for Mr Martin again after he renews his pledge of love and offer of wedded bliss. (Whew, gentle reader, that was a mouthful!)

Pretty maids in a row

The one visual that instantly brings Emma. 2020 to our minds is of the long line of young ladies in Mrs Goddard’s boarding school walking around Highbury (Lower Slaughter) and the countryside in bright red robes, which were actually popular during this period, and dutifully following Mrs Goddard, with Harriet Smith among them. Their frequent appearances puts a smile on my face, but they also eerily remind me of A Handmaid’s Tale.

Image of a line of girls in red robes

screenshot of girls following Mrs Goddard two by two through Highbury

Miss Bates and her jabbering

Miss Bates in both book and film regurgitates inane reams of monopolizing blather. Miranda Hart plays the spinster to perfection. Despite her character’s deficiencies as a sensible communicator, Miranda projects Miss Bates’s tenderheartedness and vulnerability at the same time. When Emma is corralled by Miss Bates in the haberdashery shop, her face barely disguises her chagrin and she does all but turns somersaults to get away. Miss Bates, not deterred, follows Emma around the shop, babbling all the while.

Miss Bates plays a crucial role in the pivotal Box Hill scene (Leith Hill in the film), where Emma cruelly points out the spinster’s talent in making more than three dull statements. Almost instantly Emma realizes how callous she sounded. As Miss Bates fights off tears, the silence in the group is so awkward that even Augusta Elton holds her tongue. No one spares Emma any sympathy. After Mr Knightley tells her angrily, “It was badly done, indeed!” he reminds her of Miss Bates’s humble situation and lower status. Sitting alone in her carriage, she finally begins to understand how others see her and the picture isn’t pretty.

The Eltons

We now come to the Eltons, a comically awful couple written for the film much as Jane Austen envisioned them–ridiculous and puffed up with their own consequence. I recall reading somewhere that Augusta Elton (Tanya Reynolds) mirrors Emma’s worst traits stretched to the nth degree. It is fitting that this nouveau riche upstart, whose father made his fortune in trade, has a brother-in-law named Mr Suckling. Autumn de Wilde chose to dress Augusta in an exaggerated way. She wears too much jewelry and chooses gowns with too many ribbons and ruffles and too bright colors. Her hairstyle did not exist until at least 7-12 years after Emma was published, but it suits the character to a tee.

Mr Elton leaves Highbury in a huff after Emma forcefully rejects his proposal. This comedy of misunderstandings resulted from Emma believing he was wooing Harriet, when in fact he was wooing her. Alone in a carriage with his love, and away from Harriet or any other interference, Mr Elton declares his undying devotion. Emma is horrified, and reminds him of Harriet. Mr Elton, still dewy-eyed, says unctuously, “Who can think of Miss Smith when Miss Woodhouse is near?” Taylor-Joy is outraged and disgusted at the same time, and all but blurts out “Ewww!” before decisively rejecting him. The true Mr Elton appears instantly—a nasty, mean, and spiteful man. Pounding the carriage roof he shouts, “Stop the carriage!” When it doesn’t stop soon enough, he screams, “STOP THE CARRIAGE!” Before he knows it, he’s left out in the snow, leaving Emma clueless as to how she read the tea leaves wrong. The constancy of his love becomes clear when he is engaged to the very rich Augusta within four weeks of meeting her!

A dance, and a proposal in the nosebleed section

Mr Knightley and Emma fall in love dancing in a scene at the Weston’s ball that is exactly right and, oh, so romantic. She witnesses him rescuing Harriet from Mr Elton’s cruel rejection of the young girl as a dance partner, and dances with her himself. Emma turns all mushy inside thinking of Mr Knightley as, well, a knight. They dance. They fall in love…but, wait. How can this be? It is not the end of the film!

A few more misunderstandings ensue, causing our hero and heroine to pull away, despite their burning desire for each other. Mr Knightley believes that Emma harbors real feelings for Frank Churchill. Meanwhile, she has discovered that Harriet has fallen in love with her knight. Then Mr Knightley learns of Frank’s engagement to Jane Fairfax, and rushes to Hartfield to console Emma. Emma feels guilty about Harriet and… well, see for yourself:

I learned one new medical fact in a google search: Nosebleeds can indeed result from stress or anxiety. Rumor has it that Anya Taylor-Joy had a nosebleed on cue. What an actress!

A tisket, a tasket, humble pie in my basket

Emma’s visits with baskets for her victims mark turning points in her self-awareness. After the disastrous picnic at Box Hill, she visits Miss Bates in her small rooms. The spinster is gracious and grateful for the food, which makes Emma feel even worse. This is a true humble pie moment.

Her next basket visit is to Mr Martin’s farm to apologize. It is just as cringe worthy. She carries a freshly killed goose, some jams or jellies, and her rolled up watercolor of Harriet. Her arrival in person with kind words and a gift signify strong hints meant to encourage the farmer to try his suit with Harriet again. Thankfully, he takes the hint.

All’s well that ends well

Mr Knighley and Emma marry in a lovely wedding. Mr Woodhouse is not unhappy, knowing that Mr Knightley will come to live at Hartfield so that Emma won’t move away. The Westons have a baby, and Harriet Smith will meet her papa (finally), who turns out to be a tradesman. She and Mr Martin are seen as a couple at church. The ending is fittingly romantic, and my heart flutters once again.

In conclusion and in all seriousness

Emma. 2020 is director Autumn de Wilde’s first full length feature film. Before this project, she’d directed music videos and published several books. She is also well-known for her work as a portrait photographer. In this film, she told Emma’s story in a little over 2 hours. Many plot lines from Austen’s second longest book were cut, and a number, such as the opening sequence and bullet pudding game, deviate completely from the novel. The divisions into the four seasons is a smart way to show the passage of time, and the film’s fashions, locations, and sets are breathtaking. Historians caution viewers in general that the houses in Austen films, especially Wilton House, are too grand for her characters, who are often country gentry. Wilton House is the seat of the Earls of Pembroke, a peerage title first created in the 12th century. While Mr. Knightley is quite wealthy, it beggars belief that he could afford a house as grand as this, but this story is filmed as a fairy tale after all.

Additional Resources:

View ten short clips of movie scenes from Focus Features https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Emma+2020+focus+features

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Emma (Kate Beckinsale) and Mr. Elton (Dominic Rowan) examine her drawings. Emma 1996 A&E

In the early chapters of Jane Austen’s novel, Emma, the reader learns that Emma “will never submit to any thing requiring industry and patience”, and that none of her portraits had ever been finished (although she had made some progress in drawing, considering the little labour she had submitted to). Steadiness and practice had always been wanting, preventing her from becoming an expert in this area.

In Volume 1, Chapter 6, Emma paints a watercolor likeness of Miss Smith in an attempt to draw Mr. Elton closer to Miss Smith. In Mr. Elton’s mind, the painting sessions present him with an opportunity to spend more time with Emma and toady up to her. Recent Emma film adaptations have captured this scene wonderfully, as you can see from the images that accompany Jane Austen’s text.

Did you ever have your likeness taken, Harriet?” said she: “did you ever sit for your picture?”

Harriet was on the point of leaving the room, and only stopt to say, with a very interesting naïveté,

“Oh! dear, no, never.”

No sooner was she out of sight, than Emma exclaimed,

“What an exquisite possession a good picture of her would be! I would give any money for it. I almost long to attempt her likeness myself. You do not know it I dare say, but two or three years ago I had a great passion for taking likenesses, and attempted several of my friends, and was thought to have a tolerable eye in general. But from one cause or another, I gave it up in disgust. But really, I could almost venture, if Harriet would sit to me. It would be such a delight to have her picture!”

Mr. Elton entreats Miss Woodhouse to paint. Emma 1996 A&E

“Let me entreat you,” cried Mr. Elton; “it would indeed be a delight! Let me entreat you, Miss Woodhouse, to exercise so charming a talent in favour of your friend. I know what your drawings are. How could you suppose me ignorant? Is not this room rich in specimens of your landscapes and flowers; and has not Mrs. Weston some inimitable figure-pieces in her drawing-room, at Randalls?”

Yes, good man!—thought Emma—but what has all that to do with taking likenesses? You know nothing of drawing. Don’t pretend to be in raptures about mine. Keep your raptures for Harriet’s face. “Well, if you give me such kind encouragement, Mr. Elton, I believe I shall try what I can do. Harriet’s features are very delicate, which makes a likeness difficult; and yet there is a peculiarity in the shape of the eye and the lines about the mouth which one ought to catch.”

“Exactly so—The shape of the eye and the lines about the mouth—I have not a doubt of your success. Pray, pray attempt it. As you will do it, it will indeed, to use your own words, be an exquisite possession.”

“But I am afraid, Mr. Elton, Harriet will not like to sit. She thinks so little of her own beauty. Did not you observe her manner of answering me? How completely it meant, ‘why should my picture be drawn?'”

Mr. Elton (Blake Ritson) can envision Emma (Romola Garai) painting a portrait of Harriet (Louis Dylan). Emma 2009

“Oh! yes, I observed it, I assure you. It was not lost on me. But still I cannot imagine she would not be persuaded.”

Harriet was soon back again, and the proposal almost immediately made; and she had no scruples which could stand many minutes against the earnest pressing of both the others. Emma wished to go to work directly, and therefore produced the portfolio containing her various attempts at portraits, for not one of them had ever been finished, that they might decide together on the best size for Harriet. Her many beginnings were displayed. Miniatures, half-lengths, whole-lengths, pencil, crayon, and water-colours had been all tried in turn. She had always wanted to do everything, and had made more progress both in drawing and music than many might have done with so little labour as she would ever submit to. She played and sang;—and drew in almost every style; but steadiness had always been wanting; and in nothing had she approached the degree of excellence which she would have been glad to command, and ought not to have failed of. She was not much deceived as to her own skill either as an artist or a musician, but she was not unwilling to have others deceived, or sorry to know her reputation for accomplishment often higher than it deserved.

There was merit in every drawing—in the least finished, perhaps the most; her style was spirited; but had there been much less, or had there been ten times more, the delight and admiration of her two companions would have been the same. They were both in exstasies. A likeness pleases every body; and Miss Woodhouse’s performances must be capital.

Emma's unfinished portraits of her family. Emma 1996 A&E

“No great variety of faces for you,” said Emma. “I had only my own family to study from. There is my father—another of my father—but the idea of sitting for his picture made him so nervous, that I could only take him by stealth; neither of them very like therefore. Mrs. Weston again, and again, and again, you see. Dear Mrs. Weston! always my kindest friend on every occasion. She would sit whenever I asked her. There is my sister; and really quite her own little elegant figure!—and the face not unlike. I should have made a good likeness of her, if she would have sat longer, but she was in such a hurry to have me draw her four children that she would not be quiet. Then, here come all my attempts at three of those four children;—there they are, Henry and John and Bella, from one end of the sheet to the other, and any one of them might do for any one of the rest. She was so eager to have them drawn that I could not refuse; but there is no making children of three or four years old stand still you know; nor can it be very easy to take any likeness of them, beyond the air and complexion, unless they are coarser featured than any of mama’s children ever were. Here is my sketch of the fourth, who was a baby. I took him, as he was sleeping on the sofa, and it is as strong a likeness of his cockade as you would wish to see. He had nestled down his head most conveniently. That’s very like. I am rather proud of little George. The corner of the sofa is very good. Then here is my last,”—unclosing a pretty sketch of a gentleman in small size, whole-length—”my last and my best—my brother, Mr. John Knightley. —This did not want much of being finished, when I put it away in a pet, and vowed I would never take another likeness. I could not help being provoked; for after all my pains, and when I had really made a very good likeness of it—(Mrs. Weston and I were quite agreed in thinking it very like)—only too handsome—too flattering—but that was a fault on the right side—after all this, came poor dear Isabella’s cold approbation of—”Yes, it was a little like—but to be sure it did not do him justice.” We had had a great deal of trouble in persuading him to sit at all. It was made a great favour of; and altogether it was more than I could bear; and so I never would finish it, to have it apologised over as an unfavourable likeness, to every morning visitor in Brunswick-square;—and, as I said, I did then forswear ever drawing anybody again. But for Harriet’s sake, or rather for my own, and as there are no husbands and wives in the case at present, I will break my resolution now.”

Harriet (Louise Dylan) responds to Mr. Elton's interest in her portrait. Emma 1996

Mr. Elton seemed very properly struck and delighted by the idea, and was repeating, “No husbands and wives in the case at present indeed, as you observe. Exactly so. No husbands and wives,” with so interesting a consciousness, that Emma began to consider whether she had not better leave them together at once. But as she wanted to be drawing, the declaration must wait a little longer.

She had soon fixed on the size and sort of portrait. It was to be a whole-length in water-colours, like Mr. John Knightley’s, and was destined, if she could please herself, to hold a very honourable station over the mantelpiece.

Keeping a pose for long for a portrait is difficult. Emma 2009

The sitting began; and Harriet, smiling and blushing, and afraid of not keeping her attitude and countenance, presented a very sweet mixture of youthful expression to the steady eyes of the artist. But there was no doing anything, with Mr. Elton fidgeting behind her and watching every touch. She gave him credit for stationing himself where he might gaze and gaze again without offence; but was really obliged to put an end to it, and request him to place himself elsewhere. It then occurred to her to employ him in reading.

Mr. Elton oversees the process. Emma 1996 A&E

“If he would be so good as to read to them, it would be a kindness indeed! It would amuse away the difficulties of her part, and lessen the irksomeness of Miss Smith’s.”

Mr. Elton was only too happy. Harriet listened, and Emma drew in peace. She must allow him to be still frequently coming to look; any thing less would certainly have been too little in a lover; and he was ready at the smallest intermission of the pencil, to jump up and see the progress, and be charmed.—There was no being displeased with such an encourager, for his admiration made him discern a likeness almost before it was possible. She could not respect his eye, but his love and his complaisance were unexceptionable.

Emma paints Harriet, with Mr. Elton and Mr. Knightley looking on. Emma 1996

The sitting was altogether very satisfactory; she was quite enough pleased with the first day’s sketch to wish to go on. There was no want of likeness, she had been fortunate in the attitude, and as she meant to throw in a little improvement to the figure, to give a little more height, and considerably more elegance, she had great confidence of its being in every way a pretty drawing at last, and of its filling its destined place with credit to them both—a standing memorial of the beauty of one, the skill of the other, and the friendship of both; with as many other agreeable associations as Mr. Elton’s very promising attachment was likely to add.

Harriet was to sit again the next day; and Mr. Elton, just as he ought, entreated for the permission of attending and reading to them again.

Miss Smith (Toni Collette) stands in a neoclassical pose. Emma 1996

“By all means. We shall be most happy to consider you as one of the party.”

The same civilities and courtesies, the same success and satisfaction, took place on the morrow, and accompanied the whole progress of the picture, which was rapid and happy. Every body who saw it was pleased, but Mr. Elton was in continual raptures, and defended it through every criticism.

“Miss Woodhouse has given her friend the only beauty she wanted,”—observed Mrs. Weston to him—not in the least suspecting that she was addressing a lover.—”The expression of the eye is most correct, but Miss Smith has not those eye-brows and eye-lashes. It is the fault of her face that she has them not.”

Mr. Elton applauds the unveiling of Emma's portrait. Emma 2009

“Do you think so?” replied he. “I cannot agree with you. It appears to me a most perfect resemblance in every feature. I never saw such a likeness in my life. We must allow for the effect of shade, you know.”

Mr. Knightley's (Mark Strong's) and Mrs. Weston's (Samantha Bond's) reactions. Emma 1995 A&E.

“You have made her too tall, Emma,” said Mr. Knightley.

Emma knew that she had, but would not own it, and Mr. Elton warmly added,

Mr. Elton's enthusiastic response continues unabated. Emma 2009

“Oh, no! certainly not too tall; not in the least too tall. Consider, she is sitting down—which naturally presents a different—which in short gives exactly the idea—and the proportions must be preserved, you know. Proportions, fore-shortening.—Oh, no! it gives one exactly the idea of such a height as Miss Smith’s. Exactly so indeed!”

Mr. Woodhouse examines his daughter's effort. Emma 1996

“It is very pretty,” said Mr. Woodhouse. “So prettily done! Just as your drawings always are, my dear. I do not know any body who draws so well as you do. The only thing I do not thoroughly like is, that she seems to be sitting out of doors, with only a little shawl over her shoulders—and it makes one think she must catch cold.”

1996 A&E Emma's pale portrait of Harriet by candle light

“But, my dear papa, it is supposed to be summer; a warm day in summer. Look at the tree.”

Closeup Emma 2009's painting of Harriet.

“But it is never safe to sit out of doors, my dear.”

Mr. Woodhouse (Bernard Hepton) expresses concern for Harriet's warmth and comfort. Emma 1996 A&E

“You, sir, may say any thing,” cried Mr. Elton; “but I must confess that I regard it as a most happy thought, the placing of Miss Smith out of doors; and the tree is touched with such inimitable spirit! Any other situation would have been much less in character. The naïveté of Miss Smith’s manners—and altogether—Oh, it is most admirable! I cannot keep my eyes from it. I never saw such a likeness.”

Mr. Elton (Alan Cumming) enthusiastically endorses the portrait and offers to take it to London to have it framed. Emma 1996

Mr. Elton expressed his extreme gratification by offering to ride to London in December to have the picture framed, leaving Emma with these happy but largely erroneous thoughts:

“This man is almost too gallant to be in love,” thought Emma. “I should say so, but that I suppose there may be a hundred different ways of being in love. He is an excellent young man and will suit Harriet exactly: it will be an ‘exactly so’ as he says himself; but he does sigh and languish, and study for compliments rather more than I could endure as a principal. I come in for a pretty good share as a second, But it is his gratitude on Harriet’s account.”

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Watercolor by James Stanier Clarke. Thought to be of Jane Austen in 1815, when she visited Carlton House just months before the publication of Emma

Posted by: Tony Grant, London Calling

Jane Austen published Emma in December 1815, sixteen years after the French Revolution had ended but during a time when the women of that revolution were campaigning for women’s suffrage and especially for female education. It wasn’t a concept of education that had been considered before for women. Women were always thought unable to think like men. Their minds and brains worked differently on a much more superficial level, apparently. The grave subjects of philosophy, concepts about societies social needs, the study of History,mathematics,science, theology or Latin or Greek, were certainly not encouraged. It was a form of intellectual slavery. Women were kept childlike They were for marrying, procreating, looking after the home, bringing up children and being proficient in the finer arts of sewing, playing the pianoforte, singing, speaking French and being able to shop in a dress shop.

Rouseau and the Marquis de Condorcet (Marie Jean Caritat) in France and Mary Wollstonecroft here in England had different ideas for womens education.These ideas were infiltrating into the thoughts of Englishmen and women. They were the sort of ideas that would change society. I think Jane Austen introduced the character of Jane Fairfax to hint at such radical ideas. Jane Fairfax is an uncomfortable character within Emma. Emma Woodhouse can’t relate to her although they appear to be each others doppelganger, a mirror reflection of each other in many ways. But of course mirror reflections are opposites and you can’t actually become in contact with your reflection. There is a barrier, a layer of glass between you and your reflection. Jane and Emma, seem to exist in parallel worlds that cannot touch.

Marquis de Condorcet

Jane Austen, herself was an authoress earning money from what she wrote, but she still remained within the bounds of decent society. Emma is introduced by, “the Author of Pride and Prejudice.” She did not use her name. She was careful enough to dedicate Emma to The Prince Regent when it was suggested she might like to. She followed her urges and her intelligence and her talents but she kept her head down. She herself was critical of the education offered to young ladies and she herself had a horror of the profession of teacher as a result of her own experiences. Towards the end of her life Jane was writing Sanditon. Her heroine, Charlotte Heywood, is perhaps the most radical of her characters, in her views and in her actions. Would Jane Austen have eventually, “come out?”

Jane Fairfax was the daughter of Lieutenant Fairfax, and her mother had been, before marriage, Miss Bates, the youngest daughter of Mrs Bates of Highbury.When her father was killed in action in a foreign country and her mother died soon after of consumption, Jane had returned to live with her grandmother and aunt, her mother’s elder sister in Highbury. However, Colonel Campbell, her fathers superior officer, offered to educate her and bring her up in his own small family to give her all the benefits of education and culture he could provide. Lieutenant Fairfax had been instrumental in saving his colonel’s life years before and being a dear officer and friend, Colonel Campbell felt it his duty to look after his friends daughter, Jane. Here is a passage from Emma describing Jane Fairfax’s education.

“ She had fallen into good hands, known nothing but kindness from the Campbells, and been given an excellent education. Living constantly with right minded and well informed people., her heart and understanding had received every advantage of discipline and culture; and Colonel Campbells residence, being in London, every lighter talent had been done justice to, by the attendance of first rate masters.”

It is interesting to note that Jane alludes to two sorts of education in relation to Jane Fairfax. First she says that she was, “given an excellent education,” and associated with well informed people and received every advantage of discipline and culture. The discipline bit is a little vague. It might refer to personal, behavioural discipline or it might refer to an intellectual discipline of the mind, inquisitive, challenging ideas, thinking. Maybe Jane Austen is being vague on purpose to allay the doubts and fears of the middle class reading masses. But what does Jane Austen mean by “an excellent education?” We know what she means by, “every lighter talent.”

It can only mean one thing. Jane Fairfax had been educated in cultural aspects that might include history, geography, mathematics, science and all the areas of learning usually kept for the great universities and the exclusive education of men.She had had the influence of right minded and well informed people too. Jane Austen herself had undoubtedly been immersed in and influenced by this sort of cultural education by way of her father’s library and erudite discussions with her intelligent and learned brothers.

Jean Jaques Rousseau

Jean Jaque Rouseau ( 28th June 1712 – 2 July 1778) was a philosopher and writer.
He thought;

“ The education of women should always be relative to that of men. To please, to be useful to us, to make us love and esteem them, to educate us when young, to take care of us when grown up.”

His idea of education being important to women was so that they could then, in turn, educate their sons. He was only a little on the way to realising the full possibilities and potential for women. He wasn’t for giving women total freedom.

Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas Caritat (1743 – 1794) the Marquis de Condorcet, wanted to go much further than Rouseau with women’s education and freedoms. He wanted universal education as did Adam Smith, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jeffereson. He thought that the advances in reason and science would automatically limit family sizes leaving women the freedoms to expand their talents and energies in other directions. He wanted women to be admitted to the rights of citizenship. A very modern gentlemen. He had to go into hiding for his beliefs.

In England there was Mary Wollstonecroft. In the introduction to her “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” Mary Wollstonecroft writes,

“Contending for the rights of woman, my main argument is built on this simple principle, that if she be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge and virtue; for the truth must be common to all, or it will be inefficacious with respect to its influence on general practice. And how can woman expected to co operatre unless she knows why she ought to be virtuous? Unless freedom strengthens her reason till she comprehends her duty, and see in what manner it is connected with her real good. If children are to be educated to understand the true principle of patriotism, their mother must be a patriot; and the love of mankind, from which an orderly train of virtues spring, can only be produced by considering the moral and civil interest of mankind; but the education and situation of woman at present shuts her out from such investigations.”

Mary Wollstonecraft

What Mary Wollstonecroft is actually saying here is that men and women need to be equal for the good and progress of mankind and if women are to be the teachers of children they need an education which enables them to think and explore and understand ideas, otherwise she cannot teach those ideas. An argument which cannot be challenged surely. Teachers today have degrees and are expected to have a thorough knowledge of their subjects and to be able to think and be creative.

How does this bring us back to Jane Fairfax? Jane Fairfax has had an, “excellent education,” and she appears to be evasive. It might be more a case of her having to be evasive as a means to survival. Emma Woodhouse cannot form a close relationship with her. As the novel unfolds we learn Jane is breaking societies strongest taboos. She and Frank Churchill are a match made in the realms of a freedom not acceptable in the England of those times. They are of a different economic and class backgrounds. Frank Churchill’s guardian, Mrs Churchill, while alive, would never condone such a relationship. Jane and Frank keep it secret and have to resort to all manner of subterfuge. Emma Woodhouse, in all her plans and manoeuvrings, and imaginings is defeated. Jane Austen is delving into areas that are perhaps closer to her own heart than she may well want to admit out right. In her final novel Sanditon, I think the way the character of Charlotte Heywood develops Jane was becoming more outspoken in her views about hypocrisy and the role of women in society. If Jane had lived into old age, with societies changes becoming more rapid with the industrial revolution, she might have become a champion of womans rights herself.

Finally, Jane Austen resolves the dilemmas, in a sort of Midsummer Nights Dream way. Characters find their true loves and permission is given, after Mrs Churchill’s death, for Frank and Jane to marry. So we have a happy ending for everybody. In a way, because Jane rounds everything off too nicely, as modern readers used to the full force of rough reality in the modern classic novel, perhaps we itch for Jane Austen to have gone the full hog. But, written as it was in the Georgian period, it was brave enough to allude to these issues. Jane couldn’t resist her true beliefs, really.

Gentle Readers, Tony Grant, who lives in England and oversees the blog, London Calling, wrote this most timely post. At the turn of the 19th century, women were not allowed to vote. This post points out the harsh realities for our female ancestors just a few generations ago. Regardless of party affiliation, I urge every woman in the U.S. to go to the polls on November 2 and exercise their hard-won freedom to VOTE for the candidate of their choice. – Vic

Images: Wikimedia Commons

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Mr. Knightley's Harvest Ball

Mr. Knightley's Harvest Ball

I prefer Kate Beckinsale’s Emma, written by Andrew Davies, because of the film’s depiction of ordinary life, such as farmers threshing grain before the Harvest Ball. These scenes were not written by Jane Austen, but they added authenticity to the film. When I saw this image, (Detail taken from the New York Public Library’s digital collection of the Costumes of Yorkshire, 1813-1814), I knew that the costumers and the director, Diarmuid Lawrence, had done their research. I loved the quality of the golden light that bathed the workers, lending the scene an antique, painterly feel. There are so many glorious visual moments in this film, which is well worth watching despite the script’s many variations from Jane’s plot.

Detail, Rape Threshing, 1813, The Costume of Yorkshire, New York Public Library

Detail, Rape Threshing, 1813, The Costume of Yorkshire, New York Public Library

By 1750, British agricultural practices were regarded as among the best in the world. The Industrial Revolution accelerated new practices in agriculture, in which animal power and human labor were aided by newly invented farm machinery. These inventions, as well as the new methods of food production, greatly increased the food supply.

Four-field rotation was practiced in England.  Specific crops were grown in a scientific sequence that managed the different nutrients in the soil. With this method, the continuous use of land was possible; more importantly, additional forage crops for livestock could be grown. This increase in the food supply could support livestock through the winter, which led to an improved diet year round. Even the poor could occasionally augment their bread with meat and dairy products, such as cheese.

harvest 2 (2)
While the Enclosure Acts from 1750-1831 drove many subsistence farmers off their small holdings of around 20 acres, the movement combined land into larger tracts for more efficient farming, and allowing portions of the fields to lie fallow. The traditional method of subdividing the land allowed farmers to feed their families, but their holdings were too small to follow the new method of crop rotation.  The larger holdings (which usually favored the richer land owners) applied modern methods of crop production. The unlucky farmer who lost his lands also lost the means to support his family independently. He and his family had no choice but to find work in the industrial north or in London. These burgeoning urban centers required an enormous amount of food to be brought in daily over long distances. One imagines that after Mr. Knightley set aside enough of the harvest for his own consumption, he transported the remainder to cities to be sold for profit.

harvest 3 (2)

More on the topic:

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PBS Masterpiece Classic resumed The Complete Jane Austen last Sunday with the rebroadcast of the 1997 adaptation of Emma. My favorable review of the film sits in the post below. Ellen Moody expressed different thoughts about Mr. Knightley in her blog, Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Too. Click here to read why she thinks there’s something odd about him.

Ellen is the creator of the Jane Austen almanac. If you haven’t yet come across her calendars of Jane’s novels, click here. They are remarkably useful.

Kaye Daycus compared the two Emmas in her Fun Friday review. I wonder what she’ll come up with for this Friday?

As always, there’s a lively discussion going on at Austen Blog. This time it’s Emma’s turn. Join in the fun and leave your opinion.

Over at Jane Austen Today, the second guest blogger, Barbara Larochelle, moderator of the Sense and Sensibility discussion group at The Republic of Pemberley, gives us her thoughts about the new film adaptation of Sense & Sensibility. I believe she likes it.

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