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Posts Tagged ‘Emma Woodhouse’

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.

harvest
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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Is Sunday night’s broadcast of the 1997 A&E version of Emma on Masterpiece Classic worth watching? Absolutely! Even those who liked Gwyneth Paltrow’s elegant interpretation of 20 year-old Miss Woodhouse as much as I did, will find Kate Beckinsale’s bossy Emma satisfying in a more down-to-earth way. When Kate made this film she had just completed her role as Flora Poste in Cold Comfort Farm, a surprise cinematic hit.

Miss Emma Woodhouse, 20-year-old self-satisfied spinster

Kate plays the part of an interfering, well-meaning young woman with youthful ease and assurance. In addition, this actress is truly British, and she moves, talks, and acts naturally through the English landscape. I am always delighted to see a British actress play a British character (My apologies to Gwyneth, Renee Zellweger, and Anne Hathaway). I know many will disagree with me, but at times Gwyneth reminded me too much of a beautiful high fashion model with her uber thin, attenuated figure and modern facial features. She was as lovely to view as an Ingres line drawing, but I could relate to Kate’s old-fashioned prettiness better.

As you can see from the photos below, Kate’s range as an actress, when compared to supporting actress Samantha Morton, is somewhat limited. Nevertheless, she possessed sufficient acting chops to tackle this challenging role.

In these images (from left to right, top to bottom), Kate as Emma expresses 1) interest in Harriet when speaking to Mrs.Goddard, 2) a mixture of hurt and anger when listening to a lecture by Mr. Knightley, 3) proud admiration in viewing Mr. Knightley’s house, 4) disbelief and tender joy when Mr. Knightley proposes to her, 5) horror to Mr. Elton’s proposal, 6) envy listening to Jane Fairfax’s superior performance at the piano, 7) dreaminess after she and Mr. Knightley have declared their love for each other, and 8. polite and covert interest in Jane Fairfax as Miss Bates extols Jane’s virtues.
I love this reaction shot of Kate (below), whose expressions conveyed several emotions at once. Here, Emma has walked into Mr. Knightley’s sitting room, where she encounters her father by a small fire. Her face captures the combination of love, patience, forbearance, and puzzlement that Emma must have felt toward her father, as he once again frets and worries over minor points of comfort.

Miss Harriet Smith, 17-year old natural daughter of a gentleman

Movie buffs require no introduction to Samantha Morton, an actress so talented that one’s eyes immediately turn to her when she enters a scene.

Samantha’s Harriet Smith is all about innocence, naiveté, and puppyish eagerness to please. Her will – weak and easily persuaded – is sweet and passive. Emma couldn’t have found a more tractable person for her next project in matchmaking. Samantha’s artless Harriet, however, does not come across as dumb, for she often, though softly, questions Emma, and one senses throughout the film that she is unwilling quite to let go of her dream of living in a pretty yellow cottage with her yeoman farmer, Mr. Martin, and his two friendly, well-educated sisters. In Samantha’s interpretation of Harriet, we finally see a young woman worthy of Emma’s attempts at improvement.

While Toni Collette is a fine actress, whose turn as Cole’s frantic mother in The Sixth Sense moved me to tears, her plump, dumbed down Harriet left me perplexed and wondering what the elegant Gwyneth/Emma ever saw in her.

Mr. Knightley, 37-year-old gentleman, owner of Donwell Abbey, and Emma’s brother-in-law

Mark Strong’s Mr. Knightley sets the movie’s serious tone. His hawk-like features are dark, almost sinister, and his lithe, athletic figure moves with animal grace. In fact, Mark’s Mr. Knightley is dangerously and forcefully handsome, but not in a classical sense. His interpretation of Emma’s friend and lover is more vigorous than Jeremy Northam’s. Under repeated viewing and scrutiny, Mark’s performance holds up well. His angry encounters with Emma are a perfect foil to the moments when he is caught off guard tenderly watching her or smiling at something she has done or said, and after he proposes to her.
The change in Mark’s Mr. Knightley is most evident at the Harvest Ball, where he cannot contain his love for Emma. Many critics thought that this particular Mr. Knightley was too forceful, however I found that once he expressed his feelings for Emma, the change in his demeanor contributed to a completely satisfying romantic ending. The wolf has been tamed, and while we suspect that this Mr. Knightley will always be an exacting and demanding lover (ooh la la!), we also know that he will cherish Emma forever.

Critics of this movie will say it is too dark in tone, that the light-hearted spirit of Jane’s comedic novel was better captured by the 1996 theatrical film. Frankly, I prefer this film’s meatier fare. While Emma’s generous spirit and sincere interest in her charity work are largely ignored in this film version (and emphasized in Gwyneth’s Emma), Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax are allowed to play out their charade under everyone’s noses, Bernard Hepton as Mr. Woodhouse is given free reign to explore his character, and the backdrop of regency life and manners is filmed in minute detail.

One of the film’s most important characters is the village of Highbury (played by Laycock, a National Trust village in Wiltshire.) This village is peopled with gentry, artisans, craftsmen, servants, and laborours going about their business. As the protagonists move through this landscape, the evidence of regency life playing itself out fascinated me – from Emma’s courtesy visits to Miss Bates – to the ball at the Crown Inn – to the seating at table, with Emma in the position of hostess, and Mrs. Elton and Mrs. Weston at the head of the table with Mr. Woodhouse – to the footman holding the candelabra up to Harriet’s picture so that everyone could see it better – to the farmers and their families harvesting grain before The Harvest Ball.

I found Gwyneth’s world overly beautiful, refined, and Hollywood-sanitized, but Kate’s world showed some rough edges, most particularly when depicting exactly how much hard labor was involved in supporting the lavish lifestyle of the landed gentry. Who can forget the strawberry picking scene at Donwell Abbey where footmen dressed in livery (an extreme sign of wealth) stood by each guest, moving the kneeling cushions along the rows of strawberries; or the servants laboring to cart furniture, dishes, and food up Box Hill in order to provide a bucolic outing for the guests? Or Frank’s gift of the piano being hoisted up to the second floor of Mrs. and Miss Bates’s rooms, because the stairs were too steep, winding, and narrow?

These typical touches of an Andrew Davies script influenced my decision: I prefer this cinematic version of Emma. Oh, please do feel free to quibble. As I watch Gwyneth’s version of Emma again, my preference just might swing back to that movie. When it comes to all things Jane Austen, I am known to be fickle!

Watch Emma tonight on Masterpiece Classic at 9 p.m. Read the reviews about Emma on PBS’s Remotely Connected, and details at this PBS site.

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Jane Austen Today will feature four guest writers in the next four weeks to discuss Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and the last three weeks of The Complete Jane Austen on PBS. The first entry with Kali Pappas is up. Kali wrote about what she knew best: the costumes that were used in Emma 1997, and how these clothes reflected character. The post is titled: Fashionable Emma Woodhouse: Costuming in Austen’s Emma Adapted. Kali created Emma Adaptations, the definitive blog about Emma. If you haven’t visited her blog, you are in for a treat. Along the way, stop over at Jane Austen Today and read her fabulous contribution.

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They had a very fine day for Box Hill … Nothing was wanting but to be happy when they got there. Seven miles were travelled in expectation of enjoyment, and every body had a burst of admiration on first arriving…Jane Austen, Emma


One of the most famous scenes in Emma is the picnic scene on Box Hill. Picnics were becoming increasingly popular at the turn of the nineteenth century, when romantic sensibility influenced the trend of eating out of doors as a way to commune with nature. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term picnic originally meant “A fashionable social entertainment in which each person present contributed a share of the provisions; now, A pleasure party including an excursion to some spot in the country where all partake of a repast out of doors: the participants may bring with them individually the viands and means of entertainment, or the whole may be provided by some one who ‘gives the picnic’. ”

Even though picnicking became increasingly popular, arranging one was often no easy matter. According to Andrew Hubbell, author of How Wordsworth Invented Picnicking and Saved British Culture*:

To picnic is to consume not only particular food, but also a specific environment chosen according to an aesthetic standard, and a particular form of sharing food according to certain standards of behaviour. It means creating a moveable feast and overcoming difficulties and inconveniences, not only for preparation and transportation,but also for consumption and cleanup. Yet picnicking is the pleasurable pursuit of a leisured people, so the difficulty of moving the feast has some reward. The reward is primarily ideological: it enables the participant to share a form of eating that creates relationships between small groups of people, natural landmarks, and cultural ideals. These relationships form a consciousness of national identity. Picnicking, especially for early nineteenth-century picnickers, was thus away of performing Britishness.


This Romantic aesthetic can be witnessed in the A&E version of Emma, to be show on PBS this Sunday. Box Hill, the setting of Emma’s famous picnic, and comprising of woods and grassland, offered a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. The experience of eating in such a beautiful setting would appeal to both the eye and palate. Box Hill is covered with box trees, yew trees. and beeches and oaks. To this day, the area is filled with flowers and the sound of bird song, and fully two-thirds of the British butterfly species have been recorded at this site.**
As is still the custom, each member or group invited to a regency picnic brought a dish, usually carried in wicker baskets, for the others to enjoy. In this way a variety of dishes would be shared and tasted. However, without someone to guide them, guests would often bring similar foods. As picnics became more organized and elaborate, one person would take charge of assigning the dishes, ensuring the non-duplication of foods, or a host would offer to take over the responsibility of providing all the food.

As the 1997 A&E film demonstrates, these elegant and sumptuous picnics were not easy to accomplish. Teams of horses were arranged to transport wagons with picnickers, servants, food, and outdoor furniture. If the picturesque spot was located in an out of the way place, the party had to walk the remainder of the way with the supplies. The servants would lay out the dishes, and tables and cloths al fresco. After the parties had dined, these supplies needed to be repacked.

In the film, the servants were shown constantly working to provide a leisurely and pleasurable outing for the picnickers. Their hard work was for naught, however, since no one in the party, most particularly Emma, seemed to be having a good time. As the afternoon progressed, the underlying tension among the diners erupted with Emma’s cruel comment towards Miss Bates.

The Box Hill scene in Emma is pivotal. After Emma insults Miss Bates, Mr. Knightley angrily confronts her about her behavior. Unable to remain blind to her own faults, Emma begins to change and grow. She realizes how much she craves Mr. Knightley’s good judgment, which leads her to a later revelation that she loves him.

Interestingly, at the strawberry-picking at Donwell Abbey the day before, Mr. Knightley says to Mrs. Elton: “The nature and the simplicity of gentlemen and ladies, with their servants, and furniture, I think is best observed by meals within doors.” Given how utterly the Box Hill excursion failed to entertain the picnickers, his words were prophetic.

To read more about the origins of picnics, and about Box Hill, click on the long list of links below.

Box Hill, Emma

Physical Setting of Box Hill

The History of Picnics


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