Posted by: Natalie | January 11, 2011

Dilemma with Emma

Kate Beckinsale in ITV's 1996 production of Emma.

I have mentioned much more than twice how I love Jane Austen, with particular reference to the fine adaptations of Pride and Prejudice by the BBC (1995) and ITV’s Emma (1996). I have watched these particular dramas countless times and still adore them in all their humour and finery and marvellous screenplay. The problem comes when I actually turn to the books.

I feel it only right and proper that one who has a fondness for period drama should experience the truest form of their entertainment. Austen was an incredibly talented woman who wrote witty and cynical satire that can still be appreciated today. Even though very much of her time, Austen’s words seem timeless; her work fits snugly among contemporary fiction and as comfortably entertaining as ever was. However, Emma has ceased to be any kind of challenge to me and is by now so known by heart that the book is not as engaging as I would hope.

I don’t mean to say it is dull, by no means at all, it is just taking me a very long time to complete. Because I know the story upside down and inside out, I have no drive nor ambition to rattle through the pages. A new book sets an entirely different view upon me; because it is new, more often than not, it proves exciting – I simply have to know what befalls our hero/heroine next. But I already know Emma as if she were a long time acquaintance, dare I say friend (although we have not been formally introduced).

I am enjoying the narrative, but it is not inspiring me at the moment. Much like the role of the adaptation which is often played to lull me into a serene sleep with its calm and consideration, the book may have to sit by my bed side for evenings when I just need 10 minutes polite conversation and genteel wit. I had a similar issue with Pride and Prejudice in that the adaptation was so superb, it was all I could think, and followed the book so closely I did not feel I needed to read to the end. I did however, I could not do Mr Darcy and Miss Eliza such a disservice.

Billie Piper as Fanny Price in ITV's 2007 production of Mansfield Park.

Now, perhaps I should turn my attention to Mansfield Park? Despite the lovely Billie Piper taking lead in one particular adaptation, ITV falls a little short with this lack-lustre dramatisation; charisma and humour ever-present  in other novels simply seem absent. I will not know for certain until I attempt the book, but I cannot see this viewing to be its finest. I must believe that such a book would hold my attention due to my limited knowledge of its lines. Or it is possible Northanger Abbey holds a similar charm? A much better production than Mansfield Park but a story I know much less also. However, I smile favourably on the tale as it feels much closer to anything of my own life than the rest; what girl doesn’t see themselves in place of the literary obsessed, daydream fanatic Catherine Morland? Oh the romantic fascination of it all!

So in a nutshell, I shall be starting something anew tomorrow night, even though Emma is as yet incomplete. She shall sit in place waiting for those evenings of exhaustion when all I need is a friend to make life cosy. Very much like now.


And no post on Austen would ever be complete without a gratuitous pic of the brooding Mr Darcy!





  1. I hated the ITV Mansfield Park as they completely dropped the humour and made is all about the love story. Fanny Price needs a bit of gumption about her, and I was gutted that Billie didn’t portray her successfully! I still love the book though…

    I’d have thought, being a play on the Gothic novel, Northanger Abbey would be right up your street? Plus, I always enjoy the fact that it’s that bit shorter, so easier to whiz through to put me in the Austen mindset!

    And the reason I actually commented was to draw your attention to further gratuitous Darcy/Firth fun:


    • I like the gothic element to Northanger, which is why I think, as a read, I will love it. The adaptation just isn’t up there with Emma yet, and nothing will ever compare with Pride and Prejudice. I think I would have similar non-committal issues if I read Sense and Sensibility, because the Emma Thompson version is just so fantastic. Hmmmm, I shall attempt an attack on the pile when my brain is functioning back at full speed, then plug the gaps with a little more Austen me thinks.

      Hope you’re well honey,


  2. Oddly enough i just finished reading Emma for a second time and i loved it. Like you, i know the story pretty well but it isn’t the story that drives it for me it’s the writing. There are moments throughout where you can feel the building anticipation that the author infuses in the plot, and by the end she seems almost giddy to lay it all out. I really feel like Austen the writer is very close to the surface of that book, though at times it feels like even she is slogging through it.

    As for Mansfield Park, i haven’t seen an adaptation of it but i have read it and i wasn’t impressed. Fanny is not, in my opinion , a dynamic character in it (though Austen does a creditable job of making her vivid and animated) and you can feel her being stifled throughout the whole thing. But that’s just my opinion.

    • Hi,

      Thanks for commenting, its so interesting to see different takes on things. I like to think that with Austen, much more than many author’s, you are experiencing her as a woman in the very centre of all the nonsense that surrounds her characters. Whenever I watch productions of her work I actually feel guilty that I haven’t spent more time with the books, maybe 2011 can find me some time to change this?! Hopefully I can accept the ‘comfy-slipper syndrome’ of her writing and read with as much relish as less familiar books.

      Take care,
      Nat x

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