Jane Austen in the 20th Century – a Comparison Between Emma and Clueless

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Jane Austen in the 20th Century – A Comparison between Emma and Clueless

Generally one would assume that our society has changed considerably since Jane Austen's times and I do not want to argue the opposite. In some ways, however, we are still concerned with similar problems. Especially coming of age is a topic which has not lost any of its currency. This can nicely be seen in the 1995 Hollywood remake of Jane Austen's Emma – Clueless. Director Amy Heckerling transferred the story originally set in Highbury in Surrey of the early 19th century to Los Angeles of the 1990s. In the following I would like to compare Austen's novel with Heckerling's movie adaptation. Because of the limited length of this essay I shall mainly concentrate on the characters and their relations and leave out key themes that can be identified in the book and the movie. The corresponding character of Emma Woodhouse, the main character of the novel, is Cher Horowitz, played by Alicia Silverstone. Austen's novel starts out as one would normally expect a novel to end. The narrator describes Emma Woodhouse as "handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition […]." The narrator goes on telling us that she "seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to vex her." The movie begins with heaps of shots showing some girls having fun and driving around in a Jeep. The main character, Cher, is heard in a voice over. So OK, you're probably thinking, "Is this, like a Noxema commercial, or what?!" But seriously, I actually have a way normal life for a teenage girl. I mean I get up, I brush my teeth, and I pick out my school clothes.

Cher is in a similar situation as Emma. Cher's father is very wealthy and they live in Beverly Hills. Daddy's a litigator. Those are the scariest kinds of lawyers. Even Lucy, our maid, is terrified of him. He's so good he gets paid five hundred dollars an hour just to fight with people, but he fights with me for free 'cause I'm his daughter.

The family situation of Emma and Cher is similar as well. Emma's mother "had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses […]." .
Cher's mother is dead as well at the beginning of the movie. The circumstances of her death, however, are fitted to the 90s setting. Isn't my house classic? The columns date all the way back to 1972. Wasn't my Mom a betty? She died when I was just a baby. A fluke accident during a routine liposuction. I don't remember her, but I like to pretend she still watches over me.

Emma Woodhouse "had, in consequence of her sister's marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period." This recurs in the movie. CHER
Cher, please don't start with the juice again.
Daddy, you need your vitamin C.
Where's my briefcase?

Cher takes care of her father, makes sure that he drinks his juice and does not forget his briefcase.
"The real evils indeed of Emma's situation were the power of rather having too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; […]." This arrogance can be seen by her matchmaking attempts. It was Emma who set up the marriage between her governess Ms. Taylor and Mr. Weston. The corresponding characters in the movie Clueless are two teachers of Cher – Mr. Hall and Ms. Geist. The sequence of events, however, does not correspond to the novel. Mr. Hall and Ms. Geist only marry at the end of the movie.

Mr. Hall and Ms. Geist are not the only project of Cher.
Miss Stoeger? Got another one. Ladies, we have a new student with us. This is Tai Frasier. MISS STOEGER
Tai, you don't have time to change, but you could hit a few balls in those clothes. AMBER
She could be a farmer in those clothes.
Dee, my mission is clear. Would you look at that girl? She is so adorably clueless. We have got to adopt her.

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