Transformation - Jane Austen Emma to Clueless

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The transformation process redefines a story to make it accessible to the culture and values of a contemporary context. The manipulation of medium, genre, setting, characters and plot enables the transformed text to be understood and connect with a new audience. Amy Heckerling’s post-modern film transformation Clueless (1995) is derived from Jane Austen’s classic novel Emma (1816) with both texts comparable as they use satire to address similar values. The shift in context enables the texts to reinforce the values of Regency England or 1990s Beverly Hills. Heckerling subverts and appropriates the original text to a cinematic context, through this she can comment on American society thus invoking new meaning to the ideas in Emma. Both composers approach the place of the social hierarchy, placing weight on class, marriage and charity. Furthermore, through examination of the transformation process it is evident that human concerns remain intact with values conditional on the world of the text.

Emma presents her audience with the ills of a socially stratified society and its repressive constraints manifested through her characters. The conservative social structure of Regency England is established through a clearly defined social organisation which is responsible for determining class by a families inherited wealth and lineage. The eponymous character is presented as the regency stereotype of the upper-class elitist, with the preliminary stages of the novel reflecting the context through the establishment of Emma’s social superiorty. “Emma Woodhouse, clever, handsome, and rich with a comfortable lifestyle and happy disposition seemed to unite some of the best blessings in existence.” The opening sentence uses a trochaic rhythm to reveal the heroines place in the higher echelons of Highbury society. Emma’s moral development and her “disposition to think a little to well of herself” as stated by the omniscient narrator amplifies Emma’s vanity gently satirising the behaviour of the individual as a direct by product of their rung on the social ladder. The rise of the mercantile class challenges the established order, the reference to the ‘novous riche’ highlights the shifting class order as people with money derived from trade, slowly joined the social circles of the traditional aristocratic families. The composer satirises this through the caricature of Mrs. Elton who presents the flaws of the mercantile class through an ostentatious and arrogant manner “Mrs. Elton was a vain women, extremely well satisfied with herself, and thinking much of her own importance” The class system valued by characters such as Knightley and Emma is radically changed and they are forced to deal with the changes in social organisation. The text illustrates the concerns possessed towards class, with attitudes shaped by the context of 19th century England.

Heckerling’s modern transformation highlights the importance of social class; however, the shift in the social hierarchy is reflective of the 1990s teen culture. America was the globes economic power with Beverly Hills an icon of wealth. The artificial world is presented from the outset, with the opening credits using bright colours, rock music and a montage of shots in a MTV clip style so to capture the hyper real world of the “teen flick” and in turn the teen culture that was a product of the material driven society. The film stresses the significance of social class within the insular LA high school, with an evident shift from Emma as people were classified by their material wealth, popularity and fashion sense. The social levels in Clueless are illustrated when Cher introduces Tai to the various cliques. This highlighted through the point of view shots from the girl’s perspective with Cher’s authorial commentary explaining the school divisions. “That’s the Persian mafia, you can’t hang with them unless you own a BMW and that’s Elton and all the popular boys in the school.” Hence the...
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