The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik
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October 2, 2010

Emma (finally!)

After planning to for months, I'm finally reading Emma. (Re-reading, actually, but it's been about 15 years.)  It's an interesting experience to be re-reading the novel after seeing so many TV and movie adaptations. I know the story backwards and forwards, so it's an exercise in reading for the nuances instead of the characters or the plot.

One surprise, one-third of the way through the book, is that John Knightley asks Emma, on the morning of the Christmas eve dinner at Randalls, if she's aware of Mr. Elton's feelings towards her.  In the adaptations, doesn't this always come out in the carriage ride home?

'I thank you, but I assure you you are quite mistaken. Mr. Elton and I are very good friends, and nothing more,' and she walked on, amusing herself in the consideration of the blunders which often arise from a partial knowledge of circumstances, the mistakes which people of high pretensions to judgment are ever falling into; and not very well pleased with her brother for imagining her blind and ignorant, and in want of counsel. He said no more.

Emma is surprised enough by Mr. Elton's 'strange insensibility' to Harriet's illness to wonder if John's warning might be correct ('-- Absurd and insufferable!' -- '), but she's more annoyed during 'the most overpowering period of Mr. Elton's nonsense' because she can't hear what is being said about someone else:

Now, it happened that in spite of Emma's resolution of never marrying, there was something in the name, in the idea of Mr. Frank Churchill, which always interested her. She had frequently thought -- especially since his father's marriage with Miss Taylor -- that if she were to marry, he was the very person to suit her in age, character and condition...she had a great curiousity to see him, a decided intention of finding him pleasant, of being liked by him to a certain degree, and a sort of pleasure in the idea of their being coupled in their friends' imaginations.

More matchmaking! :) I can see why the screenwriters handle it this's much more dramatic, and broadly funny, to have Mr. Elton jump Emma in the carriage, but then again the way this is handled in the book is more subtly humorous, and it presages the scene where the other Mr. Knightley asks Emma if she truly understands Frank Churchill's relationship with Jane Fairfax.

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Joan Hunter Dunn said...

The second passage is just so wonderful. It's made me smile as I sit here on a Saturday afternoon. Looking orward to your next Emma post.

Vintage Reading said...

Emma is such a perfect book. I love the strawberry party and the dreadful Mrs Elton. Enjoyed reading your thoughts and those extracts.

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