This has been on my mind lately because I just caught up with the “Lizzie Bennet Diaries” on YouTube. I loved the modern interpretation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and a combination of factors made it extremely watchable and fun. Wanting more, I continued on to “Emma Approved,” which takes Austen’s Emma out for a spin in the 21st century.
Rather famously, Austen was worried about Emma (the main character) and her likability factor. She called Emma “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” I find that very true – Emma is a much harder book for me to get into because Emma is such a controlling, childish, unaware creature.
Interestingly enough, I think there are a lot of parallels between Emma and Elizabeth Bennet (Eliza Bennet is a character I like a lot, by the way). They are both wits, they have high opinions of themselves and their own opinions, and they are reasonably attractive and sociable. I think the difference is that Emma has the actual power, as the highest ranking member of her social circle, to make mistakes that are devastating to others, whereas Elizabeth’s mistakes and cutting wit aren’t as harmful. People can afford to ignore Elizabeth when she’s being cranky; they pay too much attention when Emma is having an off day.
On the other hand, Emma has a huge character arc, and Elizabeth’s character arc is more moderate.
Like her or hate her, Emma is a fascinating character, and her story has something to say to the human condition – just like her meta-cousin Elizabeth.
So, are you on team Emma, or team Lizzie? Or cheering in the stands for whoever happens to be doing the most interesting things at the moment? Thoughts?