Jane Austen wrote stories and poems to amuse herself and her family from a young age and eventually compiled 29 of them into three bound notebooks. These volumes provide a little glimpse into the author she would become. The “stories are full of anarchic fantasies of female power, licence, illicit behaviour, and general high spirits,” according to Austen scholar Janet Todd. She honed her craft for most of her life, including writing a short play, which she eventually abandoned. Today, we enjoy her novels, juvenilia, and unfinished works, and letters.
Jane Austen’s writing
Her mature work includes four books published during her lifetime, two published posthumously, and one left unfinished at the time of her death in 1817 at age 41. You’ll recognize most, if not all of them, as they’ve endured the test of time as classic literature and many interpretations as movies and miniseries.
Sense and Sensibility (1811)
Pride and Prejudice (1813)
Mansfield Park (1814)
Northanger Abbey* (1817)
(* published after her death, ** unfinished)
Jane Austen’s Emma on film
Today, we’re exploring Emma. It is considered a revolutionary work through its form and technique. It was an experiment not undertaken by previous novelists in that it is seen through the distorted lens of its protagonist’s mind. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the technique was given a name, free indirect style.
By using the third-person narrative injected with the thoughts and expressions of her fictional character, Jane cast aside the techniques used by earlier novelists. She is the first to successfully combine the internal and external narrative. This is part of the delight of Emma and it may be one reason why it continues to see new adaptations.
Learn more about Jane Austen’s unique style: How Jane Austen’s Emma changed the face of fiction.
How many times has Emma been adapted to the screen? That number, according to the Independent, is six. Three films and three mini-series. The first was a BBC adaptation in 1948.
This latest adaptation surely won’t be the last. The ones we all most likely remember are
1996 starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam (American)
2009 (mini-series) starring Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller
2020 starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn
Did you know? Clueless is a modern adaptation made in 1995 starring Alicia Silverstone.
People are still incredibly interested in period dramas! Before the 2020 version opened in 1500 theaters in the USA, it had a limited opening in only five venues across the nation. Still, it had the “best opening weekend per-theater average of any movie released so far this decade” according to Forbes.
Emma is a flawed, yet fun character. Through the ‘hubris of youth,’ she spends much of her time meddling in the romantic affairs of others, especially her friend Harriet’s. Each adaptation treats the book a little differently. In the most recent offering, director Autumn de Wilde related that in order to resonate with today’s audience, Emma’s epiphany and amends with Harriet happen before she finds her own romantic happiness.
Are you a Jane Austen fan? Have you seen any or all of these adaptations? Which one is your favorite?
Love the Regency era? Learn more:
We are inspired by history and think you are too if you are here and reading this! Recollections offers a wide variety of history-inspired fashions, including those of the Regency era. Our classic Regency Gown is a perennial favorite!