Here is an interesting juxtaposition – Emma of the Victorian era was more emancipated that Cher of the modern America. So, the movie Clueless is much more than a faithful interpretation of Jane Austen’s Emma. Author Glenda Hudson points to a blatant deviation from the original work. He says that “the movies most violent transformation of Emma is the elimination of any serious issues, social, moral, or economic, from the affairs of the Beverly Hills teenagers, because these critics are blind to how high the stakes are in Austens novel.
Should Mr. Knightley marry Harriet, life in Highbury would be hell for Emma, as she foresees. Trapped with her father, the Ugolino of passive-aggressiveness, Mrs. Weston occupied with her new baby and daughter-in-law away from Highbury, Emma would be left to the egocentric amiabilities of Mr. Weston (close to being a moral retard) and the vulgar triumph of the Eltons over her diminished influence” (Hudson, 1995) Hudson is correct in his assessment, as the Heckerling feature does no dwell upon these more serious angles to the narrative, making the movie more light-hearted and frivolous than what is truly necessary.
Clueless, in spite of being a good adaptation of the novel, fails to address the moral and aesthetic angles to the story that is a striking aspect of the book. This is almost inevitable, considering the limitations of the audio-visual medium. As author Judy Stove writes, “That our educationists imagine that students can only read an old novel if bribed with a film, indicates their low expectations. In a stylistic comparison between Emma and Clueless, it is unlikely that either aesthetic or moral issues are going to receive careful consideration” (Stewart, 1993). Also, Clueless should be studied, not just in relation to Emma, but in the context of the whole body of Austen’s work.
In many ways, Austen’s story based on a British high school girl, Mansfield Park is closer to the Beverly Hill high school adolescents of Clueless. This fact is acknowledged by contemporary scholars and as a result a more comprehensive study of Austen is being recommended today. Some scholars even attribute the strong moral convictions of the lead characters in popular chick-lit genre today to the works of Jane Austen.
A classic example is Lauren Hendersons Jane Austens Guide to Dating, published in 2005, which encourages young women to exercise self-restraint the way Elinor and Fanny did. Moreover, Austen depicted “the values of her heroines not merely for aesthetic effect, but to encourage practical emulation.
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