Jane Austen, the author of “Emma”, once said that she wanted to create a character she loved that everyone else was bound to hate. I wouldn’t say she necessarily got her wish because readers still somehow find something to like in Emma, even if she is undoubtedly Jane Austen’s least likable protagonist.
Emma Woodhouse. She believes she has to always be right. She doesn’t take no for an answer. She doesn’t respect people’s decisions if she doesn’t approve of them. She makes mistake after mistake because she charges into judgments and sureties too quickly. She has decided never to get married, as she thinks that women get married for aid and support while she has her father’s estate, thereby there’s no need. She has a soft heart for the needy, bringing food to the less well-off and (if grudgingly) giving company to elderly spinsters. She has good intentions, means well, but in most cases tries to do her part in the community by meddling in the affairs of those who only she thinks are needy. This involves a series of matchmaking attempts that occasionally succeed but usually end disruptively because of lack of clarity about who particularly her clients should be falling in love with. They’re so silly, they end up liking someone else that Emma disapproves instead of who Emma approved, sometimes even Emma herself! Imagine that!
Snarky Knightley! At least according to Emma. Really, George Knightley is full of good moral character and judgment, someone who should in fact be a role model but isn’t treated as such much. He is the boy-next-door type, if you count doors attached to manors attached to estates, his being the largest in the area. He is easy to like, maybe because nothing much challenges him (he is the eldest, he inherits the estate) except Emma, of course, they always managing to argue about something or another; their moral thresholds for interfering in other’s lives are drastically different, you understand. He tries to keep her in line, tries to help her be a better person, all the while pushing the boundaries of how much he can lecture. He criticizes her even though he perfectly well knows that she hates being criticized, hoping that her respect of his opinion will keep him out of hot water.
“I’ll help you find your next victim- I mean, client.” “One day you’ll learn you can’t always be right.” “I’m going to make this perfectly clear for you Emma, I will support you 99% of the time but you just hit that 1%.” “Is it pleasant in your fantasy world? Are there rainbows?”
Interestingly, at the time Prince George had given Jane Austen the “privilege” of “allowing” her to dedicate the novel to him, and so when Jane Austen had Knightley portrayed as an honest and thoughtful gentleman it was quite pointedly, as Prince George’s behavior was found very much wanting in her eyes. Because Knightley was named after him, she was practically begging her readers to compare the two, and he probably took it as a very public slap in the face.
Harriet Smith is who Emma takes under her wing and who is the primary victim of Emma’s matchmaking. She is a bit too naive and dependent on Emma’s opinions, and Knightley observes that she makes Emma’s behavior worse because of her constantly spouting out praise, following her instructions blindly, and basically just running around behind Emma like a puppy. She falls in love too easily but has a hard time accepting when she is out of love, and so gets heartbroken quite often. Nice going, Emma! There’s also Frank Churchhill, who is very rich and a bit of a legend and whose motives are quite blurred and basically that guy everyone’s talking about. Then there’s Jane Fairfax and Emma’s father and Elton and Martin and Weston- too many characters and back stories to get into.
Now “Emma Approved” is a youtube show from the same creators as “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” that is based off the acclaimed 1850’s novel. Since they modernized it, they made Emma be a “life coach”- that’s right, people actually hire her to control their lives. Knightley is her exasperated business partner, and Harriet is her ditsy assistant. The characters are more relaxed and funny in their interactions with each other, as you can see here:
emma x knightley; that girl’s a genius
“Clueless” is another modern adaption of “Emma”, in which Emma and Knightley’s names are changed and are portrayed as ex-step siblings. If you don’t go for modern adaptions, try the period drama named simply “Emma” starring Gywneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam that strays very close to the original dialogue of the book.
The first episode of “Emma Approved”: I am Emma Woodhouse – Emma Approved: Ep 1 by Pemberley Digital