Jane Austen’s Matchmaking Heroine

Illustrations by C.E. Brock

 
 

Emma, by Jane Austen, is a novel about youthful hubris and the perils of misconstrued romance. The novel was first published in December 1815. Before she began the novel, Austen wrote, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” In the very first sentence she introduces the title character as “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich.” Emma, however, is also rather spoiled, headstrong, and self-satisfied; she greatly overestimates her own matchmaking abilities; she is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people’s lives; and her imagination and perceptions often lead her astray.

Emma Woodhouse is the first Austen heroine with no financial concerns, which, she declares to the naïve Miss Smith, is the reason that she has no inducement to marry. This is a great departure from Austen’s other novels, in which the quest for marriage and financial security are often important themes in the stories. Emma’s ample financial resources put her in a much more privileged position than the heroines of Austen’s earlier works, such as Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. Jane Fairfax’s prospects, in contrast, are bleak.

 
 

(Douglas McGrath, 1996)

 
 

Douglas McGrath “fell in love” with Jane Austen‘s 1815 novel Emma, while he was an undergraduate at Princeton University. He believed the book would make a great film, but it was not until a decade later that he was given a chance to work on the idea. After receiving an Academy Award nomination in 1995 for his work on Bullets Over Broadway (Woody Allen, 1994), McGrath decided to make the most of the moment and took his script idea for a film adaptation of Emma to Miramax Films. McGrath had initially wanted to write a modern version of the novel, set on the Upper East Side of New York City. Miramax’s co-chairman, Harvey Weinstein, liked the idea of a contemporary take on the novel. McGrath was unaware that Amy Heckerling‘s Clueless was already in production, until plans for Emma were well underway.

Although in general staying close to the plot of the book, the screenplay by Douglas McGrath enlivens the banter between the staid Mr. Knightley and the vivacious Emma, making the basis of their attraction more apparent.

Austen’s original novel deals with Emma’s false sense of class superiority, for which she is eventually chastised. In an essay from Jane Austen in Hollywood, Nora Nachumi writes that, due partly to Paltrow’s star status, Emma appears less humbled by the end of this film than she does in the novel.

 
 

(Diarmuid Lawrence, 1996)

 
 

This production of Emma stars Kate Beckinsale as the titular character, and also features Samantha Morton as Harriet Smith and Mark Strong as Mr. Knightley.  Previously, Andrew Davies was the screenwriter for the successful 1995 BBC TV serial Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. Davies offered to adapt Emma for the BBC, but it had already commissioned Sandy Welch as screenwriter.

 
 

(Amy Heckerling, 1995)

 
 

This comedy film is loosely based on Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma. Heckerling later described Silverstone as having “that Marilyn Monroe thing” as a “pretty, sweet blonde who, in spite of being the American ideal, people still really like.” 

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The Aerosmith Chick

 
 

After seeing her in The Crush (Alan Shapiro, 1993), Marty Callner decided Alicia Silverstone would be perfect for a role in a music video he was directing for the band Aerosmith, called Cryin’; she was subsequently cast in two more videos, Amazing and Crazy. These were hugely successful for both the band and Silverstone, making her a household name (and also gaining her the nickname, “the Aerosmith chick”). After seeing Silverstone in the three videos, filmmaker Amy Heckerling decided to cast her inClueless

 
 

 
 

 
 

This music video features the first appearance of Alicia Silverstone in the band’s videos, as well as the band performing in the Central Congregational Church in Fall River, Massachusetts. The song flashes back and forth between the band and Alicia Silverstone, who plays a teen who has a falling out with her boyfriend (played by Stephen Dorff) after catching him cheating. She feigns an attempt to kiss him, but instead leans away annoying him. She then punches him and shoves him out of the car leaving him in the dust. She begins a phase of rebellion and individuality and gets a navel piercing, which has largely been credited as introducing navel piercing to mainstream culture. After having her purse stolen by another young man (played by then-unknown Josh Holloway of Lost), she chases him down and knocks him to the ground. The video then cuts to her standing on the edge of an overpass bridge, contemplating jumping…

 
 

 
 

 
 

This was the second appearance of Alicia Silverstone in the band’s videos. Paired with her was Jason London, star of Dazed and Confused(Richard Linklater, 1993), a film which was released in the same year as Get a Grip and which memorably made numerous references to Aerosmith. The characters are featured in the music video as two cyberspace kids who escape to a world of virtual reality together, both not realizing the other is also doing virtual reality. The head-mounted display in the video worn by Jason London was manufactured by Liquid Image Corporation. The founders of Liquid Image Corporation, David Collette and Tony Havelka, were contacted by the video production crew and asked to provide a head-mounted display system for the VR sequence.

 
 

 
 

 
 

It featured the third appearance of Alicia Silverstone in the band’s videos, as well as the career debut of Steven’s then-teenaged daughter Liv Tyler. The decision to cast Liv in the video for Crazy was based on the video’s creators having seen her in a Pantene commercial, with absolutely no knowledge her father was in the band. The video was very film-like and depicted the two as schoolgirls who skip class and run away, driving off in a blue Ford Mustang convertible. The two use their good looks to take advantage of a service station clerk, and needing money, enter an amateur pole-dancing competition. The video is noteworthy for its very risque and suggestive sexual scenes, some of which seem to suggest lesbianism in the characters.