Clueless Emma Comparison

Clueless, an updated, Americanised version of an 18^(th) C. English novel of manners, shares many of its precursor’s characteristics but also significant differences. The 1995 creation of Amy Heckerling as an appropriation of the plot of Jane Austen’s novel Emma. Heckerling does a magnificent performance of bringing Emma back to life in 20^(th) Century America.

Heckerling was cashing in on a major revival of Austen in the mid 1990s as about five different adaptations of Austen’s novels were released within a two year period.

Initially Clueless was considered just another vacuous Teenpix with a limited lifespan, however its appropriations of Austen’s Emma, gave it sustenance and developed its cult following and a status as a worthy text.

Clueless is a feisty chick flick lit that can stand on its own merits as a well constructed lasting text. Though it appropriates much from Emma it updates and enhances the concerns, situations to universalise them and provides an access to the original text motivating young people to read and find relevance in it.

Its major worthy attributes are its subtle witty quick repartee, its credible situations, its sound score and its visual effects.

You can read all about Clueless under the Film tab and Emma under the Novel Tab.

To what extent is it:

A replication? a transformation? an adaptation ? a re-writing ? a parody ? a contemporarised or modernised version ? a plagiarism ?

Transposition: Cher is Emma temporally and geographically transposed from the 19^(th)– 20^(th) C. from the English countryside to Southern California. Appropriation: Clueless exploits a classic or high brow cultural text by adapting it into a more appealing marketable medium by using modern language, settings, technology and visual graphics. Clueless is a culturally egalitarian post-modern and democratic movie.

Characters #

counter-pointed, replicated, or counterparts; Situations correspond or are parallel, consistent with Austen’s.

Similarities #

Cher and Emma parochial, naïve, oblivious, innocent and ignorant of anything outside their boundaries. Isolated and insular. Emma has never seen the sea. Cher avoids the Valley.

Both learn to temper their manipulations and submit to a dominant patriarchy.

Both well off, respected, popular, motherless, snobs,* clever, consumers and untouched by anxieties of lower classes, family conflicts,

Both manipulate, engineer events and are potential control freaks. Self-obsessed and self-deluded.

Both take care of their widowed fathers.

Both the butt of Knightley/ Josh”s digs

Both hold compassionate and worthy moral values that endorse a stable society perpetuated by the convention of marriage and stable family.

Differences #

Cher, younger, 16, more mobile

Emma; 21 yet maturity at par with Cher 16.

Mr Woodhouse – valetudinarian, querulous and resistant to change.

Mr Horowitz – fast-talking, high-strung litigation attorney in poor health.

Cher: Daddy’s a litigator. Those are the scariest kind of lawyer. Even Lucy, our maid, is terrified of him. And daddy’s so good he gets $500 an hour to fight with people. But he fights with me for free because I’m his daughter.

Christian – homosexual, Jane Fairfax does not exist. Accepted - Cher: “he loves shopping almost as much as I do”.

Despite both Emma and Cher’s flaws, we tend to like them for their mistakenly good intentions and their transformation from an ambiguous naivety to a more sensible mature acceptance of the status quo.

Emma learns to stop meddling and develops a mature love for Knightley

Cher realises she needs a complete makeover;* “except this time I make-over-my-soul”.*

Style #

Both structures and plot lines mostly parallel. Emma: formal, stiff, correct lengthy involved dialogue – conversations formal address archaic expressions (Emma described as “handsome”, Mr Elton as “pretty”. Sentences balanced: Emma’s snobbery: * “A young farmer, whether on horseback or on foot, is the very last sort of person to raise my curiosity. The yeomanry are precisely the order of people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do.

Then patronisingly: A degree or two lower, and a creditable appearance might interest me; I might hope to be useful to their families in some way or other…”.

When Mrs Elton climbs the social ladder largely because of her marriage with Mr Elton, Emma disapproves: “She brought no name, no blood, no alliance.”

Emma’s object to assist a social duckling to find its swanhood. Mr Knightley maintains that: “ugly ducklings tend to turn into ugly ducks”.

Harriet: a mind that never opposes any argument, but is never really swayed from its own opinion.

**Clueless While contemporary and modern, Clueless is restrained and tame compared to most teen cult movies. Clueless: casual, informal, intimate

Short cellular phone messages

Speeches – casual, clichéd, grammatically challenged

Sentences truncated, ellipsis, gibberish? Slang – secret argot: “scheming Betties, persistent Barneys, loser loadies, go postal, total baldwins

Murray: “Your man Christian is a cake boy”! Cher, Dionne: “A what”? Murray: “He’s a disco-dancing, Oscar Wilde reading, Streissand ticket holding friend of Dorothy, know what I’m saying”?

Clever and witty: Clueless: On Amber’s attractiveness, Cher replies: “No, she’s a Monet; looks great from a distance but all spotty close up”.

On Tai to Elton: “She looks like one of those Botticelli chicks”

Sexual Innuendo:

Amber: “Ms. Stoeger, my plastic surgeon doesn’t want me doing any activity where balls fly at my nose”. Dionne:* “Well, there goes your social life”.*


Cher: “Until mankind is peaceful enough not to have violence on the news, there’s no point in taking it out of shows that need it for entertainment value”.

Cher’s snobbery: * “I don’t’ know why they go out with high school boys”

Her friends comment on her socially superior attitude: *“Cher’s got an attitude with high school boys”

Cher feels utter disdain for any and everything “in the valley”

Technique #

Similarities #

Satire and dramatic ironies abound as both Heckerling and Austen portray indulged, self-deluded manipulators.

Cher: *“Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May….”

Dionne:* “Did you write that?” Cher: Duh, it’s like a famous quote. Dionne: From where? Cher: Cliff Notes.

Heather: *“it’s just like Hamlet said ,’to thine own self be true.’

Cher: *“Ah, no, uh, Hamlet didn’t say that.”

Heather: *“I think I remember Hamlet accurately”.

Cher: *“ Well I remember Mel Gibson accurately, and he didn’t say that. That Polonius guy did .”

Emma: After realising the mismatch of Harriet and Mr Elton, Emma catches herself incorrigibly thinking of matching Harriet with William Coxe, a pert young Lawyer.

Box Hill Incident: Emma flirts embarrassingly with Frank Churchill and makes the faux pas of being rude to Miss Bates.

Clueless: After attack in Rodeo Drive, in total misery, Cher catches sight of a new outfit: *“I wonder if they have that in my size?”

Cher mistakenly accuses the Maid of speaking “Mexican’ when she means Spanish, confused about El Salvador.

Feminists argue that Emma’s conversion from controller to submissive wife is a satire on a society that allows her no creative space to grow in her own right. Given her intelligence, energy and imagination, her impatient attempts to transform a mundane reality are completely understandable.

Clueless is a satire that doesn’t know which side it’s on. Is it an affectionate spoof on rich and self-absorbed teenagers, or a witty dig against the superficial culture that created them? Irony: Both use irony to great effect: An inclusive device where the composer takes the responder into their confidence to ridicule the main character.

Differences #

Emma: Dialogue and in-depth conversations.

Letters important

An insular, leisured cultured society.

Formal address – Miss Woodhouse

Printed word, balanced sentences, impersonal pronouns, sophisticated and subtle narrative skills.

Clueless: Action and body language.

Also secluded but a much more open fast paced society.

Technological advances (?)

Oral communication: telephone (low shots), cellular phones, speeches.

Clueless depicts emotions via facial expressions (Josh seeing Cher dressed up to go out with Christian.

(in Emma this is conveyed to us through a lengthy conversation between Knightley and Mrs Weston)

Cars replace carriages – more mobile yet parochial

Visual Images: Facial expressions – Josh on seeing Cher dressed up to go out with Christian.

Computer image of Miss-Match reinforces many of the issues of the movie.

Music: #

Am. Anthem during Cher’s Haitian Speech

Gigi - when Josh sees Cher on staircase for date

Tenderness during credit roll

Tai’s Make over – “I want to be a supermodel.

“We are Young, we are Free –exuberance of youth

Camera angles - Low Camera shot on telephone – imbuing it with status of reverence.


Cher generally in centre

Exception where Tai describing her attack in the Mall, Cher is noticeable sidelined, marginalised

Issues: #

**Austen – *Emma ** * National: The landed gentry under threat from Fr. Rev. and peasant’s revolts. To preserve the status of landed gentry, George Knightley exhorts Emma to act responsibly and exemplarily. Manners and Geniality are important.

Marriage and family are the foundation stones of a stable continuum and all of Austen’s novels centre around the incidents of young people in pursuit of a life partner. Paradoxically, not all the marriages she depicts are happy ones but they are productive and this is a good omen for future population strength.

Class: As part of the leisured, privileged class, Emma is snobbish, superior, cocooned and sublimely oblivious to their suffering and deprivations. Knightley encourages her to do her duty and treat all people civilly. Emma eventually develops self – awareness and makes the transition from “know it all” to acceptance of fallibility.

The novel depicts the relationships between young people in the process of finding a life partner.

All Emma’s match making is designed to maintain or improve class status.

Her attitudes towards the gipsies reflects societies bigotry.

Gender: Emma starts out supremely independent and self-assured, but eventually succumbs to the dominant male protective umbrellas.

At the Crown Ball, when forced to give place to Mrs Elton, Emma declares: “was almost enough to make me think of marriage”. Marriage equates to status position and power.

Eventually realises she needs a male partner to suit society’s conventions.

Feminists argue that Emma’s conversion from controller to submissive wife is a satire on a society that allows her no creative space to grow in her own right. Given her intelligence, energy and imagination, her impatient attempts to transform a mundane reality are completely understandable.

The institution of marriage is central to most of Austen’s novels as she sees the family as the key to a nation’s strength.

**Heckerling - Clueless Egalitarian vs Heirarchialism

Subversive transformation occurs where the source text is undercut by an opposing value. Does Clueless subvert Emma ?

Cher purports the need to preserve America as a tolerant, diverse, inclusive and pluralistic society.

Cher: *So like, right now for example. The Haitians need to come to America. But some people are all, “What about the strain on our resources?” Well it’s like when I had this garden party for my father’s birthday, right? I put R.S.V.P. ‘cause it was a sit-down dinner. But some people came that like did not R.S.V.P. I was like totally buggin’. I had to haul ass to the kitchen, redistribute the food, and squish in extra place settings. But by the end of the day it was, like, the more the merrier. And so if the government could just get to the kitchen, rearrange some things, we could certainly party with the Haitians. And in conclusion may I please remind you it does not say R.S.V.P. on the Statue of Liberty. Thank you very much.

While she espouses an open door to asylum seekers from Haiti, she treats her maid patronisingly and disrespectfully.

Christian, as an outed homosexual, is accepted without judgement or homophobic abuse, and there are indications that Ms .Stoeger may be a lesbian.

Class and social position is determined by meritocracy, wealth and social connections. All Cher’s match making is geared at maintaining class position.

Elton, astounded with Tai by his match, exclaims: *“Tai and I don’t make sense, you and I make sense” and later:

*“Don’t you know who my father is?”

In defence the movie depicts society’s inclusiveness and pluralism by including Dionne’s Afro-Americanism, and the prevalence of varied ethnic groups such as the Asian, and Middle Eastern extras.

Teenage Coming of Age #

Cher is also affluent, privileged and untouched by:

Social and familial conflict #

  • no outright rebellion
  • drugged out confusion - open about its use but rejects them.
  • sexual turmoil – avowed virgin though Tai openly promiscuous.
  • Cher, despite her glamorous appearance, remains a virgin out of choice.

Feminism and Marriage #

Clueless endorses the need for marriage to fulfil the needs of loneliness, stability and cohesion. Cher sees Mr Hall’s lack of sensitivity to the fact he is not married and so begins her match making. The fact that the movie ends with a marriage supports this institution as an aspirational and worthy one.

Cher also appears self-sufficient, but in a time of crisis, `the maiden in distress’ calls Josh and is rescued by her hero and eventual suitor. This submission to male dominance is decried by feminists. Marriage is endorsed as a means to fulfilment, union and social stability as Cher takes pride in her achievement of bringing Mr Hall and Miss Geist together with suggestive flattery: “Miss Geist was right about you, she said you were the only one in this school with any intelligence.”

Character Counterparts #

  • Some major discrepancies: Frank Churchill – secret love affair - Christian – gay.

Values: Cher espouses tolerance, inclusiveness and plurality yet practices exclusivity, insularity and cliques.

Cher: That’s Ren and Stimpy. They’re way existential.

Cher: Until mankind is peaceful enough not to have violence on the news, there’s no point in taking it out of shows that need it for entertainment value.

Mel: Do you know what time it is?
Cher: A watch doesn’t really go with this outfit, daddy.

Cher: Christian said he’d call the next day, but in boy time that meant Thursday.

Cher: Dionne and her boyfriend Murray are in this dramatic relationship. I think they’ve seen that Ike and Tina Turner movie too many times.

Cher: *Would you call me selfish?
Dionne: No, not to your face.

Cher: Are you talking about drugs?
Tai: Yeah.
Cher: Tai, how old are you?
Tai: I’ll be 16 in May.
Cher: My birthday is in April and as someone older, can I please give you some advice? It is one thing to spark up a doobie and get laced at parties, but it is quite another to be fried all day.

Evaluation: #

Emma #

This is your personal response and opinion on the effectiveness of the passage. You may judge it for yourself, for the intended audience or as a general appraisal of the worth of the article. Be specific and provide evidence for any assertions you make.

Jane Austen is an accomplished writer who polarises her audience; they either passionately adore or absolutely abhor her.

Regardless of your tastes, she is a writer of merit and maintains a tremendous influence on the development of the English Novel.

Many claim that she is the first modern novelist for focussing on character development through action, interactions and conflict. It is through the development of her characters, her experimental narrative techniques and the design of her novels that we can discover her main concerns.

Quotes on Emma:

1815—Sir Walter Scott, review of Emma

*Upon the whole, the turn of this author’s novels bears the same relation to sentimental and romantic cast, that corn fields and cottages and meadows bear to the highly adorned grounds of a show mansion, or the rugged sublimities of a mountain landscape. It is neither so captivating as the one, nor so grand as the other, but it affords to those who frequent it a pleasure nearly allied with the experience of their own social habits; and what is of some importance, the youthful wanderer may return from his promenade to the ordinary business of life, without any chance of having his head turned by the recollection of the scene through which he has been wandering.

1826—Sir Walter Scott, eleven years later, after Austen’s death, his enthusiasm having grown

*Also read again and for the third time at least Miss Austen’s very finely written novel of Pride and Prejudice. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvement and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. …the exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting from the truth of the description and the sentiment is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!

1870—Anthony Trollope

*Emma, the heroine, is treated almost mercilessly. In every passage of the book she is in fault for some folly, some vanity, some ignorance,_-or indeed for some meanness.. . . Nowadays we dare not make our heroines so little.

1979—Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar

*Austen’s story is especially flattering to male readers because it describes the taming not just of any woman but specifically of a rebellious, imaginative girl who is amorously mastered by a sensible man. No less than the blotter literally held over the manuscript on her writing desk, Austen’s cover story of the necessity for silence and submission reinforces women’s subordinate position in patriarchal culture. . . . At the same time, however.. . under this cover story, Austen always stimulates her readers “to supply what is not there.” [ last quotation is from Virginia Woolf.]

The Talk of the Town Austen Anew [ABSTRACT] 1995

Talk story about the current popularity of Jane Austen’s works in Hollywood. “Clueless,” based on “Emma,” is already a hit; “Persuasion” opens in the fall; “Sense and Sensibility” is coming at Christmas; and “Emma” is being shot right now. Clearly, it’s Austenmania in filmland this season. Why ever so? Lindsay… by Greg Critser

1997—**Susan M. Korba

*For years, critics of Emma have been circling around the apparently disconcerting issue of the protagonist’s sexuality. . Claudia Johnson finds that. . . “transparently misogynist, sometimes even homophobic, subtexts often bob to the surface of the criticism about her.” Johnson cites Edmund Wilson’s ominous allusions and Marvin Mudrick’s dark hints about Emma’s infatuations with and preference for other women as examples of the unease aroused by this particular Austen heroine.

1999—**David Andrew Graves

*For the last two years I have been using software as a tool for analysing texts for patterns in word sequence and word frequency… . From the viewpoint of word frequency by semantic category, Emma stands as Jane Austen’s lightest and brightest novel, strongly positive, and with the lowest incidence negative feeling, just as she promised us from the very sentence.

2007 ** Germaine Greer:

*Austen’s heroines are middle class, ordinary with no special advantages of looks or education or wealth and yet they are heroes. The battles they fight are the battles of every day They struggle for self control in agonising circumstances. They turn aside so that other people can’t see the hot tears that star eyes. For hot tears do start into their eyes: Austen’s heroines are all passionate, all proud, all sensitive They must deal with the common trials of every young woman’s life, bullying, disappointment, misunderstanding, and most unbearable helplessness to influence the course of events. Though 190 years have passed since Austen’s death, women’s emotional lives still present the same challenges.

Clueless #

Initially Clueless was considered just another vacuous Teenpix with a limited lifespan, however its appropriations of Austen’s Emma, gave it sustenance and developed its cult following and a status as a worthy text.

Clueless is a feisty chick flick lit that can stand on its own merits as a well constructed lasting text. Though it appropriates much from Emma it updates and enhances the concerns, situations to universalise them and provides an access to the original text motivating young people to read and find relevance in it.

Its major worthy attributes are its subtle witty quick repartee, its credible situations, its sound score and its visual effects.

**From IMDB

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Clueless: An near-perfectly updated classic, 17 August 2006

Author: Flagrant-Baronessa from the kingdom of far, far away (Sweden)

“Isn’t my house classic? The columns date all the way back to 1972.”

When romantic high-school comedy Clueless (1995) was released, it was immediately vaulted into cult-status and firmly stapled as one of the most original teen-flicks of the 1990s. ‘Original’ is perhaps a term wrongly applied since it is based on the queen of romance Jane Austen’s Emma (1815) . But what Clueless did was update the classic story by coating it with high school drama, teenage girls and shopping and sprinkle it with heavy doses of humour.

Emma is no longer Emma; she is Cher (Alicia Silverstone), a spoiled rich girl walking around in her Beverly Hills mansion in a bubble of stereotypes and teen-clichés – but with a great big heart. So big-hearted, in fact, that she takes on the lost goofy new girl in her school to find her love and popularity, knowing full-well that it could destroy her own reputation. Clueless thus sees Cher and her best friend Dionne (Stacey Dash) on a mission to do good. Real good.

All the detours this mission entail are captured brilliantly in the film, taking the form of love-interests, parties, shopping and misunderstandings. From Cher’s grumpy lawyer-father (an hilarious Dan Hedaya) and her nerdy step-brother (a likable Paul Rudd) to her eccentric group of friends at school, Clueless is a superb ride of teenage comedy camp. Only just over 10 years old, it is still extremely dated today. But no matter, because the 90s clichés like skateboarding, Marky Mark and the catch-phrase “As if” just make it so much more contemporary and fun to watch.

What elevates Clueless (1995) above generic high school comedy is its use of stereotypes. In most films they are unintentionally there to create a subconscious effect, but in Clueless they are made fun of to a much higher degree – they are overblown and glorious. It brutally satirizes rich kids and their ‘problems’ and juxtaposes them with a classic, heart-felt love-story. The kind that only Jane Austen can write. 9/10