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May Book Club - EMMA > More Emma Discussion Questions

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Laura E | 69 comments Mod
As we continue reading Jane Austen's Emma, here are a few more discussion questions to get the conversation going and to think about as you read.

1) What do you think of the book (so far)? How does Emma in the text compare with movie versions you may have seen?
2) As the story progresses, how does Emma's friendship with Harriet change? What does this tell us about Emma's evolution?
3) The introduction to the graphic novel version talks about the importance of transportation to the people in Austen's novel, such as who gets to ride in a carriage, who owns what sort of carriage, who walks instead of taking their carriage, and so on. What do carriages (and other demarcations of class in the novel) show us about what the characters think of themselves and their respective places in society?

Kyland | 29 comments Mod
1) So far, I am enjoying the novel and how Austen plays on the blunders and love triangles that tend to form when a group of young teenagers and twenty somethings are looking for partners. The way Harriet relies on Emma is a big part of the book and one can see how the confusion Emma causes effects everyone. The 2020 film version coincides very well and helps me to understand parts of the book that I may have misunderstood without visualizing the characters actions and facial expressions. There were jokes, arguments and conversations that were scripted word-for-word from Austen's work, which I understood much better when I saw it acted out on screen.
2) From what I've noticed thus far, Emma's friendship with Harriet changes from a mother hen and mentor to an intimate friend. As stated previously, Harriet looked for Emma's approval in every decision she made instead of finding the strength within herself to make those decisions. Emma's confidence and class seemed to far outweigh Harriet's own. However, over time, Harriet began to see that even Emma had imperfections and the propensity to jump to conclusions. She realized that Emma need not always be on a pedestal and that they both had something to teach one another.
3) Although I have not read the graphic novel version of this work, I noticed how class demarcation strongly affected the mindsets of the characters. For example, Harriet's station (or lack thereof) was mentioned numerous times (especially by Mr. Knightley) when it came to her options for betrothal. Because of class and/or trade, some characters were made to feel as if they should never even consider the possibility of being married to another because of the great disparity between their stations. Matters of the heart were not taken into account as much as furthering their financial positions in society. When people believe they are not worthy of greatness or love in a higher class due to their past or parentage (circumstances usually outside of one's control), they will never aspire to more. However, Emma believed that Harriet should have the right to aspire to a higher life situation if that was her desire. Her great love for her friend, as well as knowing Harriet's good nature, pushed Emma to find Harriet the best prospects in Highbury. On the other hand, Augusta Elton thought extremely highly of herself due to her position in society. She was very self-centered and arrogant, and many of her peers thought her to be of a lower class in personality than young, station-less Harriet Smith. This displays the importance of character and personality over position in society.

message 3: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura E | 69 comments Mod
Here are some more discussion questions, put together by Kyland with my additions! (Laura)

1) How do you feel Emma's personality is portrayed in the film or other adaptation(s) compared with the novel? Do you feel that the adaptation captures her most important characteristics?

2) How does the relationship between Emma and Mr. Knightley change and what do you think drives the shift? Are the nuances of the developing relationship more evident to you in the novel or in the adaptation(s)?

3) Let's talk about Frank Churchill. Were you surprised by the outcome of his story arch? How do you feel about his behavior to the women in his life? Do we love him or hate him? Did you feel differently about him in the book/film, depending on which you may have finished first?

Kyland | 29 comments Mod
1) In the 2020 adaptation, I feel that Emma was portrayed as very self-assured, caring and sentimental when it came to her close friends, and she had a bit of a prideful nature that kept her from easily admitting faults. To me, her character was enjoyable to watch because the actress portrayed those characteristics in a way that was not annoying to the viewer, but I still got a strong sense of her personality. She was confident and a little arrogant without being flat out cocky and rude, she was quick witted but skilled in her conversational approach, and she was compassionate but still very firm with her friends and family. In comparison to the book, the 2020 adaptation captured the most important characteristics that drove the plot of Austen's novel.

2) The relationship between Emma and Mister Knightley struck me in the book to be based on quick wit, joking and slight annoyance with one another that had love brewing beneath the surface. On the other hand, the 2020 movie seemed to draw on the stronger "thin line between love and hate" theme, with love winning out. Knightley's attitude towards Emma was usually one of frustration and disdain for her perceived arrogance, but you still see the change over time to admiration and love. I think there was always a deeper respect between the two that can be witnessed in the novel and the way the actors portray the characters in the movie; but the passion is a bit stronger and more abrupt in the movie to move the story forward within cinematic time limits.

3) Frank Churchill is a very beguiling character. When Mr. Knightley stated that no matter what infraction Churchill may have committed, everyone was quick to forgive him; this really told a lot about Churchill's character and what he felt he could get away with. I was very surprised by Frank's story arch and feel that as far as flirtation goes, this was not his first time leading other women on. In the book, it was a little harder for me to follow the flirtation, but seeing it acted out on screen made it a lot more obvious. From the film, he came off as a typical casual "player" or flirt, but I lost a lot of respect for him using someone else as a cover up for his true intentions. I was shocked at where his arch ended up, but also felt like it was an event I should have expected all along due to his nature and unreliability.

message 5: by Pat (new)

Pat L | 4 comments I watched the 2020 movie Emma but have never read the book. Until I googled some background info about Emma I was struggling to keep track of the characters and the story line. The movie did excellent with scenery, costumes and the ambiance of the era.

Your comments also gave me a deeper understanding of the story. I am retired from teaching high school girls and I would rate Emma as very confident, intelligent, indulged. Also nice, independent and fun loving. With a lot of idle time on her hands and intrigued at that age with male relationships she fell naturally into the match making role!

I enjoyed the evolving sequence of relationships. It was like Austin drew a chart before creating the story. The movie did a good job of showing the attraction between Emma and Mr. Knightly. Emma was so much younger. It was like he had to wait for her to grow up.


Kyland | 29 comments Mod
Welcome, Pat! We are thrilled to have you join the conversation and are glad that you have obtained a deeper understanding of Emma.

I agree with you, the 2020 film really did a wonderful job of giving the audience a visual of the world Austen created. It made grasping the themes within that era a lot simpler.

It was great that you noticed that Emma's intrigue with relationships likely stemmed from the idle time she had due to her station in society and opportunity to learn and indulge in whatever she wished at the age of twenty-one.

Jane Austen really did seem to organize her story perfectly when it came to forming the relationship between various characters, especially Emma and Mr. Knightley. Watching it all unfold in the film was very exciting.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

message 7: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura E | 69 comments Mod
I'm going to add some of my answers to the above questions, now that we're nearing the end of our discussion period for "Emma." Again, if you're just joining the group, you're welcome to jump in at any time, as the conversation can continue at our own pace! Later this month, we'll begin discussing the next book, "Treasure Island" (see June folder).
One of the biggest differences I saw between the book and the various adaptations is in the time given for Emma to reflect and develop internally. I really enjoyed getting to understand how she is thinking throughout the story. The actresses who play her do an excellent job of conveying this, but the films especially tend to rush through the events of the third volume, when Emma finds out about all the big reveals. I think the 2020 version gave me the impression that Emma found out about Frank Churchill's engagement and had the romantic confrontation with Mr. Knightley all in the same sequence of events! In the book, this all is spread out over the course of weeks, and it made more sense this way. While less dramatic, her evolution is more natural as she ponders all that was going on in her life and her part in it.
Another key difference between the films and the book is where Harriet and Emma end up when all is said and done. I like that in the book, Harriet and Robert Martin work things out for themselves, which I think shows growth on Harriet's part, away from being so dependent on Emma for approval. They necessarily end up needing to cool the friendship from its former intensity, but I think this is healthy for them both and probably realistic for a time when class disparity was so entrenched.
In addition to material demarcations of class, like carriages and visible wealth, I found it interesting how Emma considers the literal blood lines of gentility as a major factor in determining station in life. That Harriet may have been an "illegitimate" child was less of an issue to her eligibility when it was thought she must be a gentleman's daughter. Despite all of Emma's growth, she holds that Harriet's blood being that of tradesman's child is not enough to counter the "stain" of her questionable birth. This is where I'm glad we no longer live in Austen's time, though class is definitely still a factor in many respects. We see this in "Clueless" as Elton refuses to consider Tai, the modern Harriet character, because she is not from the right level of society.
"Clueless" is still my favorite of the "Emma" adaptations because of the ways it captures the less serious side of the main character. The 2020 version of "Emma" is also quite good, but it makes her seem a little more snobby than clueless in her original state. I did like the warmth the 2020 film captures between the Emma and Harriet as the story progresses. This version also creates a lot of great romantic tension between Knightley and Emma, such as the tenderness between them at the ball. Austen's clues in the book are much more subtle, such as kiss on the hand withheld at the last minute. In both book and movie, it's evident that they move from having sibling-like affection to romantic, with the ball as the pivotal moment of change.
Lastly, I was never much of a fan of Frank Churchill. Maybe it's because I knew the outcome of the story going in, but he seems so transparent in what he is doing! He is indeed a child of fortune, as everything just happens to fall into place for him; meanwhile, his beloved is worried sick over their secret engagement and he's playing both sides of the family (his adoptive parents and his biological father and wife) for the ultimate advantage. Does he love his Aunt/adoptive mother? Or does he merely tolerate her tempers to stay in possession of his inheritance? It seems clear that had her health not failed, he might well have let Jane Fairfax go on and become a governess (certain societal doom in that era) rather than risk his standing in the adoptive family. As it all works out in the end, I suppose we readers can forgive him, too, but the real life Frank Churchills of the world, who recklessly cause pain to loved ones and use others for their advantage, would stand to take note of how poorly things nearly turned out for him!

message 8: by Pat (new)

Pat L | 4 comments Thanks for your insights! This is why I love book clubs!

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