As If!: The Oral History of Clueless as Told by Amy Heckerling, the Cast, and the Crew, by Jen Chaney – A Review

As If the Oral History of Clueless Jen Chaney 2015 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

In July of 1995, I had just turned 15 when my high school girlfriends suggested we go see the new movie Clueless. At the time, I didn’t know that writer/director Amy Heckerling had based the plot of her movie about a pretty, rich girl from Beverly Hills on Jane Austen’s Emma, but that didn’t matter. My friends and I might not have been “handsome, clever, and rich” like Emma or Cher, but we were absolutely delighted by the message and world of Clueless. My love for that movie has been growing ever since. In Jen Chaney’s book, As If!, mega fans can finally learn all the behind the scenes details about what some folks believe to be the greatest Austen film adaptation of all time. (My apologies to Colin Firth.)

As you’ll see right there in the title, As If! is an “oral history” of Clueless. Basically, that just means that the author has collected interviews with the main cast and crew and patched them together into a readable order. She begins at the beginning, explaining how Amy Heckerling wrote the movie and managed to get backing from Paramount. The longer, mid-section of the book focuses on the day-to-day making of the movie during the two-and-a-half month shooting schedule. The author ends with various reflections on how Clueless became such a pop culture phenomenon and the ways the movie changed fashion, language, and the girl-centric story telling for the better. You can preview the basic style of the book by checking out this article Jen Chaney wrote for Vulture about the Val Party Scene.

There are some truly interesting bits in here. The author includes stories about the studios that passed on Clueless (only to really, really regret that later) and the casting process (if things had gone differently, Reese Witherspoon or Angelina Jolie might have been explaining that Amber was “a full-on Monet”). There are scene-by-scene breakdowns of what filming was like. Did you know The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were drunk during Cher and Christian’s first date? And that Donald Faison actually shaved the top of his head at the Val party? Or that the guy who mugs Cher (and ruins her Alaïa dress) was cast only a few hours before filming that scene? Yup, it’s all true and in the book. Continue reading

Q&A with Juliette Wells, Editor of Emma: 200th Anniversary Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen

Emma 200th Anniversary Edition edited by Juliette Wells 2015 x 200We hit another publication milestone this year with the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s most lauded novel, Emma. I have previously reviewed the novel and the 2010 film adaptation extensively, so I thought for this new 200th Anniversary Annotated Edition by Penguin Deluxe Classics that you might enjoy hearing from another source—someone who is an Austen scholar, college professor and all-around-friend of Jane—editor Juliette Wells. Here is an informative interview by her publisher that I am happy to share.

When we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Emma, what in particular are we celebrating? What’s new about this edition? 

We’re celebrating the 200th anniversary of Emma’s original publication, in London in December, 1815. The date of publication is a little confusing because “1816” was printed on the title page of the first edition of the novel, but it was actually released in December, 1815. I think this gives us the right to celebrate for a whole year!

And what better way to celebrate than to re-read Emma, or read it for the first time? Our 200th anniversary annotated edition has everything you need, all in one place, to help you appreciate this wonderful novel. You can immerse yourself in Austen’s world and also have, right at your fingertips, explanations of some of the elements of the novel that tend to trip up or puzzle today’s readers.

In the Austen canon, what would you say makes Emma special and unique?  

Emma is special because it’s the capstone of Austen’s career as an author. She had already published three novels (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park), and she was at the very top of her game as a writer. She didn’t know it, of course, but Emma would be the last book she saw through to publication. When Austen died in July 1817, she left two essentially completed novels (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion), which her brother published at the end of that year. So Emma is the last Austen novel that was published in the exact form that she herself approved.

Emma is also special because it’s the most perfect example of Austen’s particular genius as an author, which is (I think) to create a recognizable, engaging fictional world from the slenderest of materials. She writes about everyday life and ordinary people—you won’t find kings and queens in her novels, or ghosts or vampires. Her effects are wonderfully subtle. Continue reading

Emma in Love: Jane Austen’s Emma Continued, by Emma Tennant – A Review & Rant

Emma in Love Emma Tennant 1996 x 200From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

When a book is universally acknowledged by Janeites as the worst Jane Austen sequel ever written, why would I want to read it? Temptation? Curiosity? Due diligence? Take your pick. I like to think that I am open to carefully drawing my own conclusions before passing judgment. After-all, Austen told us through her observant character Elizabeth Bennet, “It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first.”— Pride and Prejudice

So, it was with wide eyes and an open heart that I began Emma Tennant’s Emma in Love: Jane Austen’s Emma Continued. Published in 1996, it was controversial before it even hit bookstores. Eager to cash in on the release of two film adaptations of Emma staring Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale, Tennant’s UK publisher chose to move up the publication date to stymie its competitor, Perfect Happiness, by Rachel Billington. That might seem like good business (or mercenary tactics by some), but that was not the real controversy. Tennant had chosen to include a romantic relationship between the married Emma Knightley and a new female character, Baroness Elisa d’Almane. Her reasoning for this provocative choice? Why, historical precedence by scholars of course! When interviewed in 1996 Tennant boldly stated, “I am not taking any liberties. Emma is known as the lesbian book in Jane Austen’s oeuvre. It has strong lesbian overtones and undertones. In the original, Emma absolutely adores Harriet Smith, her protégé and spends a lot of time with her. There’s a passage where she describes how Harriet’s soft blue eyes are just the type of eyes that Emma loves. I am not the first to draw out her lesbianism. Serious academics have found many clues to it in Emma.” 1. Continue reading

Austen Project Announces McCall Smith for Modern Reimagining of Emma

Author Alexander McCall Smith (2013) by Michael LionstarThose folks at HarperCollins really know how to make Janeites scream with joy—well—at least this Janeite, who is over the moon from their announcement last Friday that Alexander McCall Smith is slated to re-write Emma for The Austen Project.

One of my favorite contemporary authors, McCall Smith is renowned for his delightful No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, filled with the intimate characterizations and laugh-out-loud social humor. Better yet, he is a huge Jane Austen fan! His writing talents are an ideal match to Jane Austen’s Emma, a masterpiece of “minute detail” layered with unique characters and intricate plot. I am on my knees in gratitude to publisher Kate Elton (we promise not to call her Mrs. E.) for her choice. In my humble opinion McCall Smith is the perfect choice for a contemporary re-write and I am all anticipation of its release in 2015, the bicentenary year of Emma’s original publication.

The Austen Project will include contemporary reimagining’s of all of Jane Austen’s six major novels by popular authors. First up in the series will be, Sense and Sensibility, by Joanna Trollope which hits book shelves (and digital readers) this month on October 29th followed by Val McDermid’s interpretation of Northanger Abbey on March 27th 2014 and Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld in 2015. That leaves Mansfield Park and Persuasion still up for grabs. Continue reading

The Annotated Emma, by Jane Austen, Annotated and Edited by David M. Shapard – A Review

The Annontated Emma, by Jane Austen, edited by David M. Shapard (2012)Of all of Jane Austen’s six major works, I have always been daunted by Emma: both the novel and its eponymous heroine. It is Austen’s longest work and contains her most “troublesome creature” Miss Emma Woodhouse.

I am not alone in my challenge to understand and appreciate this clever tale. The first time I read it many years ago I was mystified. It took further readings and research to fully appreciate it. I only wish on first acquaintance that I had this new annotated edition of Emma by Prof. David Shapard available to me. This is the fourth Austen novel that he has annotated – and it is indeed a wonder. At a hefty 928 pages, no stone has been left unturned to offer the reader: an introduction, bibliography and detailed chronology of events; explanation of historical context; citations from Austen’s life, letters, and other writings; maps of the places in the novel, and nearly 200 informative illustrations. Phew! If the eBook version included film clips, we could all throw up our hands and proclaim that there was indeed nothing left to experience in the Emma Woodhouse lexicon.

Published in 1815, Austen was at the top of her game as a writer and many scholars proclaim it as her masterpiece. Readers will argue that point. I will too. There are many elements of story and characters that I adore – and some not so much. Though first time readers (especially young students and some early critics) thought it is a snooze fest, if one looks beyond the surface, Emma is an intricate story focused on the astute characterization and social reproof which Austen is famous for. Our heroine Emma Woodhouse is a complex character that on first acquaintance is rather a pill. Austen gave herself a great challenge in creating “a heroine whom no one but myself will like.”  In contrast with her other heroines, Miss Woodhouse does not have any social or financial concerns and thus no compelling need to marry. Therein lies the rub. We have no sympathy for her whatsoever. She’s rich, she’s spoiled and she’s stuck up. Who indeed could possibly like such a “troublesome creature”? During the course of the novel we witness her exerting her superior notions of who is suitable for whom as she match makes for her friends with disastrous results. But…what a great journey we are privileged to be take on. Here are a few of my reactions to the novel and David Shapard’s elaboration of it:

The Good: Notwithstanding Emma Woodhouse, it is the secondary characters that really shine in Emma for me. Harriet Smith, Emma’s young, impressionable friend is one my favorite of Austen’s creations. Even though she is undereducated and from the wrong side of the blanket, by the end of the novel she knows her own heart and is superior in my mind to the grand dame of the first family of consequence in Highbury, Emma herself. Austen excelled at sharp wit and comedy in this novel. None can match Mrs. Elton in snobbery and conceit, Miss Bates as the garrulous spinster who is all heart and no brains, and Frank Churchill who is so slyly smarmy that we don’t see it coming. Ha!

Shapard’s format of having the unabridged text on the left page and notes, asides and explanations on the right is continued in the edition. He writes in an accessible style that is both enlightening and enjoyable. Even after years of study this Janeite enjoyed revisiting facts, learning new ones, and delighting in the black and white period illustrations.

The Bad: Novice readers: you may think that not a lot happens in the narrative so pay attention to details and glean facts from the notes. Even though by the end of the novel Emma Woodhouse does realize her faults and missapplyments, I never really believe that she will change that much. (spoilers) I speculate that her new husband Mr. Knightley will have his hands full correcting Emma and keeping her in check. The novel would have benefited from a stronger tension than the fact that Emma does not think she has to marry but wants to match up all her friends instead. There are no real villains or serious life challenges here, so modern readers will be a bit flummoxed. The between the lines social commentary and humor are key, making it not only a literary masterpiece, but a delightfully layered and complex read.

With the annotation doubling the size, this volume becomes a doorstop quality chunkster. The publisher wisely used lightweight quality paper and the binding allows for easily movement, but at one and a half pounds, it weighs a ton and the sheer size may be intimidating. The upside is that at $17.95 the price is a steal for the amount of research material and images therein.

The Ugly: Sadly, authors have very little choice or input on the cover art. In this case, that fact is keenly apparent. The cover does not match the quality of the novel and the annotation. We realize that we are not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but this one is just ghastly.

“Doing just what she liked; highly esteeming Miss Taylor’s judgments, but directed chiefly by her own. The real evils, indeed, of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself….” Emma, Chapter 1

The cover follows the theme of the three previous editions in the series by using a period illustration with enumerated details – but ouch. A black background on a bulky book? A photograph of a period frock that is not very fetching? The color combinations? Ack! My artistic sensibilities pray that buyers will not turn away in fright.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Annotated Emma, by Jane Austen, annotated and edited by David M. Shapard
Anchor Books (2012)
Trade paperback (928) pages
ISBN: 978-0307390776
NOOK: ISBN: 978-0307950246

  • For those of you who have long harbored the notion that Vic Sanborn of Jane Austen’s World and I are the same person…here is her review of THE ANNOTATED EMMA. Mine was so close to hers that I had to rewrite it. So for your enjoyment…here are our two dueling reviews of a great new edition to the Miss Emma Woodhouse lexicon!

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose