Marvel Emma by Nancy Butler and Janet Lee

This is a comic book, so let me say first that the illustrations are beautiful. The colors completely suit my image of Highbury, and the cover selected (of the five original paperbacks) has the riddle Mr. Elton sends (courtship) wrapped around a garland with, it looks to be Emma, imagining a love story in it. I especially like Emma’s arch look when she first banters with Mr. Knightley and the image of Mrs. Weston and Emma sitting together reading Frank’s letter after he returns to Enscombe.

But when the adapter calls the panels “mouthwatering,” the problems begin. This odd synesthetic choice of words FOR A WRITER aside, Butler makes several at best odd, and at worst inaccurate, misleading, or distracting, choices in this adaptation, among her good ones.

The faults first: The introduction oddly likens Mr. Knightley to Ferris Bueller, who “has to borrow transportation (but has oodles of charisma to make up for it).” Mr. Knightley? Don’t misunderstand me; unless I’ve just revisted Darcy, Mr. Knightley is my favorite Austen hero, but I wouldn’t call him charismatic, any more than I would Edward Ferrars or Edmund Bertram. (Also no period at end of last sentence: hello, editors?)

Once the actual story begins, Butler has Mr. Woodhouse call Mr. Knightley just “Knightley,” which significantly lessens the yuck factor when Mrs. Elton does it later. Even the narrator is inconsistent with what she calls the hero. In one instance, the left side of the page has “Knightley left, still vexed,” while the right side has “Mr. Knightley was so much displeased by his quarrel.” But then, worst of all, Emma calls him that! Shocking and wrong! She says, when speaking to Harriet of Robert Martin, “No, he has not the air of Knightley” (sounds more like Caroline Bingley than like Emma).

This is not the only inaccuracy with respect to character revelation through language and behavior. Mrs. Goddard, for instance, tells Emma that “it would be a kindness to befriend” Harriet Smith, though we know it would be completely out of line for the mistress of the boarding school to advise the mistress of Hartfield! Later, Butler has Mr. Knightley put down Frank’s penmanship publicly, which seems unlike Austen’s Mr. Knightley (and mine). I understand the time restraints in adapting a lengthy work to this form, but Mrs. Weston would not say so bluntly “I have made a match between Mr. Knightley and Jane Fairfax.” When changes violate character, they cease to be acceptable.

There are also some sloppy mistakes that detract from the beauty of the text. Mr. Woodhouse, for instance, says (not thinks, which would be clearly indicated by squiggly bubbles) to Emma “I cannot wish to prevent Emma from going.” Mrs. Weston asks Emma if she is attending “the Coles dinner party,” no apostrophe. On the very next page, it’s done correctly. Another glitch: “When Mrs. Coles spoke of it”—typos are acceptable perhaps in my little reviews, but in this beautiful book? Isabella is said at one point to have connected herself unexceptionally. Why un? Doesn’t she mean the opposite? It’s not the only typo (thorough for through), but there’s only one moment in which the illustrations were disappointing: when the new pianoforte revelation occurs, there are two different images of Frank, but in different clothes at different ends of the table. In one, he is sandy-haired, and in the other, brunet. I studied the image (hoping one was Mr. Knightley or some other man, but no, they both appear to be Frank.)

Now, the good highlights: I liked that some of Butler’s choices made me revisit the book. Does Emma’s sister really say she’ll walk through the snow (from Randalls) to avoid leaving her children, I wondered? (I knew it happens in the Jonny Lee Miller/Romola Garai adaptation, but in the book the answer is: yes, but only if their carriage fails them on the way home.) I liked that the coachman had a blanket—I wondered how they managed the cold! I had forgotten that Jane’s mom was Miss Bates’ sister, which seems strange somehow. Does Emma go to the Coles’ because her father and Mrs. Weston decide she should? (answer: Mrs. Weston encourages it, and Mr. Woodhouse allows himself to be persuaded, though he still wants Emma to leave early.) Does Mr. Knightley issue the Donwell Abbey invitation to Mrs. Elton himself, as Butler has it? (answer: yes, he does, though the text suggests he is not wholly serious in his suggestion.) Emma and Mr. Elton BOTH say “at present” during the drawing scene; does that happen in the book? (answer: yes. Emma says it first; when Mr. Elton repeats it, he does so with emphasis suggesting he and Emma will soon be husband and wife.) It felt like an abrupt shift from Harriet’s mourning Elton to “Frank Churchill did not come to Randalls,” but then I wondered if that was the volume break, in which case it makes more sense (answer: it isn’t, though it’s oddly close to one).

Overall, it’s a lovely addition to my Jane Austen collection, but the Jane Austen world cries out for an editor (maybe I should start freelancing), and her characters, for accurate representations in all their depictions.

Published in: on December 29, 2011 at 11:36 am  Leave a Comment  

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