Young ladies of their time: Emma Woodhouse vs. Cher Horowitz

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2003

24 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of contents

1 Introduction

2 Similar or different? Introducing the young ladies

3 Their home: Highbury vs. Beverly Hills

4 Cher – a fashion victim! But what about Emma?

5 Who is more class conscious?

6 Their favourite activities: Makeovers and matchmaking

7 The young ladies´ love life

8 Character transformation: Who learns more?

9 Conclusion

10 Bibliography

Primary sources:

Secondary sources:

1 Introduction

“The rise of Jane Austen as a major force in the motion picture industry seems to demonstrate that she has withstood the test of time and is, indeed, very much of our time. If Austen is good enough for Hollywood, which provides the world with what it wants to see, and rarely rushes to back a loser, then surely her work must be of a kind which appeals to late twentieth-century sensibilities”[1]. Almost all of her novels have been made into movies; especially her last novel Emma, written 1816, has been blessed with a lot of film adaptions. The four most recent adaptions are “Emma (BBC, 1972; dir. John Glenister); Emma (Meridian, 1996; dir. Diarmuid Lawrence); Emma (Miramax, 1996; dir. Douglas McGrath); and Clueless (Paramount, 1995; dir. Amy Heckerling)”[2]. Amy Heckerlings Clueless is not at all comparable with the other screen adaptions of Emma. The other adpations can be placed into the genre of ´Heritage Films`, which “attempt to imitate the period or setting of the original text”[3]. Amy Heckerling´s adaption on the other hand brings Austen´s novel Emma into our time and culture. She doens´t try to produce a movie imitating the 19th century. She translated Jane Austen´s comedy of manners into a “high school/shopping mall movie [which] was a box office and video rental `sleeper´ hit, making $54 million for Paramount […]”[4]. So we can rather talk of an imitation than a translation.

Heckerling wanted to bring Jane Austen´s novel Emma into our world. She wanted to introduce teenagers of the 20th century to Jane Austen´s works. She didn´t want to create another heritage film which apparantly bores normal high school kids. So Heckerling asked herself, how Emma would be, if she would live today. And in her movie Clueless, Heckerling tried to achieve just that. She took Jane Austen´s heroine Emma Woodhouse, from the novel Emma, called her Cher Horowitz, and placed her into the America of the 20th century. The reason that Heckerling picked Austen´s novel Emma to transfer it into our time, is quite obvious. The key themes, presented in Emma, are still up to date and can be easily brought to the cinema today, as they are universal and timeless.

After reading the novel Emma, and then watching the movie Clueless, one can find many parallels, some more apparent than others. Especially the characters can easily be compared with each other. As already mentioned before, Emma Woodhouse becomes Cher Horowitz, Mr. Knightley becomes Josh, Harriet becomes Tai, Robert Martin becomes Travis, Frank Churchill becomes Christian, Mr. Elton becomes Elton (the only one who keeps his name), Mr. Woodhouse becomes Mel Horowitz, Augusta Hawkins becomes Amber and Mrs. Weston is `replaced´ by Cher´s best friend Dionne. Of course one can realize at once that certain characters are missing (Jane Fairfax, Miss Bates and Mrs. Bates…) and that we get introduced to certain new characters (Murray, the teachers…). But I don´t want to focus on these differences and parallels today. Instead I want to put the two main characters, the two young ladies, Emma and Cher into the centre of my work.

The aim of this paper is to find out if Heckerling brought Emma Woodhouse into our world or if she invented a brand new character, called Cher. In my paper I want to find similarities and differences of these two young ladies, so that the question asked above can be answered. First of all I want to introduce the two young ladies in general, what kind of persons they are, what they like or don´t like, etc.. Then I want to take a closer look at their home. Where do they live? What are the similarities? Afterwards I want to characterize them in more detail, corresponding to certain different themes. What does fashion mean to them? Are both of them class conscious? What are they doing the whole day, especially in their spare time? Are there similarities concerning their love life, or is the storyline concerning the two heroines love life indentical? And finally I want to find out who actually becomes a better person at the end, as both get transformed and enlightened.

Hopefully after the analysis of these two heroines we can decide whether Cher Horowitz is actually Emma Woodhouse, or if there are too many differences, so that we can come to the conclusion that Amy Heckerling created a brand new charcter, which fits better into the America of the 20th century.

2 Similar or different? Introducing the young ladies

The first sentence of Jane Austen´s novel Emma already sets Emma in the center of the story. It starts with an introduction of the heroine herself. “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her”[5]. Here we get a first impression of her character. She is definetely a young lady who doesn´t have to worry about anything. She is goodlooking, smart, has money, a nice home (à chapter 3) and nothing can disturb her live. We don´t find out anything about her appearance, except that she is almost 21 years old and a virgin. Later Mrs. Weston tells us more about her appearance. “Can you imagine anything nearer perfect beauty than Emma altogether – face and figure? […] Such an eye! – the true hazle eye – and so brilliant! Regular features, open countenance, with a complexion! Oh! What a bloom of full health, and such a pretty height and size; such a firm and upright figure…She is loveliness itself”[6]. Here we get a description of Emma´s appearance, though not in detail. Emma´s appearance is actually never described in the novel, expect by Mrs. Weston in this paragraph. But this actually isn´t important for the novel. Much more important is her character. Which is quite often described throughout the novel. It´s not hard for the reader to find out that Emma is snobbish, selfish, stubborn, spoiled, and that she possesses “the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself”[7]. Although she has these bad qualities, everyone looks up to her, she´s the `Queen of Highbury´, who slowly learns more and more throughout the novel and becomes a different person.

Not the `Queen of Highbury´, but the queen of `Bronson Alcott High School´ - that´s Cher. She can be characterized exactly like Emma: “handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition”[8]. There´s also nothing which can disturb her life seriously, except fashion (à chapter 4) and men (à chapter 7). But we have a detailed description how Cher looks, as we can see her with our own eyes. So of course we know in detail how she looks. But as we don´t have a detailed description how Emma looks, we can´t compare their looks, apart from their beauty. But concerning their age, Heckerling did a significant change. She made Cher five years younger than Emma. Of course, Heckerling had good motives to do that. “She probably felt that an American high school student is more likely to experience the kind of idleness that Emma experienced as an unmarried female than an American woman at any other stage of her existence”[9]. A 20-year-old nowadays wouldn´t worry about clothes and boys the whole day, she would have other things to worry about. And it would be also kind of awkward that a 20-year-old would be still a virgin in today´s America. But Cher is exactly like Emma, a spoiled, high-class snob, who thinks only about herself, and knows how popular she is, until she gets transformed, just like Emma. Both ladies think that they are better than others and have prejudices against lower classes (à chapter 5).

Emma is definetely the ruler of Hartfield, as her father doesn´t really say anything. Since her mother´s death, she manages everything at home. Emma says about herself: “ few married women are half as much mistress of their husband´s house as I am of Hartfield”[10]. It seems more that Emma is the masculine figure and her dad the feminine figure at Hartfield. But Emma are given even more masculine traits in the novel. In contrast to her father, Emma leaves Hartfield very often, whereas her father never leaves the house. And also her language, which is clear, distinct and elaborated, and is able to compete with masculine speech, gives her a closer position to men. This can´t be said about Cher. Just like Emma´s, Cher´s mom also died, which doesn´t make her the ruler of their house. In Cher´s case, it´s still her father who sets the rules. He isn´t the feminine character, as he goes out and works as a succesful lawyer. Here Cher is just occupied with his health and makes him take his vitamins etc., but she doesn´t rule anything or is given any other male qualities.

According to their time period, both girls spend their time differently. Whereas Emma “spends most of her time socializing, refining her accomplishments (which are those of her age, class and gender), such as painting, playing the piano, reading, composing and deciphering riddles, cultivating the art of conversation, doing occasionally good deeds […], Cher spends most of her time hanging out with her girlfriends, learning to drive, shopping, flaneusing in Rodeo Drive, dieting, exercising […] watching television, refining her dress sense, cultivating the art of the argot, eventually doing some good deeds”[11]. When looking closer at the girls activities, we can see that they are not too different. Both can enjoy things, other young ladies can´t enjoy, as they don´t have the money to do things like that. Emma does things, girls of her status in society did in the 19th century and Cher does things, girls with her status in society do today. Of course Heckerling couldn´t let Cher play the piano or painting pictures, as these are just not activities teenagers nowadays do. It just wouldn´t have fit into the `teenpic movie´ Heckerling produced. But both have a favourite spare-time activity: matchmaking and makeovers (à chapter 6). Heckerling didn´t have any problems adopting this activity, as it is timeless.

It is not very difficult to recognize that both girls fit easily into the cultural stereotype of their period. Emma as the wealthy, high class girl who doesn´t worry about anything and doesn´t care too much about all the poor people around her, and Cher as the dumb, materialistic blonde, who thinks too much of herself and has nothing else in her mind than fashion, boys, and sex. But the two girls can´t be put into this stereotypical system as they mature throughout the story and become individuals, who can´t be placed into a stereotypical scheme (à chapter 8).

Heckerling had good reasons to transform Jane Austen´s character Emma into the stereotypical `blonde´, as “Cher doesn´t have to prove herself virtuous as a lady. […] While modern audiences may not relate to the concept of ladyhood we do relate to that of a dumb blonde”[12]. Heckerling wants that we already imagine what kind of person Cher is before we even really know her. She plays with this stereotype and makes us think about it. She wants to achieve that her audience doesn´t have prejudices against stereotypes, as they proove, just like Cher (and Emma), that their characteristics are not always consistent with the stereotype.

But why did Heckerling choose Alicia Silverstone, and not someeone else, as Cher. Actually Heckerling needed to find a character which suits Emma perfectly and which also fits perfectly into Beverly Hills of 1995. And of course, Alicia does just that. She is as vital and pretty, as we imagine Emma to be after reading the novel. Heckerling even says herself “I was writing the script and I knew I wanted somebody new and wonderful who'd be beautiful and funny and be able to pull off this sort of oblivious quality and yet still be somebody you'd care about. And I saw the Arrowsmith video where Alicia was bungee-cord jumping and she was just so engaging. She's so beautiful and you just watch it and you go, what's this little girl going to do next”[13] ? And Heckerling kept right. Alicia does a great job playing Jane Austen´s heroine Emma in the America of the 20th century.


[1] Eggleston, R.: Emma, the Movies, and First-year Literature Classes, p. 1

[2] Hoberg, T. (1999): The multiplex heroine: Screen adaptions of Emma, p. 109

[3] Mazmanian, M.: Reviving Emma in a Clueless World, p. 2

[4] Sonnet, E.: From Emma to Clueless, p. 1

[5] Austen, J. (1994): Emma, p. 5

[6] Austen, J. (1994): Emma, p. 31

[7] Austen, J. (1994): Emma, p. 5

[8] Austen, J. (1994): Emma, p. 5

[9] Parill, S. (2002): Jane Austen on Film and Television, p. 121

[10] Austen, J. (1994): Emma, p. 67

[11] Stern, L. (2000): Emma in Los Angeles: Remaking the Book and the City, p. 228

[12] Mazmanian, M.: Reviving Emma in a Clueless World, p. 5

[13] (25.07.03)

Excerpt out of 24 pages


Young ladies of their time: Emma Woodhouse vs. Cher Horowitz
University of Stuttgart  (Institut für Amerikanistik)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Young, Emma, Woodhouse, Cher, Horowitz, Janespotting
Quote paper
Stefanie Grill (Author), 2003, Young ladies of their time: Emma Woodhouse vs. Cher Horowitz, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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