'Emma Approved' is a Feminist Triumph

The new web series "Emma Approved," which premiered on Monday morning, is a modern-day interpretation of Jane Austen's novel Emma. By the producers of the Emmy award-winning web series "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries," which adapted Pride & Prejudice to the modern day, the series already has a subscription base of over 70,000 fans eager to see how the plot will play out in the 21st century. "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" has been praised for its feminist overtones, focusing on female friendships and careers in addition to romance. Based on the first episode and the show's transmedia elements (all characters have Twitter accounts), here are 3 ways we can expect "Emma Approved" to similarly be approved by feminists:

1. Emma is An Entrepreneur

Austen herself described Emma as "a heroine whom no one but myself will much like." Emma Woodhouse is a self-absorbed woman who takes great joy in matchmaking, a pursuit that often leads her to injure the lives of others. This pursuit and Emma's general silliness could be read as Austen's critique of the societal limits on women in her day. Because women could not work, they had no choice but to turn to such amusements. 

In this modern day interpretation, Emma (played by Joanna Sotomura) is matchmaking as her career, not because of the inability to have a career. Emma introduces herself as the head of the Matchmaking and Lifestyle Division of the developing Highbury Partners Lifestyle Group. Given that this is Emma's career, it will be interesting to see how the superficiality and foolishness of her behavior in the novel translates. Already in the first episode Emma is shown breaking the law by recording her associate Alex Knightley (Brent Bailey) without his knowledge. The sort of mistakes between friends that helped Emma develop in the book could be much more detrimental to a young professional, but nonetheless, the move to start a company clearly shows Emma as intelligent and capable, if still imperfect. Emma's already active business blog takes on other stereotypically female pastimes — fashion, for instance — and challenges readers to consider their value. First and foremost, Emma's business is about helping other women. 

2. Harriet Isn't Helpless

Though Harriet Smith hasn't yet been introduced in the series, her Twitter account has been active for several weeks. While in the novel Harriet is sweet, her lower class status and subsequent reliance on Emma portray her as dependent and not particularly intelligent. Already this portrayal of Harriet challenges the novel's, giving Harriet more agency in her actions. Her Twitter profile describes her as "excited, eager, and ready for anything aka unemployed college graduate," and her recent tweets describe her job search — one that it is safe to assume will land her the open position as Emma's assistant. This switch from Emma assisting Harriet to Harriet becoming Emma's official assistant twists expectations of Harriet's helplessness, instead implying that it is Harriet's own work that will lead to her potential happy ending.

3. Marriage Isn't the Answer

Whereas the novel Emma begins with Emma flaunting her successful matching of Annie Taylor (Alexis Boozer) and Ryan Weston (Gabriel Voss), the first episode of the web series ends with Annie informing Emma that she's considering calling off the wedding. Of course, it is not inherently feminist to question marriage. However, this change reveals the feminist change in priorities of modern-day women. While in Austen's day marriage was the highest achievement a woman could reach, and thus refusing an offer was risky, today marriage is one of many decisions women are able to make in consideration of their own happiness. This reversal in the first episode signals that the series will treat romantic pairings as part of, but not all of, a woman's happiness — just as is true in the real world. 

It will be interesting to see how this emphasis on alternative paths for women will play out in the series' portrayal of Ms. Bates, one of Austen's rare spinster characters who is often a source of annoyance to Emma. It would be refreshing for Ms. Bates to be able to be single without being devalued as a friend and individual as a result, a portrayal that is possible in the modern world where women are not reliant on husbands for their support.

Watch the first episode of Emma Approved here


What are your predictions of further surprises Emma Approved has in store in its interpretation of Austen's novel?

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Rachel Grate

I'm an avid reader, an enthusiastic eater, a slow but determined runner, and a proud feminist. And a smiler. I'm a big fan of smiles. @RachelSGrate austenfeminist.wordpress.com

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