Clueless and Jane Austen's Emma

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This movie is loosely based on Jane Austen's novel Emma, transposed into a modern US high school. Special thanks to Sally Palmer and Janet Elizabeth Hayes for having made postings that pointed out parallels between the two

I notice that people who have read Emma tend to get more enjoyment out of the movie than those who approach it as merely yet another teen flick.

General info about the movie

wide release 7/19/95
Running Length
Produced by
Paramount Pictures
Written and directed by
Amy Heckerling
Scott Rudin and Robert Lawrence
Bill Pope
Debra Chiate
Production Designer
Steven Jordan
David Kitay


Real life name -- Name of character in movie -- Corresponding character in Jane Austen's Emma.

Alicia Silverstone -- Cher Horowitz -- Emma Woodhouse
Popular high school student, 15 (almost 16), living in Beverley hills.
Stacey Dash -- Dionne -- Miss Taylor
Cher's best friend (they were both named after early '70's singers "who now do infomercials").
[Corresponds to Miss Taylor / Mrs. Weston in the role of more experienced friend to Emma/Cher.]
Brittany Murphy -- Tai -- Harriet Smith
An unhip (``clueless'') new student taken in hand by Cher.
Paul Rudd -- Josh -- Mr. Knightley
Cher's college-age step-brother.
Dan Hedaya -- Mel -- Mr. Woodhouse
Cher's rich but strict and doting father.
Justin Walker -- Christian -- Frank Churchill
Cher's crush that doesn't work out...
Wallace Shawn -- Mr. Hall -- Mr. Weston
Cher's high school debate teacher.
Twink Caplan -- Miss Geist -- Miss Taylor / Mrs. Weston
History teacher.
[Corresponds to Miss Taylor / Mrs. Weston in the role of the object of Cher's successful attempt at matchmaking.]
Breckin Meyer -- Travis Birkenstock -- Robert Martin
Tai's preferred.
Donald Faison -- Murray -- [None]
Dionne's boyfriend.
Julie Brown -- Miss Stoeger -- [None]
Gym teacher.
Jeremy Sisto -- Elton -- Mr. Elton
Cher's choice for Tai.
Elisa Donovan -- Amber -- Mrs. Elton?
Cher's rival.

Parallels with Jane Austen's Emma

  • The counterpart to the Mr. Weston / Miss Taylor match is a romance (which is promoted by Cher -- the Emma counterpart -- and Dionne) between the debate teacher and the school's guidance counselor. The movie ends with their wedding.
  • The counterpart to Robert Martin is a skater/druggie boy with a good heart who is deemed socially unacceptable.
  • The counterpart to Mr. Elton is actually named "Elton".
  • The counterpart to the portrait of Harriet Smith is a photograph of Tai taken by Cher that winds up in Elton's locker.
  • When Elton snubs Tai (the Harriet Smith counterpart) at a dance, Josh (the Mr. Knightley counterpart) steps in to save her from embarrassment.
  • The carriage maneuvers are repeated with the teenagers' cars. Elton tries to attack the Emma-counterpart in a car after the dance.
  • The counterparts of the Gypsies (who threaten Harriet Smith in Emma) are gang bullies at the local mall who threaten Tai; she is rescued by Christian (the Frank Churchill counterpart).
  • Tai, the Harriet Smith counterpart, burns the contents of her box of Elton memorabilia and confides that she thinks the Mr. Knightley counterpart likes her.
  • Miss Bates and the Box Hill incident become a maid from El Salvador who is rudely described by Cher, the Emma-counterpart, as speaking "Mexican" (though Cher is more emotionally affected when she fails her driving test).
  • The secret of the Frank Churchill counterpart (that allows him to flirt with Emma without any chance of a serious involvment) turns out to be that he's gay (there is no real counterpart to Jane Fairfax).

Some reactions from Janeites

Date: Mon, 17 Jun 1996 08:20:01 EST
From: Carolyn Nelson

"I finally rented Clueless this weekend and saw it for the first time. Not the typical movie experience, since I was scrutinizing every line for the parallels in Jane Austen, but fun! I think my biggest laugh-out-loud was when Cher was sitting in class realizing she ought to find a guy for herself. The sultry music rolls and Christian, sensual mouth, pompadour, and jacket slung over his shoulder, steps into the classroom bathed in a golden glow. I screamed, ``It's Frank!!!'' -- my son thought I was nuts."

Date: Wed, 19 Jun 1996 10:35:33 -0700
From: Karen P

"My favorite moment from Clueless is the scene in which Cher walks along Rodeo Drive in total misery at the mess she has created, but even in the depth of her despair catches sight of an outfit in a window and can't help wondering whether they have it in her size. It matches the moment in the book where Emma is kicking herself for having made Harriet love Mr. Elton, and then catches herself incorrigibly thinking of matching her instead with William Coxe, ``a pert young lawyer''."

Date: Fri, 16 Aug 1996 07:41:58 -0700
From: Karen P

"In Emma, Mr. Knightley begins to sense consciously the real nature of his feelings for Emma when Frank Churchill shows up in Highbury, because he feels immediate jealousy. Emma notices that Mr. Knightley shows less than his usual generosity of spirit toward Frank, but she has no idea why. The movie Clueless displays a clear understanding of the moment when Mr. Knightley's view of Emma changes. In Clueless, the Mr. Knightley figure, Josh, watches as Cher [~Emma] comes downstairs, looking unusually beautiful, for her first date with Christian [~Frank Churchill]. The scene is accompanied by the music from the movie Gigi, from the scene in which Gaston suddenly realizes that Gigi is no longer a gawky girl but a beautiful young woman to whom he is much attracted."

* Go to a student's paper on Emma-Clueless parallels.

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