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Emma (Marvel Illustrated)
by Jane Austen, Nancy Butler & Janet Lee

At age 20, Emma Woodhouse is pretty, clever, and wealthy. She lives alone with her father, who allows Emma to do more or less as she pleases. After successfully introducing her governess to the man who became her husband, Emma is convinced that she has a talent for matchmaking. As she has no intention to marry herself, Emma turns her skill to finding a man for her friend Harriet, an impressionable young lady who will do anything Emma tells her. Convinced that Harriet is the secret child of the nobility, Emma encourages her to aim high, while family friend Mr. Knightley cautions Emma against setting the low-born Harriet up for disappointment. Another young gallant, the handsome Frank Churchill, has recently come to the small village of Highbury, and Emma begins to wonder if she has, in fact, fallen for him. It's a typical Austen web of tangled relationships and messy romances, retold as a graphic novel by Nancy Butler and Janet Lee.

Emma has always been one of my least favorite Austen novels. The author once described the character as “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like” - and I think that this holds true. Or, at least, I never much cared for Emma. She intentionally ruins a friend's budding romance and then constantly throws Harriet at men she'll never “catch”, ignoring Harriet's status as a bastard largely, I think, because Emma embarrassed to be so intimate with one of Harriet's true social class. Yes, Emma learns her lesson in the end, but she causes a lot of pain along the way, which makes me unsympathetic to her. I never found the secondary characters to be of much interest, either: Harriet is too much under Emma's thrall, Jane Fairfax has little personality, and Mr. Elton and Mr. Churchill are both selfish, careless men. One of the reasons Mr. Knightley is so likeable is that, he is utterly surrounded by terrible people - that, and he's often the only sensible person in the room.

In adapting the story to the graphic novel, Nancy Butler had quite a job. Emma, as I remember it – and it's been a good ten years or more since I last read it – is an extremely wordy novel. But she did a good job, for I could not detect any major missing plot points. The story moves along at a steady pace with entertaining dialogue intact.

It is in the illustrations that this graphic novel is weak. Although I was unfamiliar with Janet Lee's work prior to picking this up, I have to say that I am not a fan. The men have huge, oversized heads balanced on blocky bodies, an affliction that also plagues many of the women. Emma and Harriet appear quite dazed and bug-eyed in several panels; Mr. Knightley often looks to be a hunchback. I could see Ms. Lee's art style working in a more fantastical setting – fairy tales, perhaps, or Alice in Wonderland - but I found that it clashes with rather than enhances Jane Austen's story.

3 out of 5 stars

To read more about Emma (Marvel Illustrated), buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until May 24th...
2011: Bending the Boyne by J. S. Dunn
2010: Band of Angels by Julie Gregson
2009: Digital Piracy Affects Books, Too


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