Books

Emma: 200th Anniversary Annotated Edition by Jane Austen

From Downton Abbey to Doctor Who, from BBC America to Sir Ian McKellen reciting Shakespeare in Marc Maron’s garage, America seems to have never fully disengaged itself from British popular culture.


Emma: 200th Anniversary Annotated Edition by Author: Jane Austen

Price: $17.00
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Length: 496 pages
Editor: Juliette Wells
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 2015-09
Amazon

During a June 2015 visit to Jimmy Kimmel Live!, English actress Emilia Clarke wowed Kimmel and the audience with her flawless, Southern California accent. When asked what inspired her, Clarke, stayed in character and responded, “I like, love Clueless.” I had not seen Clueless in a long time, and while doing some research, realized to my shock that I was probably the only Gen Xer alive who didn’t know that the film, directed by Amy Heckerling, was loosely based on a 19th-century Jane Austen novel. So when I was given the opportunity to review Penguin Classics’ 200th-anniversary edition of Emma, I jumped at the chance.

Does a novel written in December 1815 still hold up? That was the simple task I gave myself when I decided to review this novel. Let me also say that this was the first time I had ever read the book – I know, I know, shame on me – but it had just never sparked my curiosity. Even when I lived in India and was positively inundated with British fiction – Dickens, Blyton, Cronin, Bronte, Doyle, Orwell, Stevenson – it just didn’t seem worthwhile to indulge in the fanciful life of what I perceived to be a spoiled brat, Miss Emma Woodhouse.

Fast forward 25 years, and British culture is still pervasive not only in my life, but from the looks of it, in much of American culture as well. From Downton Abbey to Doctor Who, from BBC America to Sir Ian McKellen reciting Shakespeare in Marc Maron’s Highland Park garage, America seems to have never fully disengaged itself from British popular culture, and it’s hard not to see the attraction. Americans are obsessed with all the British cultures, and the English, Irish, Welsh, and Scots know it … and love it.

This 200th anniversary edition of Emma is in paperback, but is pure heft: at close to 500 pages, it can appear positively daunting, but it shouldn’t be. Although it's long, Emma is one of those 19th-century novels that's actually enjoyable to read.

But a word to the wise: I learned the hard way that starting and stopping, especially in the first 20 pages, is a bad idea, because there are so many characters’ names and identities to learn, that you might spend half an hour re-acquainting yourself with the cast each time you pick the book up. Sure, Emma and her father, Mr. Woodhouse, are easy enough to identify again, but what about Mr. Knightley and Mr. John Knightley, who are not the same person? Or Emma’s sister, Isabella, who is also Mrs. John Knightley?

My favorite one of these character-naming shenanigans is Miss Taylor, whom we first learn is Emma’s best friend and long-time governess. But then we read that she recently married Mr. Weston, who becomes Captain Weston, so that his wife is now Mrs. Weston (also known as Miss Taylor). A better strategy for first-time readers is to get at least 50 pages in at each read. Trust me on this.

The extremely simplified storyline might go something like this: Emma Woodhouse is an attractive, 20-something, who has no real occupation, but believes she has a penchant for matchmaking. According to Austen, “The real evils indeed of Emma’s situation were the power of having too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself.”

Since she believes she was instrumental in introducing Miss Taylor to her now husband, Emma convinces herself that other people in her town are dying for her assistance to find their soulmates. Uncomfortable situations, and occasional bouts of regret ensue. Oh, and she ends up marrying the one man who challenges her on her behavior.

Indeed, Emma’s future husband, Mr. ___ was actually my favorite character throughout the book. He was the only person strong-willed enough to call her Emma on her bullshit. His rage and angst are totally heartfelt, and I feel that he was Austen’s best vehicle for her writing.

By modern standards, the storyline seems amateurish at best, yet I had to keep reminding myself that this book came out 200 years ago; from that perspective, all modern romance tropes have followed Austen’s storyline. It’s difficult to definitely say how influential the book and its author were on future genres, but reading it made me realize how many pop culture genres were probably influenced by its content. Think of every movie set in high school with a meddling protagonist or psychological manipulator trying to create drama where none – or less – existed and you have a better understanding of Emma’s influence. What about Arab soap operas and Indian movies? Same thing. Hell, I saw the influence of this book on Ian McKewan’s 2001 novel, Atonement, and the character of Briony Tallis.

Lest die-hard “Janeites” feel left out, this annotated version has a host of treasures for even the most hardcore Austen fan. Juliette Wells, an associate professor of English at Goucher College and world authority, edited this anniversary edition, and added much to the original novel. Besides her introductory essay, she also included six addenda at the end of the book including one on Austen’s original spellings versus current usage (e.g. “dropt” versus “dropped”); a five-page glossary covering early 19th-century phrases like “cockade”, “coxcomb”, “ostler”, “espalier”, and “twelvemonth”); contextual essays covering topics from dancing and family relationships to politics and social classes; maps; reprints and engravings; and lastly, a section on Emma in popular culture. Her efforts have resulted in an edition that can be accessed from the new reader, like me, to the most scrupulous of researchers.

So, does a novel published in December 1815, just a few months after the Duke of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo, hold up over 200 years of politics, history, war, and a total evolution of British popular culture? Can a novel published at a time when its author had to remain anonymous till after her death still hold up? With absolute certainty, I would say yes.

Emma is not one of the best novels I’ve ever read, and it will surely appeal to some people more than others, but its cultural influence is impossible to dismiss, as its writing, while heavily focused on the dalliances of those of means, still provides insight into a particular people at a particular time. That Emma is often considered only the third best Jane Austen novel -- after Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility -- is testament to her extraordinary skill as a writer, and why her characters endure to this day.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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