Someone needs to do for Emma what Nabokov did for Lolita. I am sorry, but I am no Janeite, and I hanker only for old Russian magic, Baba Yaga in a glade of silver birch, Count Leo in chalk blue and boots.
Actually I am not sorry at all. Why is every Emma a Venetian blond, eternally young heiress of industry or at the very least beauty, the authentic Woodhouse?
I want an Emma with uncut nails and a long neck. The curve of her back is warm, a mid-ocean ridge swimming with neon monkfish, and the skin behind her ear is like that of a white nectarine, or dark yellow Mirabelle plum. She can be as dirty as dishwater or as pure as the driven snow, femme fatale or Galatea. Hair gelled, ridden with lice, bronze glasses, bombastic. I want a gutsy Emma, a gutted Emma, salty, sour, housefly, dragonfly Emma.
She can be a spongy Swiss mademoiselle, hardboiled American lass, delicate Buddhist princess, mooney extraterrestrial damsel. My Emma is a prostitute, a seller of exotic curios, a British matchmaker as dear Jane Austen intended her to be. She gets to go home happy or up in smoke.
The whole time I was reading “Lolita” I was waiting for Nabokov to allude to the literal meaning of the name Dolores. Dolores, in Spanish, meaning sorrow, pains. He took that name apart and put it back together again, put little Lolita in every kind of metaphor, simile, allusion, elevated her to a special plane of literary beauty. But never does he once mention what the dictionary has to say about Dolores. Not once does he say, “and this is Dolores, and her future is sadness, as her name so indicates.”
Maybe that’s what I really want for my pen and paper Emma.