Once upon a time there was a girl named Emma Woodhouse.
And, once upon a time there was a girl named Emma Woodhouse.
The first story was created by Jane Austen in 1816 and the second story by Alexander McCall Smith in 2015. Both stories feature Emma and her father, Mr. Woodhouse, as well as George Knightly, Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston, Harriet Smith, Frank Churchill, Jane Fairfax, Miss Bates and so many more. The personalities of the characters are the same in both stories. The only change is that the second story has been updated to modern times.
The Basic Story: Emma and her father live in a luxurious home in Highbury. Because Emma is so well off she doesn’t feel the need for a man. Although she doesn’t feel the need to marry, she still wants others to be happily married. In fact, Emma believes she has a gift for matchmaking. She thinks she is responsible for bringing her governess, Miss Taylor, together with Mr. Weston. So now Emma has decides to turn her attention to a new friend, Harriet.
Although Harriet has feelings for another man, Emma believes Harriet can do much better. (Emma is somewhat of a snob.) Emma advances this match by setting Harriet up with the local vicar. Emma arranges dinner parties, picnics and other social outings designed to throw them together.
Comparing the Two Books: Although I’ve read Jane Austen’s Emma several times, I don’t think I really “saw” Emma as clearly as I do now after reading Alexander McCall Smith’s version. There was a big section of his book when I wasn’t even sure I liked Emma. Besides being a snob and a know-it-all, Emma could be hurtful to friends and family. In both books it is Emma’s faithful friend, George Knightly, who finally educates Emma. In the modern version George is very blunt, or perhaps it’s our modern language that seems more blunt. Either way, it helps Emma change her ways.
One of my favorite characters in both Emmas is Emma’s dad. He is an obsessive hypochondriac. In the modern story it is downright hilarious. As in the original book Mr. Woodhouse is careful about his diet, the weather and being around anyone who has the sniffles. Our modern world’s obsession with health foods, vitamins, antibiotics, and knowing every single ailment of the human body has Mr. Woodhouse reluctant to shake hands without constantly using sanity wipes, much less the thought of flying in an enclosed airplane with people bringing out all those unknown maladies. It makes for very funny situations every time Mr. Woodhouse is part of a scene.
If you are a Jane Austen fan, especially a Emma fan, I strongly suggest you read Emma: A Modern Retelling (The Jane Austen Project). Alexander McCall Smith’s take on this classic is so much fun. If you haven’t read Jane Austen’s original version, do read that one first.