When Jane Austen sat down in January of 1814 to write about “a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like”, she could have never imagined that one day her story would be adapted into a Chinese setting hundreds of years in the future. This adaptation of “Emma” spans approximately 200 years, from the Victorian to the Digital age, into two widely different cultures. Although there are great differences in time and culture, we were able to find direct parallels between these two different time periods to bring this classic story to you.
However, bringing Emma into the hustle and bustle of 21st century Shanghai was no small task. Fortunately we had a resident Jane Austen expert in the Mandarin Companion family. My wife, Heather, discovered her works as a young girl and since has devoured all things Jane Austen (she has read Pride and Prejudice over 50 times, literally). Having lived in China for many years, she was uniquely qualified to help with this special adaptation.
In the original story, Emma was born into a wealthy family whose mother died when she was a young girl, sees no need for a man in her life, and spends much of her time dabbling in the lives of her friends and neighbors. To set it in modern day China, we realized that Emma had to be much more than a woman of leisure in the big city. We envisioned Emma as the only daughter of a wealthy real estate tycoon who had sent her to all of the best schools and supported her in pursuing her dreams. We felt the best career fit was for Emma to be fashion designer who was married to her job and was not only uninterested in a boyfriend, but also had no time for one. Instead of trying to play matchmaker with friends and neighbors, she would try to orchestrate office romances among her coworkers.
We had a lot of fun setting the story in modern day because this brought in a number of new possibilities that fit in perfectly with the original story. Hand-written letters sent via courier, commonly used in Victorian England, are replaced with text messaging. Community newspapers and bulletins as a way of spreading local news are replaced with social media, complete with likes, comments, and selfies. We were even able to incorporate Wechat (微信), the dominant social media platform in China, into the story.
It is fun to note that the cover image pays homage to the 1995 movie “Clueless”, perhaps the most commercially successful modern adaptation of “Emma” yet.
Despite the time difference between the original and adapted version, the core essence of Emma’s personality remains intact: a spoiled, headstrong, and self-satisfied heroine who greatly overestimates her own skills and is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people’s lives. We hope you enjoy this story as much as we did in creating it!
Visit the book page for Emma to get your copy!