The Dr Pepper Prophecies is a modern version of Jane Austen’s Emma, but then Bridget Jones’ Diary is an updated Pride & Prejudice. So how faithful is it to the original?
The basic story of Emma is of a young woman who has set herself up as a matchmaker. I kept to that, although in TDPP Mel’s efforts extend to the rest of her victims friends’ lives. Mel’s chief project is Beth, who is the Harriet Smith character. In Emma, Emma Woodhouse uses their difference in social status to influence Harriet. In TDPP, Mel uses Beth’s natural reserve, good manners and her status as “replacement” flatmate. Rather than having a Mr. Elton character, Mel sets Beth up on a series of blind dates – each more horrible than the last.
Will Knightley takes the role of Mr. Knightley here (yes, I did a Helen Fielding and just nicked the name). As in Emma, Mel has known him all her life. While Emma and Mr. K are related by marriage, Mel and Will grew up living next door to each other. Like Mr. K, Will often has to (attempt to) restrain his over-enthusiastic friend. The crucial thing I left out was the age difference. Mr. Knightley is 16 years older than Emma, which would have been common at the time, but would be less acceptable to a modern audience. Also, I didn’t want Will playing too parental a role in Mel’s life.
The subplots in TDPP, however, deviate from Emma. Mel has a somewhat fraught relationship with her parents and sister, who always manage to make her feel second rate. While Emma shows no interest in dating at the start of the book, Mel has had a string of lousy boyfriends. In fact, the book starts out with her being dumped by the most recent just as he becomes her boss.
And Emma never had to try to improve her career at the same time as hindering helping her friends. In fact, the key thing Mel and Emma have in common is that they are underemployed. Emma is a wealthy and well-born young woman, in a time when they just didn’t work. She has charitable and hostess duties in the neighbourhood, but nothing like enough to use up her energy. Mel, on the other hand, has an extremely dull job inputting insurance claims.
While Emma is brimming with confidence – natural given her position – Mel lacks it in some areas of her life. This is partly due to her family – particularly her father – who have never valued her efforts to get a good education and career. Mel also suffers from spectacularly bad luck at times, especially in formal situations. There’s a reason the tag line of the book is ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ That brings the high comedy to TDPP that is missing in Emma.
What Mel and Emma definitely have in common, however, is their blindness when it comes to love. Although they are both convinced they know best when it comes to others, they both go a ridiculously long time before they realise that their own Mr. Right is right under their noses. It’s a good job he’s the patient type…