Is You’ve Got Mail Really an Adaption of Pride and Prejudice?

Last year I read an article on Nora Ephron and in the article she shared that she is a fan of Pride and Prejudice and You’ve Got Mail is actually a loose adaption of it. (I have since tried to find that exact article, but have failed).

When I read that I was shocked? You’ve Got Mail? I mean parts are familiar but at its core I have never felt like it is an adaption of Pride and Prejudice, in fact I think the film that You’ve Got Mail is a remake for, The Shop Around the Corner, is a much better argument for a Pride and Prejudice adaption.

I had thought about reviewing You’ve Got Mail last year, but as usual with the holidays-I ran out of time and instead was only able to review one Jane Austen film adaption, Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe.

This year I ran a poll on my instagram and offered up to review Sense and Sensibility and Snowmen, Christmas at Pemberley, You’ve Got Mail, or The Shop Around the Corner; and You’ve Got Mail won. So let’s take a look!

I first saw this film when I was eight or nine and I thought it was so romantic. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan have such great chemistry, it centered around books and bookstores, and of course the “star on this Christmas tree” (more in season than icing on the cake), was that the leads fell in love over letters/email messages.

How sweet!

However, it seems like ever year I grow older I like these characters and film less and less. One part of the film that really bothers me is the way that both main characters are feeling stale in their relationships and decide to turn to emotional cheating instead of discussing their feelings with the person they are living with. And I absolutely hate the way Meg Ryan and Greg Kinnear’s characters break up. It’s so weird and awkward how they care so little for the end of their relationship. Like why are they even together? What made them decide to take that step to move in together, save on rent? And another thing I absolutely abhor about this film, Joe’s manipulation of Kathleen, But I’ll save that for later.

But I will try to put aside all those feelings for now and just focus on the film and:

  • Should this be considered an adaption of Pride and Prejudice?
  • Should this instead be put on my Non-Austen Films for Austen Fans?
  • Does this just need to be excluded from the Jane Austen multiverse/canon altogether?

Let’s begin with the story of Pride and Prejudice. Pride and Prejudice is the story of a mother wanting to marry off her daughters, as with their father’s death they will have very little. Two men come to their town that their mother is intent on harpooning, no matter what. One, Mr. Bingley, falls for the elder daughter, Jane, while the other man, Mr. Darcy, is overheard insulting the second daughter, Elizabeth, by Elizabeth herself. (Ouch!) Elizabeth is wounded and when she hears a tale about how horrible Mr. Darcy is from a handsome charming man, she readily believes it. She later discovers there is more to both these men than meet the eye; as the story deals with the concepts of pride and prejudice, first impressions, whether you should be overt in how you feel or play it close to the heart, etc. It has amazing wit and characters.

You’ve Got Mail begins with two very different people. Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan), Shopgirl, is the owner of a bookstore, inherited from her mother. She lives with her newspaper boyfriend (Greg Kinnear), but is bored in their relationship and searching for escape (when she really should just break up with her boyfriend) and enters an over 30 chat room, meeting up and creating an emotional affair/relationship with NY152.

NY152 is Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), and the owner of Fox Books, a Barnes & Noble-esque corporation. He is in a relationship with a publisher and they have zero chemistry, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that instead of ending his lackluster relationship, he too decided to search the internet for an emotional affair/relationship. While Kathleen and Joe two are “in love” online they are enemies offscreen as Joe Fox is putting up his new store near Kathleen’s and actively trying to put her out of business.

The two meet when Joe is spending the day with his 11 year old aunt and 4 year old brother. They stop at the bookstore and Joe tries to withhold who he really is. Later they run into each other again at a holiday party, Kathleen angry at his “corporate espionage” and withholding his identity; while Joe is extremely rude and insults Kathleen and her store to her face.

Back online Shopgirl/Kathleen and NY152/Joe decide to meet in person (while still in relationships). Joe brings his friend to scout out how she looks and discovers it is his nemesis, Kathleen. He goes in and harasses/insults her-ignoring her pleas for him to leave.

Afterwards, Kathleen’s store folds and Joe realizes he “loves” Kathleen. He goes to tell her how he feels, and she is rude to him (completely understandable), and he decides to embark on a plan to make her fall for him. Playing her as both NY152 he uses his knowledge for them to “accidentally” run into each other; manipulates the responses he gives as NY152 and Joe, so Joe always comes out better. By the end of the film NY152 and Shopgirl meet in person and Kathleen is ecstatic to see Joe is NY152 her “dream man”. Even though this dream man put her out if business and insulted her several times-not to mention constantly lied and manipulated her; all supposedly “ends well.”

So is this an adaption of Pride and Prejudice? I would say no. Not only does the story not really follow Pride and Prejudice but the biggest problem is Joe as Mr. Darcy. I think the first of all is that the two are way too adversarial. I know everyone says Pride and Prejudice is enemies to lovers, but I disagree. Mr. Darcy never saw Elizabeth as an enemy-he saw her as inconsequential, then interesting, then his match, then a mirror showcasing what is wrong with him and needs to be changed, etc. Mr. Darcy never purposely ever tried to hurt Elizabeth, remember when he insults her he doesn’t know she can hear him, and everything he does regarding Jane and Bingley he did not to be malicious to the Bennets, but because he was trying to act in the best interests of his friend-it has nothing to do with Elizabeth. Elizabeth was the only one who thought of him as an enemy, so the two at war like this makes no sense.

In fact if she wanted to make it more like Pride and Prejudice in a modern setting it would have made more sense to have them butt heads over a diffeeence in thought versus an all out war like this. For instance in The Darcy Monologues, one of the modern adaptions have the two working at the same school. Or in Elizabeth: Obstinate Headstring Girl they work at the same Hollywood Studio. This relationship also makes zero sense to me as I cannot see how someone who grew up in their mother’s bookshop, cared for it as their mother did, felt like closing it was burying their parent all over again; would ever be able to happily enter a relationship with the man who purposely destroyed it. If, for instance, he just opened his store there before meeting her, but wasn’t intent on closing her down I could see it-but he is so ruthless, rude, and cruel to her. And these two will live happily ever after?

Secondly, this is not a Pride and Prejudice adaption because they take the very thing that sets Darcy apart, what we love him and completely remove it from the script and do the opposite: I’m talking about the way Darcy deals with Elizabeth’s rejection. When Darcy is rejected by Elizabeth he doesn’t insult her, he isn’t snotty, he doesn’t yell at her or tell her she will regret it, etc. He listens to what she tells him, writes a letter explaining his actions, and respects her rejection and leaves her alone. After Elizabeth refuses him he has no intent on trying to win her, change her mind, or try and show her how he is the “good guy”. In fact, not only does he take what she said to him and decides to change himself, (not to impress her or win her but because he wants to), he also never plans to interact with her again. They only cross paths by accident and then later when he goes to support Bingley. When Bingley and Jane are engaged and he is invited to the Bennet’s home and card parties, he never tries to show off that she should be with him, he doesn’t try to take her aside, etc. He respects her wishes and only approaches her again after Lady Catherine’s rude visit and Elizabeth’s lack of promise not to marry him causes him to hope again. But even then, he tells her still cares but if she doesn’t feel that way he understands and will never speak of the matter again. Like I wish guys in real life were as amazing as that.

In this Joe not only belittles and lies to Kathleen, but he completely ignores her feelings or what is best for her. He never thinks of her or what she wants, but only what makes him feel good. He constantly stalks and contrives ways for them to be together, he lies about himself and his intentions, he works hard to show her “how great of a guy he is”, gaslighting her into thinking she was wrong to consider him a jerk. He uses vulnerable information gained from NY152 to make Joe seem better, using it to win her trust and manipulate her into thinking she “loves” him. The whole reason we love Darcy is that he isn’t trying to show or prove something to Elizabeth, he listened to her impressions of him, realized he didn’t want to come off as that, and actively changed himself to make him be better. In this Joe doesn’t go down to the studs and tries to fix the issues in his personality, but just slaps on a splash of paint, bribes the building inspector, and says he’s a brand new building.

Ugh…this guy

In fact rewatching the film this time, this level of manipulation and narcissism makes me feel like if Joe was any Austen character he would be Frank Churchill. And unfortunately in this, Kathleen doesn’t have a great friend like Mr. Knightley who can point out to her that the guy she thinks she could care for is nothing but a narcissistic jerk who will always put his self interest first to achieve what he wants, no matter the cost.

And thirdly, this is not Pride and Prejudice as Kathleen is nothing like Elizabeth. Kathleen is very quiet, sweet, and when it comes to retorts she often stands there uncertain what to say. Unlike Elizabeth, Kathleen only has two real witty moments in the film: her retort to Joe in the coffee shop about Elizabeth Bennet being the heroine of Pride and Prejudice and her insult to him when he visits her after shutting her business down. Most of the time when it comes to verbal wordplay, she has to be rescued by other characters. If I was going to say she is like anybody, I would have to say she resembles Harriet Smith the most. Like Harriet Kathleen doesn’t really make decisions but tends to go along with what other people think she should do. She doesn’t even want to fight Fox Books until NY152, her boyfriend, employees, etc tell her to. She is also easily manipulated and persuaded, and she only gains any type of measure to stand up for herself near the end of the story. But unfortunately for Kathleen, she doesn’t get a Mr. Martin, she ends up with a Frank Churchhill-esque Joe. I hate Frank Churchill.

Seriously!

So is this a Pride and Prejudice adaption, even as a “loose” adaption? I would say no as none of the characters in You’ve Got Mail keep the key components of those found in Pride and Prejudice. With a loose adaption there are a lot you can forgive, but at their core the characters should resemble the ones they are based off, and none do here.

Would I recommend this as a Non-Austen Films for Austen Fans? No. While Joe makes me think of Frank Churchill, and Kathleen Harriet Smith; there really isn’t enough in the themes or the characters to for me to recommend it. Plus I really don’t like it, and I hardly ever recommend a film I don’t like.

Should this just be dropped from the Jane Austen multiverse/canon? Yes, please. Gossip Girl is a more likely candidate for the Jane Austen multiverse/canon then this film.

So agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below!

I shared earlier in my post that I think that the film You’ve Got Mail is a remake of, The Shop Around the Corner, is one that I think you can make a strong agreement that it is loosely based on Pride and Prejudice. My plan is to rewatch it, as I typically do for Christmas, and post my review on the 26th. Will I actually be able to do that? I guess we will see. If not I can always save it for next year.

But whether I do or don’t, I did want to end this on one more thing:

Merry Christmas!

For more Jane Austen Christmas adaptions, go to Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe

For more on Pride and Prejudice, go to You Ever Notice That Harry Potter is Kind of Like Elizabeth Bennet in the Way He Treats Snape and She Treats Mr. Darcy?

For more Emma, go to Emma Manga

For more Pride and Prejudice film adaptions, go to Dear William