Two years ago I read an article on Nora Ephron and in the article she shared that she is a big fan of Pride and Prejudice and when she wrote You’ve Got Mail, she made it a loose adaption of Jane Austen’s novel. I was surprised when I read that as I don’t see the two being that much alike and last year I decided to finally review You’ve Got Mail and determine whether it:
- Should be considered an adaption of Pride and Prejudice
- Should be put on my Non-Austen Films for Austen Fans
- Needs to be excluded from the Jane Austen multiverse/canon altogether?
After rewatching You’ve Got Mail I ended up deciding that it is most definitely not an adaption of Pride and Prejudice and I personally don’t feel like it should belong in the Jane Austen canon/multiverse.
But while this film is not a good candidate, what about the film You’ve Got Mail is a remake of? Could The Shop Around the Corner be considered?
The Shop Around the Corner is not lifted from Jane Austen but a Hungarian play, Parfumerie. It has been made adapted many times: The Shop Around the Corner (1940) and You’ve Got Mail (1998) being only two of them. But just because it wasn’t taken specifically from Jane Austen, doesn’t mean it cannot be included in the canon. After all, The 12 Men of Christmas and Love at the Thanksgiving Day Parade aren’t “official” Austen adaptions, but the similarities are close enough that I include them.
Let’s begin with a quick summary of the story of Pride and Prejudice. Pride and Prejudice is about a mother, Mrs. Bennet, wanting to marry off her daughters as quickly as possible, as with their father’s death they will have very little. Two men move to their community that Mrs. Bennet 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 meets 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.
The Shop Around the Corner takes place in Budapest in the shop Matuschek, and focuses mostly on two of the employees: Alfred Kralik (Jimmy Stewart) and Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan). Mr. Kralik is Mr. Matuschek’s oldest and best employee, the two often having more of a father-son relationship than a employer-employee. One day they are having a summer sale and a woman, Klara, comes in wanting a job as she has just been let go from her previous one. Mr. Kralik dissuades her from trying as they are not hiring, but Klara manipulates Mr. Matuschek into hiring her (she’s a really good saleswoman.) After this the two are constantly at odds as Klara is rude to Mr. Kralik, makes fun of him, and is always surly. After this treatment, Mr. Kralik does not care for Klara, and treats her with an equally surly, but professional, attitude. Meanwhile, months earlier Mr. Kralik had started writing to an anonymous woman for friendship and to to discuss literature. Over time the two have switched from literary topics to love and have fallen for each other. When Mr. Kralik goes to meet his letter lady, he discovers it is his work nemesis, Klara. When he goes in to see her, Klara dresses him down and Mr. Kralik starts wondering about his behavior. As the two continue to work side by side, Mr. Kralik tries to show Klara another side of him, hoping to win her heart as she has already captured his.
Even though this isn’t a true adaption of Pride and Prejudice, in every way it is so much closer to an adaption then it’s later remake, You’ve Got Mail.
First of all the interactions between the two leads in The Shop Around the Corner, is much more similar to Pride and Prejudice then You’ve Got Mail. In Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy meet at a ball and Elizabeth is very attracted to him, but later dislikes him when he says she is tolerable but not handsome enough for him. Klara also later admits in the film that when she first met Mr. Kralik she was very attracted to him, but changed her mind when he didn’t react to her the way she had hoped. Also like Elizabeth, Klara too believes lies about the male lead’s character, told to her by another employee, Ferencz Vadas.
Mr. Darcy on the other hand, didn’t really think anything of Elizabeth, as he considered all in the area to be below his notice. Later, after spending time with her when Jane is ill at Netherfield he falls for her wit and beauty. With Mr. Kralik when he first meets Klara he doesn’t like her or dislike her, he does try to help her find work by suggesting other places she could try, but he’s mostly preoccupied with his own work. Like Darcy the wit and intelligence is what gets him, as he too falls for his lady through the mind first, this case in her letters.
While there are more things at play in the film the springboard for all their fights seem to be in this moment when Mr. Kralik tries to dissuade her from applying for a job (as they don’t have any openings) while Klara not only manipulates Mr. Matuschek into hiring her, but buying worthless items they later aren’t able to sell (what Mr. Kralik had said from the beginning.)
Jimmy Stewart’s character Mr. Kralik is also more like Mr. Darcy than Tom Hanks’ Joe Fox. Joe Fox was cruel, abrasive, insulting, and rude. We see him sweet to his little kid aunt and brother but he never has a place or people he seems to fully relax, like Darcy does with Pemberley and his staff there. In The Shop Around the Corner, Kralik is very decisive, focused, has a tough exterior and can come off cold; but to those who know him, he is has a more relaxed side. We see that with his close friend Pirovitch, and then later when he hears how he is perceived by others from Klara, and tries to be less cold and curt.
Unlike Kathleen, who is not at all like Elizabeth, (having a lack of wit, obstinance, headstrongness, or initiative); Klara is very witty, strong willed, does not shy away from situations or people, is confident, and bold enough to give Mr. Kralik several dressing downs.
I really like the interaction between Mr. Kralik and Klara at the cafe. In the film the two letter writers are supposed to meet up, but Mr. Kralik ends up losing his job (a subplot is that Mr. Matuschek thinks Mr. Kralik is messing around with his wife, but he isn’t). Mr. Kralik isn’t planning on going to see her as he’s feeling depressed, but his friend convinces him to go and when he finds out it is Klara who always makes work unpleasant, he’s not pleased. At the cafe he plans to tell her his identity, her letter lover, but words are thrown around by both and Klara really let’s him know how she feels:
Alfred Kralik: There might be a lot we don’t know about each other. You know, people seldom go to the trouble of scratching the surface of things to find the inner truth.
Klara Novak: Well I really wouldn’t care to scratch your surface, Mr. Kralik, because I know exactly what I’d find. Instead of a heart, a hand-bag. Instead of a soul, a suitcase. And instead of an intellect, a cigarette lighter… which doesn’t work.
Alfred Kralik: Well, that’s very nicely put. Yes, comparing my intellect with a cigarette lighter that doesn’t work. That’s a very interesting mixture of… poetry and meanness.The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
After hearing this, Mr. Kralik takes time to self reflect and realizes that he wants to change how he is perceived by others. Now he has no plans to see Klara again, as he’s been fired, and is not quite sure what to do with the letter writing issue (as it appears she can’t stand him). However, when Mr. Matuschek discovers that he was wrong and a different employee was sleeping with his wife, he becomes so disheartened about everything that he planned to kil himself. Mr. Matuschek is stopped by Pepe the errand boy, and decides to step back from the to recuperate, calling Mr. Kralik, and hiring him back to take over the store. Now Mr. Kralik takes what was said to him by Klara and tries to be be not so cold and distant, while at the same time he also doesn’t try to show off and convince Klara or show her he’s changed-he just makes those changes.
This is much more similar to Mr. Darcy and the way he reacts to Elizabeth’s words. Mr. Darcy too took what was said, improved himself, and also never planned to interact with Elizabeth 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.
In contrast, Joe Fox is nothing like Mr, Darcy or Mr. Kralik as he not only makes it his mission to constantly run into Kathleen, but also uses his online persona and in-person persona to manipulate her.
Klara sees this change in him and realizes that she was misjudging him; and at the same time she does her own self reflection and realizes that she didn’t treat him as well as she could and a lot of their issues were caused by both sides.
So while it’s not a perfect adaption, I feel this one definitely is more of an adaption of Pride and Prejudice than You’ve Got Mail.
But while it is better than You’ve Got Mail, should it be considered a Jane Austen adaption?
After careful consideration I think not. It was very close, but it’s missing something else to really put it in the Pride and Prejudice camp. I will, however, highly recommend it for any Jane Austen fan and it will be going on my list of Non-Austen Films for Austen Fans due to its similarities and because it is an amazing film. I love it so much, I have to watch it every December at least once.
It is so romantic and I just adore how they falling in love over letters. I cannot recommend this film more. You are guaranteed to not only enjoy it but want to keep watching it again and again.
So do you agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments below!
For more Non-Austen Films for Austen Fans, go to You Have Thirteen Hours in Which to Solve the Labyrinth, Before Your Baby Brother Becomes One of Us…Forever.: Labyrinth (1986)
For more Jane Austen Christmas adaptions, go to Is You’ve Got Mail Really an Adaption of Pride and Prejudice?
For more on Pride and Prejudice, go to Pride and Prejudice: The Game
For more Pride and Prejudice film adaptions, go to Dear William