Emma: A Modern Retelling

Emma: A Modern Retelling

by Alexander McCall Smith


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The best-selling author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series deftly escorts Jane Austen’s beloved, meddlesome heroine into the twenty-first century in this delightfully inventive retelling.
The summer after university, Emma Woodhouse returns home to the village of Highbury to prepare for the launch of her interior design business. As she cultivates grand plans for the future, she re-enters the household of her hypochondriac father, who has been living alone on a steady diet of vegetables and vitamin supplements. Soon Emma befriends Harriet Smith, the naïve but charming young teacher’s assistant at an English-language school run by the hippie-ish Mrs. Goddard. Harriet is Emma’s inspiration to do the two things she does best: offer guidance to those less wise in the ways of the world and put her matchmaking skills to good use.
Happily, this summer presents abundant opportunities for her to do just that, as many friends, both old and new, are drawn into the sphere of Emma’s occasionally injudicious counsel: Frank Churchill, the attractive stepson of Emma’s former governess; George Knightley, Emma’s brother-in-law and dear friend; the charming yet self-important Philip Elton; and, of course, the perfect (and perfectly vexing) Jane Fairfax.
Alexander McCall Smith’s gentle satire and cozy, old-fashioned sensibility prove to be the perfect match for Jane Austen’s wit and characters. Though carriages have been replaced by Mini Coopers and cups of tea with cappuccinos, Emma’s story is wonderfully timeless.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780594682271
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/07/2015
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 15,637
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

ALEXANDER McCALL SMITH is the author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, the 44 Scotland Street series, and the Corduroy Mansions series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and has served with many national and international organizations concerned with bioethics. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and was a law professor at the University of Botswana. He lives in Scotland.


Edinburgh, Scotland

Date of Birth:

August 24, 1948

Place of Birth:


Read an Excerpt

Chapter 5

Excerpted from "Emma: A Modern Retelling"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Alexander McCall Smith.
Excerpted by permission of Diversified Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

This guide is designed to enhance your reading group’s focus on some of the main concepts in this book and to enable readers to explore and share different perspectives. It was written for those who have read both Jane Austen’s Emma and Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma. Feel free to wander in your discussions, and use this as a guideline only.

1. Why do you think Alexander McCall Smith decided to revisit Emma, of all of Jane Austen’s novels?

2. Describe Emma’s character in this version. How does it differ from that of Austen’s Emma? In what ways is she “modernized”?

3. What is Emma’s position in life? How does this shape her worldview?

4. Describe George Knightley’s connection to the Woodhouse family. In what ways does he serve as a foil to Emma? How does that focus the bond between the two of them?

5. What is the relationship between Miss Taylor and Emma? How does this differ from the way it is depicted in Austen’s version?

6. Describe Harriet Smith. Why is Emma so interested in her?

7. How does Philip Elton fit into Emma’s life? In what ways are Emma and Philip alike? Why does Emma reject Philip?

8. A pivotal moment in Austen’s Emma was the shaming of Miss Bates. How has McCall Smith handled the Victorian idea of rank in this contemporary context?

9. What role does Frank Churchill play in the story? What do you think of the way he treats Jane Fairfax?

10. Why doesn’t Emma like Jane Fairfax? Is this fair to Jane?

11. What elements of Austen’s work have become more apparent through McCall Smith’s deft handling of the text? What nuances of Austen’s sense of humor and sense of morality has McCall Smith captured the best?

12. Which character has changed the most, from Austen to McCall Smith?

13. Who is the most amusing character in our contemporary story?

14. Austen seems to find Emma a little ridiculous. Why would she be unsympathetic to her own character? Does McCall Smith soften this? How?

15. Emma’s matchmaking has some serious consequences. How does her meddling go awry? How does she make amends for her meddling? Which things are not able to be fixed?

16. What is the most modernized feature of McCall Smith’s Emma?

17. Which parts of the story are new and how does McCall Smith use them without changing the general timbre of the story?

18. What, in the end, does Emma learn? How is it that she finds happiness?

19. Discuss your favorite change between the original and the retold story of Emma.

Customer Reviews

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Emma: A Modern Retelling 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
MerleF More than 1 year ago
Recommended for knowledgeable readers. Though written by a Scot it's full of "wry" humor. Plot is rather thin but the characters are fully entertaining.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book.  It's a delightful modern take and Mr. Woodhouse cracked me up with his hypchondria.  I found this book to be a fast read that I enjoyed immensely.
hockeygranny More than 1 year ago
Boring! At first, I thought this retelling of the Emma story would be interesting because it started by giving a bit of the background of Mr. Woodhouse and Miss Taylor, but it quickly became boring and tedious. After 80 pages, I had had  enough of it and stopped reading. Of the three books in The Austen Project released so far, only Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid  has been good.
KateUnger More than 1 year ago
This book was very disappointing. It was supposed to be a modern retelling of Jane Austen's Emma, but it wasn't very modern. Perhaps it's because the story of Emma doesn't lend itself to being modernized, what with the dinner parties, the picnic, and all of the engagements, but I thought Smith could have done a better job. I was expecting Clueless, and I got essentially the original Emma with modern references. (Although I've never read the original.) The first 100 pages were so slow with all of the backstory on Isabella. I almost stopped reading. In general there was a TON of backstory on all of the characters that didn't really add to the book. I'm assuming that's how Austen's book is, but I felt like it could have been skipped in favor of a more interesting, modernized story. Other than references to email and phones and a career that Emma was planning to build, there were very few modern elements in the story. Everyone in the country basically lived on their existing money and didn't work. Compared with Trollope's Sense & Sensibility, I was very let down by this book. Unless you're dying to read another version of Emma, I'd advise you to skip this retelling and stick with the original. Or just watch Clueless. (The only thing I enjoyed about this book was being inside Knightley's head as he's thinking about Emma. I've always loved Knightley!) http://www.momsradius.com/2016/04/book-review-emma.html
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A different approach. Worth reading .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked the book. Some of the reviews did not but I enjoyed reading a modern day version of Jane Austen's Emma. It was light and refreshing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This retelling of Emma was good but ultimately disappointing.  In some areas I found it too slavish to the original and in others missing essential elements.  I think Mr Woodhouse is perfectly wrought but Mr Knightley was not developed sufficiently and remained two-dimensional. Worth a read but not quite what I had hoped.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A bit slow and gets bogged down at times but endd well. Worth a read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So we're friends...?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He walks in and sees the two. He taps the guy on the shoulder
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I got locked out