On December 6, Jane Austen & Company hosted bestselling author C. K. Chau for a discussion on the importance of place in Jane Austen’s fiction—especially Pride and Prejudice, upon which her recent debut novel Good Fortune is based. Part of the Fall 2023-Winter 2024 season, The Many Flavors of Jane Austen, C. K.’s lively presentation on “displacing Jane Austen and rediscovering place in adaptation” explores Austen’s use of place to define character in novels like Pride and Prejudice as well as C. K.’s own relationship with place in adaptive fiction.
C. K. describes the adaptation process as “an act of displacement” in itself: “You are taking a text from the nineteenth century, from earlier, and transporting it into a different time—into the twentieth, into the twenty-first, and kind of modernizing it towards how we think about our values and our points of view today.” To successfully adapt a work of fiction is to remove it from its specific historical moment, where it responds to social and political issues and expectations of the time, and transport it to a different historical moment with different expectations and norms. This process of relocation gives a work new contexts, engaging with or challenging the text’s original politics and viewpoints.
The Oxford Dictionary defines “place” in several ways: it can be a “spot,” or a physical location. It can be an area inhabited by people, or a generalized idea of space that is open and unbounded. But “place” can also articulate something more abstract, more social and relational. It can designate societal hierarchy or status, or describe one’s body in relation to other bodies, both animate and inanimate.
In Pride and Prejudice, Austen employs ideas of place and location to enforce and maintain class and social division, while also allowing individuals of differing status—say, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet—to exchange various barbs and accusations until, naturally, they fall in love. When one arrives at a certain place, “arriving in society” as Austen would say, they must be seen by the members of the community, assessed, and placed into the appropriate social categories in order to begin interacting within that community.
For instance, when Mr. Bingley first arrives in Hertfordshire, he is associated only with Netherfield, the grand estate which he has purchased, marking him “the rightful property” of one of the surrounding family’s daughters. Similarly paired are Mr. Darcy and Pemberley, Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Rosings Park, and Austen’s beloved Bennet sisters with Longbourn, despite its endowment to the odious Mr. Collins. Their “places” in society are established by the grandeur of their abodes, revealing social and economic disparity.
C. K.’s Good Fortune relocates Pride and Prejudice to the early 2000s in New York City’s Chinatown, telling the story of the enterprising Chen family squaring off against wealthy, charismatic developers who are looking to radically transform their beloved neighborhood community center. In response to Austen’s exploration of class dynamics and class politics, C. K. reflects on the modern threats of re-development and gentrification specific to the Chinese-American community. Who will be the victor in Elizabeth Chen and Darcy Wong’s battle for community versus profit? Will the unlikely pair find a way to work together for the greater good?
C. K. ended with evening with a Q&A with the Jane Austen & Co. panelists and audience members, including a brief reading from Good Fortune that you won’t want to miss! A recording of Jane Austen & Co.’s second live stream in The Many Flavors of Austen series is currently available on YouTube or the Jane Austen & Co. website.
C. K. Chau is a Chinese-American writer based in New York. She holds a master’s degree in English literature from Hunter College and currently works in publishing. In addition to her debut novel, Good Fortune, her work has previously appeared in LitHub and Bright Wall/Dark Room, an independent online journal on film and television. Chau’s essay “Wherever You Go, There You Are: On Setting and Society in Pride and Prejudice” looks closely at Austen’s novel and its focus on neighborhood, or “society,” and character. Good Fortune has been praised for its “witty” and “charming” characterization of Elizabeth Chen and Darcy Wong and smart exploration of gentrification and family duty, among others. When C. K. isn't writing, she can be found watching old films and daydreaming about her next meal. Find more at www.chauck.com.