A Fun, Flirty Take on a Classic in Emma of 83rd Street

Bonus interview with Emily Harding included after the review!

Jane Austen’s Emma is incredibly popular – with modern adaptations ranging from the beautifully costumed historical film starring Anya Taylor-Joy, to the classic-in-its-own-right 90’s adaptation of Clueless. Emma of 83rd Street, by Audrey Bellezza and Emily Harding, is an absolute delight of an addition to this canon. 

Full disclosure, in the interests of ethics — I’ve known Emily online for a few years, and have always considered her to be a great writer — but my opinion on this book is entirely based on its own merits. (I’ve also been obsessed with Jane Austen for decades, so I’ve got some, shall we say, firm standards for adaptations.)

For those who haven’t read the original, Emma is the story of a rich young woman, who just wants the people in her life to be happy, and thinks the best way to go about this is by meddling in their romantic lives. But her privilege and lack of real-world experience mean that she often sees romantic affection when there is none, and can’t see what’s really there. 

The 83rd Street version of Emma is a young, rich, Manhattanite, in her final year of grad school. She’s in the stage of life when you start to drift apart from friends, not because of problems, but because your jobs and lives take you to different places. Emma was close with her sister, but due to her own matchmaking, her sister has gotten married and moved downtown. Emma’s lonely and bored, so obviously when she makes friends with city newbie Nadine, she’s got a lot of energy to put into helping her settle in. And of course, settling in can mean a lot of things — from sharing a great coffee place or hair salon to encouraging her to break up with her long-distance boyfriend. 

I really loved the friendship that gets built here. Is Emma a little domineering? Of course, she’s Emma Woodhouse. But the advice she gives comes from a good place, and Nadine and Emma become amazing friends. Something that makes a romance great for me is when the main characters have friends who exist outside the romance — while Nadine is definitely involved in the romantic mess Emma creates, the two of them are friends outside of it, and they help each other grow and learn. 

Emma doesn’t just make new friends in this novel — we also meet her lifelong friend, literal boy-next-door George Knightley. They’ve known each other since childhood, but as they’ve gotten older, they’ve grown apart. He views her as flighty, she views him as a know-it-all. Readers may know where this is going to go, but the journey of how they get there is the fun part. 

Emma of 83rd Street is told in alternating points of view between Emma and Knightley, which is absolutely fantastic. I love some good pining, will-they-won’t-they energy, and getting to switch between both sides of it is amazing. When seeing Emma or Knightly from the outside, it’s easy to interpret their actions as selfish or rude, but seeing their thoughts and reasoning makes everything fall into place. I found myself rereading previous chapters to compare both of their experiences and thoughts during pivotal moments — I absolutely loved it. 

Overall, Emma of 83rd Street is sweet and funny. It’s a really enjoyable and accessible update of a classic — and I definitely recommend picking it up this summer! 

Emma of 83rd Street by Audrey Bellezza and Emily Harding is available now for purchase at your local independent bookstore or wherever fine books are sold.

Interview with Emily Harding

Okay, first question— extremely hard hitting, as is Gatecrashers tradition. What’s your favorite sandwich?

This is tough. Until a few years ago, my favorite sandwich of all time was probably a reuben made with just an obscene amount of sauerkraut. But in 2019, my son decided to become a vegetarian and I joined him, so I think I have to amend that choice and say my favorite is a grilled cheese. On sourdough. With havarti.

Now it’s 10am and I’m ready for lunch. 

What made you decide to do your own take on Emma? Have you always been an Austen fan?

I’ve loved Jane Austen even since I picked up an old copy of Pride & Prejudice from the library in 8th grade. I never had even an inkling of adapting any of her novels though. It wasn’t until the pandemic started, and my friend Audrey and I were exchanging snippets of different writing projects, that it came up. We decided it would be fun to write something together, if only to make each other smile while stuck at home.  After a few texts (and glasses of wine) we settled on retelling Emma in New York City. Not only is it a novel we both know and love, but it gave us guide rails. No matter what, we always had Austen’s vision to ground us to the same place.  

What was it like working with a friend? Did you and Audrey, your coauthor, write together, or trade off chapters?

It was so much fun, mostly because we were only doing it for each other. It was the middle of the pandemic and we were trying to maintain our careers while homeschooling our kids–we needed a way to stay connected, and to laugh. I don’t know how we figured out how we’d do it (again, I blame the wine), but we traded off chapters, which worked out really well. After a long day, I would get a message that one of Audrey’s chapters had arrived in my inbox, and I would race to my computer. Or I’d smile when I would get a text from her laughing at something in the chapter I had just sent her. 

I loved the way that the characters felt really present in NYC- all the locations and the way they traveled between them felt so real. Did you draw on your experience in the city when choosing to set it there?

To be honest, I think most of it was drawn from experience. I spent most of my adult life in NYC, and I have the incredibly awful/insane/hilarious dating stories to prove it. Audrey too. Might as well put it to good use now, right? 

I first became familiar with your work via your hard-hitting tweets about Scott Summers being an absolute garbage romantic partner. Is there any X-Man worthy of an Austen romance?

I won’t even get angry that Scott Summers name appears in the same sense as Austen here, because it gives me an excuse to say this: No. There is no X-Man worthy of an Austen romance. That said, every single X-Woman is. 

No spoilers, but it definitely felt like there could be some potential for a sequel. What’s next on your writing agenda? 

We have ideas! Right now, we’re working our way through them, while also pinching ourselves that we’re even in a position to be working through them at all. It’s a good feeling. Hopefully we’ll have some updates soon.

Leave a Reply