2013 – Adult Fiction – Historical Fiction
The Story: We all know what happened in Pride and Prejudice. But Jo Baker takes a fresh look at Austen’s world, giving life and stories to the servants of Longbourn, the Bennett house. Intertwined with the plot from Pride and Prejudice, Longbourn is the story of Sarah, Mr. and Mrs. Hill, Polly, and James. As the main character, Sarah spends her days emptying chamber pots, washing linens, preparing meals, and running errands for the household. But the Bennett household has mysteries of its own, in addition to the intrigues and secrets downstairs, all of which Sarah is determined to uncover.
The Opening Line: There could be no wearing of clothes without their laundering, just as surely as there could be no going without clothes, not in Hertfordshire anyway, and not in September.
What I Loved: I’m a big Pride and Prejudice fan and I loved season 1 of Downton Abbey, so this is the sort of book that draws me in and persuades me to revisit the familiar in a new way. Longbourn was successful in providing a fresh glimpse into Austen’s world by introducing readers to the family servants. My favorite thing was encountering the family from a different perspectives. Where Lizzy isn’t the quirky, adventurous sister, just the messiest one. Where Mary pines for Mr. Collins and Mr. Bennett retreats to the library to cover up his own secrets. The book does a great job of showcasing class differences during that time period.
What I Didn’t Love: Seeing my favorite characters from a new perspective also has downsides. Realistically for the time period, servants were expected to be seen and not heard, run the household efficiently, and live blamelessly to protect the family’s reputation. And the Bennett family didn’t treat Sarah or anyone else badly in this book, but they did interact with them in a way that said they were much better. I didn’t like seeing the elitist sort of side to them.
Final Thoughts: A great addition to the Jane Austen universe. New perspectives and scandals layered across the familiar Pride and Prejudice plot really heightened the experience. I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent downstairs at Longbourn and I learned quite a bit about the running of a household during that time, something you don’t get just from reading the original. For readers who want similar reads, I would pair this with Manor of Secrets, a YA novel that I recently read and reviewed.
Friends, what are your favorite retellings of Jane Austen?