A Rogue Librarian's Reading List

{October 29, 2014}   Longbourn by Jo Baker

longbournPlot: While the Bennet’s try to marry off their 5 daughters, their servants live their own life-changing dramas. Mrs. Hill fears for her future and that of the other servants should the estate be entailed away. Meanwhile Sarah is unsatisfied with her routine life as a housemaid; she seeks travel, romance and freedom. The arrival Mr Bingley – the famed single man in possession of a great fortune – brings a charming young man into her life as well. But there is also James Smith, Longbourn’s mysterious new footman with a dark past he will not discuss.

I have loved Pride and Prejudice since I first read it in my late teens and through the various television (Collin Firth <3), YouTube and comic adaptations that I’ve enjoyed over the years. There have also been many sequels and prequels of varying quality that P&P fans either devoured, to continue the experience, or avoided, for fear of ruining it. Baker takes a new-to-me perspective on the beloved novel: she writes the story of the servants of Longbourn, mentioned in passing but crucial to the functioning of the household. I love the skill with which she intertwines the servants’ tales with those of the Bennet family. To paraphrase Baker, when a meal is eaten in Pride and Prejudice, it is prepared in Longbourn. It takes a real understanding of the source material and the history to pull off what Baker has.

Baker writes her novel in a third person omniscient point of view reminiscent of Austen’s own style. She weaves through the minds of the different servants, linger in particular with Sarah, Mrs. Hill and the footman, James. It covers their endless, backbreaking and often thankless work as well as their dreams and what romance their position allows them. The first part of the novel follows the P&P timeline very closely and focuses on Sarah’s relationship with Mr. Bingley’s flirty black footman (I was given the impression that he was Bingley’s illegitimate half-brother) and their own distant footman, James. Part two, takes us decades into the past to explain James’ difficult life and the fascinating way it ties into the lives in the Bennet household.

On the whole this was a well written, engaging novel that both adds further depths to Austen’s characters (Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and Wickham in particular) and weaves an entirely new drama for the servants of the house. Highly recommended for all Pride and Prejudice fans.

2014 (#58)


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