Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Longbourn


Book Description:  PRIDE AND PREJUDICE WAS ONLY HALF THE STORY.

If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.


In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended. 

Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Jane Austen’s classic—into the often overlooked domain of the stern housekeeper and the starry-eyed kitchen maid, into the gritty daily particulars faced by the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars—and, in doing so, creates a vivid, fascinating, fully realized world that is wholly her own. 
*Starred Review* Elizabeth and Darcy take a backseat in this engrossing Austen homage, which focuses on the lives of the servants of Longbourn rather than the Bennet family. Baker’s (The Undertow, 2012) novel finds Sarah, the Bennets’ young, pretty housemaid, yearning for something more than washing soiled dresses and undergarments. The arrival of a handsome new footman, James Smith, creates quite a stir as he’s hired after a heated discussion between Mrs. Hill, the cook and head of the servants, and Mr. Bennet. Sarah isn’t sure what to make of the enigmatic new member of the household staff, but she’s soon distracted by the Bingleys’ charismatic footman, Ptolemy, who takes an interest in Sarah and regales her with his dreams of opening up a tobacco shop. Baker vividly evokes the lives of the lower classes in nineteenth-century England, from trips in the rain to distant shops to the struggles of an infantryman in the Napoleonic Wars. She takes a few liberties with Austen’s characters—Wickham’s behavior takes on a more sinister aspect here—but mostly Austen’s novel serves as a backdrop for the compelling stories of the characters who keep the Bennet household running. --Kristine Huntley

Where PRIDE AND PREJUDICE left the Bennet servants as faceless ciphers, in LONGBOURN they are the central characters. There are Mr and Mrs Hill, butler and cook; teenage maid Polly; and the heroine, Sarah. To this small, thinly-stretched team is added James Smith, the new footman. At first Sarah is suspicious of James, whose arrival in the household was the subject of a mysterious argument between Mrs Hill and Mr Bennet. As suspicion hardens into dislike, Sarah finds herself drawn toward the charming footman at neighboring Netherfield, who is also the first black man Sarah has ever seen. As she learns more about these two strange and fascinating arrivals, Sarah takes steps that will change her life forever.-Brendan Moody
 In 'Longbourn', the main characters of Pride and Prejudice may not be ghostly, but most are bit players. Powerful bit players, too be sure; but not central to the story. The downstairs story and characters Baker has created certainly held my attention and made me care about them. This is not Upstairs/Downstairs, Gosford Park, or Downton Abbey. A hundred years before the setting of those stories, life is grittier. The Longbourn estate is a small one and the household staff only numbers only five. The work is hard; and the days are very long. Baker has done her homework. Bravo!-E.M.Jones
Longbourn is a novel I'm on hold for. I'm really looking forward to this book. My co-worker who is Jane Austen Pride through and through was the first to look at it when it came out of the box where I work. It has her approval. So it has to be good. -Ellie

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