by Jo Baker

Overview -

- "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.  Read more...

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More About Longbourn by Jo Baker

- "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.

  • ISBN-13: 9780385351232
  • ISBN-10: 0385351232
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publish Date: October 2013
  • Page Count: 352

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Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2013-08-12
  • Reviewer: Staff

The servants of the Bennett estate manage their own set of dramas in this vivid re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice. While the marriage prospects of the Bennett girls preoccupy the family upstairs, downstairs the housekeeper Mrs. Hill has her hands full managing the staff that keeps Longbourn running smoothly: the young housemaids, Sarah and Polly; the butler, Mr. Hill; and the mysterious new footman, James Smith, who bears a secret connection to Longbourn. At the heart of the novel is a budding romance between James and orphan-turned-housemaid Sarah, whose dutiful service belies a “ferocious need for notice, an insistence that she fully be taken into account.” When an expected turn of events separates the young lovers, Sarah must contend with James’s complicated past and the never-ending demands of the Bennetts. Baker (The Mermaid’s Child) offers deeper insight into Austen’s minor characters, painting Mr. Collins in a more sympathetic light while making the fiendish Mr. Wickham even more sinister. The Militia, which only offered opportunities for flirtations in the original, here serves as a reminder of the horrors of the Napoleonic Wars. Baker takes many surprising risks in developing the relationships between the servants and the Bennetts, but the end result steers clear of gimmick and flourishes as a respectful and moving retelling. A must-read for fans of Austen, this literary tribute also stands on its own as a captivating love story. First printing of 150,000. Agent: Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Associates. (Oct.)

BookPage Reviews

The downstairs voices of 'Pride and Prejudice'

What do you get when you mix “Downton Abbey” and Pride and Prejudice? The answer comes in the form of British novelist Jo Baker’s newest offering, Longbourn, which, perhaps not surprisingly, has already been optioned for film.

Spinoffs and sequels to Pride and Prejudice are a dime a dozen, so it takes something quite extraordinary to make readers take note. In 2011, suspense sovereign P.D. James managed it by adding a murder mystery into the mix. Baker’s tack is slightly less gruesome, though perhaps no less grim: Working within the framework of Austen’s novel, Longbourn shifts focus and brings those who toil behind the scenes—the household servants—to the forefront.

But this is not a straight retread. Baker does not attempt to emulate Austen’s writing style, and her story fits in the novel’s framework while being completely original. Lizzie, Jane and Lydia (along with many other characters readers know and love) still pop up, but Longbourn is primarily the story of housemaid Sarah, who toils endlessly for the comfort and care of others. Her days are filled with tasks that make her stomach curdle and her joints ache, and though Sarah dreams of one day having something—or someone—to make her life feel full, she fears that all her future holds is the bleak emptiness of servitude. Enter an intriguing, but infuriatingly taciturn, new footman, and suddenly Sarah is left wondering if happiness might be within her grasp.

Like the novel that inspired it, Longbourn is a love story, but it is also more than that. Ruthlessly unromantic at times, Baker burrows through the froth and frivolity of upper-class life and grounds her characters in harsh realities, allowing for a powerful exploration of the prevailing social issues of the time as faced by the lower classes. Sarah suffers from chilblains, doesn’t get enough sleep and deals with chamber pots on top of it all. Though this gritty realism may turn off some readers, it elevates the book and sets it apart from its source material. Following in Austen’s footsteps is no small feat, but it is one Baker accomplishes with aplomb. Both Austen devotees and readers unfamiliar with the original will find that Longbourn is a robust, compelling novel that easily stands on its own.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Jo Baker for Longbourn.

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