Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Review: Longbourn

By Jo Baker
Published: October 8, 2013

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.

My review:

Longbourn may incorporate events and characters from Pride and Prejudice but it is really a story about the lives of servants-their hopes and dreams as well as their hardships. Those who are wary of this book as a retelling of Pride and Prejudice should not worry. It is definitely an original story. In fact Mr. Darcy has very little page time. Instead the focus is on the Bennet household and the servants. Unlike Jane Austen's novel, this is not a sanitized version of life in Regency England either. The housework is drudgery and there is also more discussion about the war with Napoleon and what life is like for soldiers. They don't just stand around looking handsome in their "regimentals".

The central characters are housemaid Sarah, Mr. and Mrs. Hill, Polly a simple minded young maid, and James the new footman whose arrival brings about upheaval belowstairs. In addition to the Bennets, we also get to see Mr. Collins through the servants' eyes which is interesting as he will be their new master someday. Mr. Wickham also spends time getting to know the servants and comes across as even more vile.

Sarah is perhaps the protagonist of the story. She longs for something more than what she has at Longbourn and the arrival of James as well as Ptolemy Bingley, manservant at Netherfield, cause her to dream of a different life. There is also some romance for Sarah and a bit of a love triangle to resolve. Sarah has some growing up to do even as Lydia makes her mistakes and the elder Bennet girls pursue love.

Longbourn doesn't have the snappy dialogue and sharp characterizations of Pride and Prejudice but it is a detailed historical fiction novel with characters that feel real. Rather than being a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, it enriches our understanding of some of the characters and presents a picture of what life might have been like back then for the average person. I found it fascinating to read about the everyday lives of servants and what was expected of them, especially in comparison to Downton Abbey which is set a century later. Fans of Jane Austen, Downton Abbey, and upstairs/downstairs drama should give this book a try.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of Edelweiss and the publisher


  1. I was kind of interested in this because of the P&P relationship but reading that it kind of lacks the snappy dialogue of its inspiration disappoints me-that would be something I was very interested in seeing.

  2. I really want to read this!! Thanks for the great review! i'm also interested in hearing the servants' stories.

  3. I have had my eye on this book for awhile now. I like that it isn't a retelling, but rather a glimpse into the life of the "downstairs." I am a huge fan of Downton and Upstairs Downstairs, so I definitely plan on checking this out. Great review!

  4. I'm keen to read this, a friend received it for her birthday but isn't sure she wants to read it, worried that it puts her beloved P&P characters in a bad light ... something I don't have an issue with lol

  5. I am keen to read this as well. Like the P&P spinoffs so much.

  6. I've been watching out for this one for a while now! Such a huge fan of Downton, so anything that seems similar catches my interest! I'll have to see if I can get a hold of this one at the library soon!

  7. I've seen many posts about this book, I really need to look out for it and add it to my TBR.


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