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.
©2013 Jo Baker (P)2013 Random House Audio
"A triumph: a splendid tribute to Austen’s original but, more importantly, a joy in its own right, a novel that contrives both to provoke the intellect and, ultimately, to stop the heart.... Like Austen, Baker has written an intoxicating love story but, also like Austen, the pleasure of her novel lies in its wit and fierce intelligence.... Baker not only creates a richly imagined story of her own but recasts Austen’s novel in a startlingly fresh light.... Inspired." (The Guardian)
I have generally hated P&P spinoffs -- too wordy, too internally focused and generally poorly written.
Not this one. Jo Baker is a literary writer and this novel stands on its own , as absorbing and interesting (even without the modest involvement of the P&P characters). These people have real lives, real struggles and problems and loves, and we sympathize with their strategic and hopeful efforts to maximize their future security and happiness. The Napoleonic Wars may not have had much effect on the Bennets, but it's very present for the lower classes, where the men were strongly urged to enlist without any understanding of the horrors of that war.
The limited glimpses we see of the Bennet family seems to round them out into real people, too -- Elizabeth is still a very nice person and generally considerate mistress, but it is clear that her maid's happiness and security is never really on her mind except as it pertains to Elizabeth's comfort. This is probably an accurate depiction of women such as she. Mrs. Bennet's efforts to have a male child - over and over and over - elicit some real sympathy for her and deepen our understanding of the source of her current flightiness.
I loved this book.
Longbourn was very well written, beautiful prose, compelling characters. I couldn't stop listening to it and the narrator made it that much better. I listen to a lot of books and she is one of the best narrators I have heard (as good as Davina Porter, but younger sounding). Longbourn is a must read or rather listen as the case may be.
This is the best audiobook I have listened to. The narration is superb. So much so that you feel like you are experiencing the story.
My favorite character is Sarah. She has led a hard life and very much dreams of a better one. I can feel her longing.
Sarah and Mrs. Hill as performed by Emma Fielding are my favorites.
I would rename Longbourn "In Pursuit of Dreams" or "The Longing"
An unbelievably well-written book . The prose will blow you away. It will captivate you and take you into its spell and not let you go until the very last word.
If you like this genre and period, this novel is a pleasurable listen. It's a wonderful picture of "downstairs" life at that time. I especially enjoyed the narrator.
Right off the bat, if you love Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, you might wish to skip this alternate look at their characters. Neither of them is presented favorable in this retelling of P&P. None of the Bennetts are likable, and the supple humor and wit of Jane Austen is completely missing. However, if you like historical fiction, especially a look at the hardships of life circa 1810, this has that in abundance. I enjoyed the romance between Sarah and James, and appreciated the discriptions of how much pure physical WORK it took to maintain a household during that period. But, was it nessecary to make the Bennetts so unlikable ?
Wonderful narration by Emma Fielding !
I live, breathe, read.
This book was described very simply as a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the perspective of the servants, which made me both excited to read it, and also hesitant because I've read some pretty bad ones. That being said, this is NOT a retelling, in fact the Bennets take a back seat to the"belowstairs" lives of their servants. Told from the perspective of Mrs. Hill, the Bennet's housekeeper, and the the scullery maid, Sarah, we have a fresh perspective of life during the Regency era, and a slice of life for a soldier during the Napoleonic Wars. I don't think I will ever look at Pride and Prejudice the same. I'll never be able to watch the BBC adaptation (1995 Colin Firth), and not want to follow "Hill" off camera after she's administered cordial for Mrs. Bennet's "poor nerves." A definite read for lovers of historical fiction.
us about yourself! I'm a retired English teacher and ardent reader(more because of physical disability than from job).
Yes, but only after a long gap because it was exhausting, and now I cannot be surprised.
When the lovers are reunited after complex lives without each other.
The heroine, Sara. She was so outwardly imprisoned by her era and yet was bold and gave vent to her adventurism.
Two characters together: Mr. Bennet and his clandestine lover. That was a touching story.
The descriptions--especially of the countryside-- are absolutely beautiful.
This book borrows the situations and characters from Jane Austen but that's where the similarities end. This rendition is full of adjectives but slow on action. Unfortunate, because the concept was intriguing.
I'm making an audacious claim here. I know that it's virtually literary heresy to compare Jane Austen's work unfavorably with a modern novel. However . . .
I came to Longbourn expecting a rehashing of Austen's plot from the perspective of those "downstairs." I was very quickly disabused of this belief. Baker has created her own world of characters living their own independent lives which, now and then, intersect with that of the Bennet family.
Baker must have extensively researched the lives of all types of people during this era, and her ability of portray characters of various lifestyles during this period is uncanny. I am a voracious reader of biographies, diaries and journals, historical fiction and non-fiction. But it is rare that a historical novel, and more an audiobook, gave me the feeling that I was dipping into the lives of real people. Her prose, ad Fielding's interpretation of it, draws the reader in without feeling that it is contrived or overly poetic.
Don't get me wrong. I respect Jane Austen's work. I recognize her ability to reproduce the society in which she lived using fiction. And as an adult (I first read her books as a "teeny-bopper" in the very early 1970's) the consequences that come to foolish young girls are something I can relate to. More, as a parent, understand the turmoil when families are stretched between concern for the welfare of their daughters and fear of losing their social standing.
But all in all, I prefer Baker's re-interpretation of Austen's novel. If it can be called that. Because, when it comes down to brass tacks, Longbourn is only slightly related to Pride and Prejudice. It's much, much better.
Life long compulsive reader & lover of recorded books
Longbourn is absorbing, intelligent and entertaining. I would not read it again soon, because it is like a large, delicious meal...one is left deliciously full and tired after reading it, and time is needed to fully digest it... but I can see myself reading it again in the future.
The writing is excellent; the story is engaging, the characters are well developed. The author does an excellent job of guiding the reader to a vantage point from which to observe the action that is not the usual one. Below stairs, some of the characters are imprisoned, others are vulnerable and yet others dare to dream and break away. The events of the novel remain utterly believable.
Fielding is an excellent narrator (I hope to listen to more books narrated by her). She is as versatile as Vance....a good narrator always adds to character development without "interfering" which is no easy job, and she does that. I believe that if I had chosen to read the book I might have found certain passages dragging (just a little bit) but Fielding's voice hooked me...I wanted to listen to this book in one sitting! (It took me about 3)
Good question! I would have loved to chat with Mrs. Hill over a cup of tea and explore her real feelings about Mr. Bennet. I might have want to talk with Mr. Bennet as well. And of course, with James Smith.
I recommend this book to anybody who is prepared to see Darcy and Elizabeth as bit players in a story which I find infinitely more interesting than their own!
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