Tag: Longbourn

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Posted October 2, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

Longbourn by Jo BakerTitle: Longbourn (Goodreads)
Author: Jo Baker
Published: Knopf Doubleday, 2013
Pages: 368
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Longbourn follows the daily lives of the servants of the Bennet house. Sarah is an orphaned housemaid who spends her day doing laundry, polishing the floor and emptying chamber pots. The house is blooming with romance and heartbreak, not just for the Bennet sisters. One day a mysterious new footman arrives and the servants’ hall is under threat of been completely upended.

A unique reimagining, this novel tells the story of Pride and Prejudice told from the people serving the Bennet’s. I get the sense that this book was inspired more by Downton Abbey more than Jane Austen but never really seems to live up to either. All the drama of Bingley, Wickham, Mr Collins and Mr Darcy play out as a background characters for the drama that is happening with the servants.

I only read Pride and Prejudice earlier this year and absolutely loved it so I was a little wary of trying a spin off novel. The idea of a novel in the style of Downton Abbey did interest me but I felt let down. I got nether Austen’s wit and humour nor the drama for Downton. Some of Austen’s memorable characters didn’t seem to line up too well in this novel either; Mr Bennet comes to mind, his sarcastic humour appears completely absent in this novel. This could be written off as the servant’s perception of the Bennets and other characters.

There are some redeeming qualities in Longbourn; the novel seemed historically accurate, and while I don’t know for sure if this is correct, it did felt like this novel aligns with what I’ve read in Pride and Prejudice. Also I have to admire the way Jo Baker wrote; she is no Jane Austen but the prose was still elegant and I found myself continuously being impressed with her style while always looking for ways she may have ruined Austen’s masterpiece.

I always felt like the Bennets were wealthy enough to allow Mr Bennet to be a man of leisure but not enough to stop Mrs Bennet from worrying. So when servant hall in Longbourn seem smaller than what you would normally expect, it didn’t come as a surprise to me. The arrival of a new footman means that Mr Bennet has finally given into the demands of his wife and in comes the mysterious James. While the servant’s seem pleased with the new addition, Sarah doesn’t and soon she becomes aware of his interests towards her. You can probably guess where this is going and I won’t spoil it for you.

I spent most of the book worried that Baker will do damage to a true classic and I think this did detract from my enjoyment but for the most of it I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. I did how ever feel as if this novel dragged on in parts and the fact that this was marked as a book for Downton Abbey fans seemed completely wrong. If you are a Downton fan I would recommend The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro well before I recommend Longbourn.