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Kind of romance except perhaps classics But I am fascinated with Jane Austen and having recently read AA Milne s superlative stage play Miss Elizabeth Bennet I felt I would like to read books directly descended from Pride and Prejudice After Colin Firth is it possible to have too much Darcy Is it possible to have too much chocolate Is it possible to have too much candy floss Yes to the last sadly it is And was DNFA note on the writing It wasn t Jane Austen It wasn t AA Milne It wasn t bad in any way But it was perfectly one note shallow clear and descriptive and left me in no doubt that what I saw was what I got That s all Maybe this is par for the genre If you enjoy period romances then you might love the book this review is my impression and not one that should influence you in any way It s become a cliche to love Jane Austen s books Her oeuvre is so popular that it has inspired a vast amount of fan fiction much of it crap I ve been a Janeite for about 15 years and have read all of Miss Austen s works excepting her Juvenilia which I m saving for a rainy day I ve also picked up dozens of the fan novels in an effort to extend the stay in her world I say picked up rather than read because a great deal of the fanfic is insufferable and must be tossed after the first chapterLongbourn is one of the exceptions The simple description is that it is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the servants point of view But it goes deeper than ust a retelling Longbourn made the Bennet home come alive For the first time in all of my readings of PP I felt as if I lived in the same house as Miss Elizabeth Jane Kitty Lydia Mary and Mr and Mrs Bennet I know what time the housemaids got up to light the fires and draw the water I know when the cook began preparing the dinner I know how the linens got washed and how muddy it was to walk to Meryton to get supplies I even know a few secrets about the housekeeper that would have surprised Miss AustenAnd this is where the two novels diverge Jo Baker has created full characters out of the servants who are almost invisible in PP The story is mostly told by Sarah a housemaid who has been working at Longbourn since she was orphaned at age 6 The cook Mrs Hill thinks of Sarah as family and is worried what will happen to the staff if the estate is entailed away to Mr Collins I liked having the servant s perspective on this well known plot line it was a good reminder of how many people were actually affected by Mr Bennet s lack of a male heirThe story picks up uickly when a new footman named James Smith is hired Sarah thinks James has a secret and is determined to find out about his past Meanwhile her head is turned by a handsome servant who works for Mr Bingley Sarah who reminded me a bit of the headstrong Jane Eyre thinks that life should be something than ust emptying chamber pots every day and always washing other people s linens If only someone would take notice of SarahI should warn diehard PP fans that if you re hoping to spend time swooning over Mr Darcy you will be disappointed Aside from Mr Wickham who likes to lurk around the servants and tries to seduce a young maid the men from PP are only on the periphery of this story You ll see of the Bennets as the servants interact with them but the downstairs plot takes its own pathBaker s prose is lovely and I was enchanted with almost all of the book My one criticism was that too much time was spent on James back story and I was anxious to return to Longbourn But that is a mere uibble in an otherwise wonderful novel Three cheers for Jo Baker for bringing the Bennet home to lifeIn addition to Longbourn my recommendations for the best Jane Austen fanfic are Pamela Aidan s An Assembly Such as This part I of a trilogy Jane Fairfax by Joan Aiken and Amanda Grange s series of gentlemen s diaries such as Mr Darcy s Diary Mr Knightley s Diary Colonel Brandon s Diary etc I declare them charming and delightful reads You ll think that I m being silly and hyperbolic when I say books like this are the purpose that historical fiction is meant to serve but I mean it very sincerely Don t pick this book up wanting to swoon over Elizabeth and Darcy or expecting the narrative focus to be on the story Austen told in PP It s not about that It s about giving voice to the voiceless fleshing out the ghosts that would otherwise fade and be shred to pieces before the onslaught of time Blue coat black horse that was Mr Bingley The great tall fellow in the green was Mr Darcy again They clipped past the orchard in profile and oblivious to the housemaids Sarah felt herself fade She could see the leaves and branches through her hand the sun shone straight through her skinAnd now I can t wait to go back through PP and ferret out all the glimpses of Sarah and her ilk from which Jo Baker spun this tale Longbourn is simply tremendous It s the world of Austen made real Austen in context with all the mud and blood and shit that comes with that And it s so deep and beautiful and heart stoppingly real
"that i m "I m awe I didn t expect to feel so strongly about Longbourn when I first picked it up but it s far and away one of the best books I ve read in the past year Highly recommended When Lizzie Bennet went traipsing through the muddy fields mooning over Mr Darcy someone had to do wash those muddy petticoats When Mrs Bennet was fainting from the strain of arranging suitable marriages for her countless daughters someone had to fetch the smelling salts While the ladies of the Bennet family spent their time in
the leisurely fashion of gentlewomen in music and sewing and art and dancingleisurely fashion of gentlewomen in music and sewing and art and dancing attracting promisingly rich husbands someone had to run the household cook endless dinners do laundry empty the chamber pots shovel the pig shit clean the outhouse run errands scrub floors travel to the village and surrounding estates through the rain and mud and do anything and everything to allow the cream and crop of gentle society to enjoy their leisurely lives that made Austen s novels such great escapist reading If Elizabeth had the washing of her own pe Three and a Half Stars In the Author s Note at the end of Longbourn Jo Baker writes One final note in Pride and Prejudice the footman appears ust once in the text when he delivers a note to Jane page 31 of Volume One in my Penguin Classics edition After that he is never mentioned again Well that is an undeniable fact But what are we to glean from this tidbit That Baker found her inspiration from this one tiny glimmer into the world behind the scenes That Austen was remiss in showing only the Upstairs of early nineteenth century English country life Much has been written about Jane Austen s omission of socio political context in her novels but in the end we are left with the stories as she chose to tell them Full stopIn the same author s note Jo Baker tells us she has interfered only so far as the give names to the unnamed the butler footman and the second housemaid There ensued a great spluttering of coffee coughing and general wiping up The plot itself depends upon interferences large and small Early on Mrs Hill the Bennet s cook and housekeeper enters Mr Bennet s library and closes the door A central twist of the story is predicated on a very mighty interference indeed I m not convinced that anyone who has read Pride and Prejudice can accurately assess whether Longbourn could stand on its own a story complete Well for heaven s sake of course it couldn t It wouldn t exist without Pride and Prejudice But that s not really what I mean I mean that it s built upon the backs of Austen s characters Little has to be done by way of introducing or maintaining this supporting cast which is what the Bennet femmes et homme and their society neighbors are in this below stairs account of life at Longbourne We who know Elizabeth Darcy and Wickham have already colored between those lines and need little in the way of further fleshing out For this first half of this novel I said a resounding No There is no there here Longbourn although far from an Austen pastiche reads like a meticulously researched and lovingly crafted vignette of servant life in a middle class Regency home There seems to be little point beyond showing the difficulties and deprivations of a life in service and to point out that even in Georgian England people pooped masturbated and menstruatedThen the novel enters its stride Although I never lost the twitch of discomfort that Jo Baker was trying to make up for some absence of verisimilitude in the original the characters begin to live on their own accord as if the author herself snipped the ties constraining her to Pride and Prejudice It s somewhere around the time Wickham ventures into the kitchen to leer at Polly and we see each servant s response to his trespass that we fully finally enter the world of distinct complete characters who have to offer than chilblains and chamber pots Baker won me over however with Longbourn s enigmatic footman James Smith She creates a haunting portrait of a soldier s experience during Napolean s Guerilla war in Spain and Portugal Eually moving though much briefer is a recounting of Mrs Hill s troubles at Longbourn in the era before she became Mrs Hill From these points forward the characters above stairs become than ciphers and those below stairs develop backstories and backbones Jo Baker s writing though at times heavy handed with the metaphors is lovely She maintains a formal dignified diction that feels Gilligan Unbound just right for the period and place without trying to emulate Austen s vivacity and wit She sprinkles inarring vulgarities and peers inside chamber pots to let us know if they contain solids as well as liuids all of which seems a bit forced as if she were trying too hard to distance herself from Austen gentility but the moments are brief and tolerable Longbourn is a very engaging and enjoyable read The uality of writing is such that I will seek out Jo Baker s other novels and look forward to her next though I hope she is finished outfitting 19th century classics with 21st century hindsight. Ke 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?. .
Jo Baker ´ 2 Characters.
Unfortunately I found this to be a stuffy contemporary literary novel in historical clothing with none of the brio of Austen s own style and little insight to contribute about the characters or story of Pride and PrejudiceThere s not much logic in how the plot of this book fits in with the above stairs developments of Pride and Prejudice The action of Longbourn doesn t consist of previously unseen repercussions of those familiar events nor does it posit any new motives or influences that provide alternate explanations for them At times it feels as though Baker s characters are waiting for something to happen in PP which only makes sense if you see the plot of PP as necessary or guaranteed which you can t because the characters in that book are freuently surprised by news choices and revelations of the past Wickham appears here as a scoundrel which we already knew and the author seems very pleased with her insight that Mr Collins and Mary would have made a good match something that I think every reader of PP perceives and a luscious bit of permanently unresolved dramatic irony on Austen s part Baker adds backstory for a few major characters that can t feel conseuential because it s entirely unmanifested in PP Unlike Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead which you could superficially say interacts with Hamlet the same way this wants to with PP this book doesn t provide us with any cleverly interlocking alternate explanations new plot twists thematic extension or characterizationBaker tries too hard to convince us of her commitment to gritty historical realism her freuent mentions of chamberpots menstruation mud etc are cloying and to me seem to lack historical logic Would someone of that period spend so much time thinking about the dirtier aspects of existence or would they view them as given as background I d much rather read something that also acknowledges the beauty of historical times like for example the passage in Doomsday Book about the snowy medieval Christmas Notably Doomsday Book has plenty of gross scenes the point is that it has both whereas this book perhaps unconsciously betrays a modern viewpoint by dealing mostly in grime and unpleasantness Similarly there are moments where the protagonist Sarah acts in bold or independent ways that seem implausible for a character of her station in that period and unjustified by her personality They seem like things a modern young woman would do so they only work if you are putting yourself into the story in her shoesI ve complained a lot about this novel s relationship to PP Can it be considered successful as a freestanding novel Yes somewhat it s ust that then it is a novel in a genre that I almost never enjoy Several reviewers have said that Baker writes like Austen which I don t think is remotely true Austen wrote a brisk dramacomedy of manners this is a ponderous romance Austen was matter of fact and sometimes pert this is self serious and tries to assign mystic import to even prosaic life events Austen reuires you to read between the lines of straightforward seeming dialogue and descriptions to discover a character s motives or mindset Baker writes paragraph long descriptions of roadside foliage that are a single sentence Austen dealt in interpersonal relationships and power imbalances Baker is keen on totemic objects like James s collection of seashellsThe plot didn t work for me on its own there were several key moments of this book where something was revealed with great pomp and circumstance that I d figured out long before and I honestly couldn t figure out whether Baker meant the scenes as actual plot twists or satisfying resolutions of what the reader had begun to suspect I found Sarah likable but there was something so soft focus and arbitrary about her relationship with James that I didn t care much about themObviously I considered this novel thought provoking enough to finish but I didn t find it a success Read it if you like current woman oriented literary fiction skip it if you like Austen s wit Review copy received from Edelweiss Jane Austen meets Downton Abbey is the crude shorthand but this novel is so much I hardly dare say it Janeites are a fearsome bunch such talk could get me lynched Could this be better than the original Pride and Prejudice that is Perhaps better is not the right word but fuller Baker s is a fully convincing and unbiased vision of early nineteenth century English life featuring multiple classes and races and it doesn t airbrush away unpleasant bodily realities Longbourn is for the most part meticulously contemporaneous with the action of Pride and Prejudice A house the size of Longbourn was run by a small band of servants all Baker has done in the way of invention is to give faces and stories to those previously nameless below stairs characters expanded roles for Mr and Mrs Hill the latter both housekeeper and cook young maids Sarah and Polly and a new footman with murky origins James SmithOur protagonist housemaid Sarah is a feisty heroine from the lineage of both Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre indeed the first line is particularly reminiscent of Jane Eyre There could be no wearing of clothes without their laundering Like Miss Eyre Sarah is an eager orphan who turns to books for temporary escape from her troubles like Lizzie she faces a
Similar Choice Between Twochoice between two different suitors and again like Jane she will set off on a fraught solitary adventure to secure true loveBaker builds sympathy for her characters by shifting between third person limited perspectives usually that point of view will be one of the servants as in Sarah s view of Jane Bennet She was as sweet soothing and undemanding as a baked milk pudding But occasionally readers are privy to the thoughts of one of the Bennets themselves here is Mary for example the distraction of those silly sistersIf they could but think of higher things of music religion good works instead of officers For the most
part though we are limited to knowing whatever the servants canthough we are limited to knowing whatever the servants can or imply The Bennets utter obliviousness to the reality of life for the lower classes is slyly uxtaposed with a growing awareness of the brutality of slavery Even on the second page Baker shows concern for those people of color omitted from Austen s world the sun would be shining on other places still on the Barbadoes and Antigua and Jamaica where the dark men worked half naked and on the Americas where the Indians wore almost no clothes at all Footman James is a committed abolitionist with a copy of Wilberforce by his bedside and Baker gives a significant role to a new black character Ptolemy the Bingleys footman who turns Sarah s headBaker expertly mimics Austen s trademark use of free indirect speech and witticisms A prime example is when Sarah is sent out in the pouring rain to fetch decorations for the Bennet girls dancing shoes whereas the original text has the anonymous and passive the very shoe roses for Netherfield were got by proxy Sarah never has to open her mouth to issue this deliciously snide response The ladies could like the shoe roses or they could lump them Indeed she would rather like it if they lumped them She rather looked forward to their having to lump them The epigraphs heading each chapter come directly from Pride and Prejudice but I only found one line of word for word lifted dialogue in the main text eagle eyed Austenites correct me if I am wrong and let me know if you spot the same line I picked up on If you search the PP e book free here on Project Gutenberg you ll be interested to learn that there are in fact allusions to a Longbourn footman and a serving Sarah in chapters 7 and 55 respectivelyWhere Longbourn diverges most noticeably from Pride and Prejudice is in its unflinching portrayal of the physical reality of early nineteenth century life chilblains scars lice reeking chamber pots animal slaughter napkins soaked with menstrual blood even underarm hair you mean the Bennet girls had hairy pits say it ain t so Even behind the fine appearances of the Netherfield ball guests all Sarah can see is the same old freckles and wrinkles and bad breath and smallpox scars and limping goutHer envy puffed up into smoke and was gone on the wind Nonetheless I don t think there s anything here that will upset Austen lovers while there is plenty that should draw in new fans I think Longbourn might particularly appeal to those male readers who have previously professed that Austen isn t their cup of tea who are too Hotshot P.I. jaded and knowing orust too darn cool for this chick stuff They will find that there is ust the right level of earthiness here to root the romantic plot in reality Kudos to Jo Baker and bon app tit to all you lucky readers who soon get to encounter this terrific novel for the first timeA slightly expanded version of this review is at Bookkaholic The best word to describe this book is unpleasant It was a very unpleasant reading experience But I can and will be specific First of all technically this is a Pride and Prejudice retelling from the point of view of the Longbourn servants Good idea right I sure thought so And honestly there are some very good things in here I was v Hoo boyWhere do I startActually that s easy Any review of Longbourn should feature this warning right at the top If you are an Austen purist this book will give you a stroke and a heart attack and possibly cancer So there s thatOh also Any novel written by a non servant is apparently reuired by law to feature at least one passage in which a character who is a servant will ponder life as a person of leisure and decide Naw Overrated Yeah THAT happenedI wanted to adore this book because I m tired of people talking about how lovely life was in the Regency No it wasn t Not even if you were rich although that was miles better than being poor Even if you were rich there was no plumbing very little in the way of social mobility and nothing remotely resembling a maxi pad let alone a tampon Not even in spite of what the author of Longbourn says any napkins Where would you put one There wasn. • 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 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 th. T anything in the way of underwear as we know it See Susanne Alleyn s awesome Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders for convincing evidence of thatThere was no reliable birth control and no uick and easy food for those nights when you ust don t feel like cooking Women spent all day preparing or looking after the work of food preparation and routinely wrote their wills when they became pregnantThere were no no fault divorces and very few he s TOTALLY at fault divorces even if your husband was an adulterous batterer And I m saving the worst for last here there was NO CHOCOLATE Okay there was a drink called chocolate but it was outrageously expensive and it wasn t sweetI love Austen s novels but I have no illusions about the era in which she lived and wrote I worked as a live in domestic myself and I m constantly thinking about the servants who made those leisured lives possibleSo I was excited to read Longbourn a retelling of Pride Prejudice from the vantage point of one of the Bennet s housemaids I was sold when I read the pull uote every review featured If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats Sarah often thought she d most likely be a sight careful with themPerfect Think about that the next time you read the scene in PP where Lizzy shows up at Bingley s house with her petticoat three inches deep in mudI admire Jo Baker s determination to show the story from a different angle Her premise is solid her prose beautifulSo why am I so put out by this bookPartly because it s a bummer from beginning to end It s Les Miserables without the funny musical numbers I think it s Moonlight and Mistletoe (Harlequin Historical, just as dehumanizing to servants to assume their lives are endless misery as it is to ignore them Yes this book has a happy ending technically But it starts out bleak it continues dire and it crosses the finish line with a vague So that turned out okay I guessSpeaking of bleak Anyone who s read Bleak House will probably not find the surprise middle of Longbourn particularly surprising Many who have read PP will find aspects of it offensive Jo Baker takes a lot of liberties with PP I never thought of myself as a purist but this bothered me For instance she insists on following the heavily trod trodden trode whatever path of Mary Bennet being infatuated with Mr Collins Know what it says in the book about that Mary might have been prevailed on to accept him She rated his abilities much higher than any of the others there was a solidity in his reflections which often struck her and though by no means so clever as herself she thought that if encouraged to read and improve himself by such an example as her s sic he might become a very agreeable companionShe thinks he s a fixer upper my husband commented when I read this to him But everybody movie makers Austen seuel writers somehow turns this into Mary adoring Mr Collins from afar and longing to have him as her own And of course Baker follows suitShe also features uotations from PP at the beginning of every chapter Except in the flashback section where they wouldn t make sense Except I don t think they make sense anywhere What are they supposed to be Messages from GodAnyway Back to the liberties Mary s in love Mr Collins is a really nice guy not at all pompous orudgmental Mr Bennet has a lot of lines and one of them is cuttingly sarcastic One Are you ishing meSpeaking of ish Baker talks about it a lot By name It is apparently everywhere in Regency England You couldn t open your carriage door without smacking into a load of ish I m surprised the publisher didn t offer a special scratch and sniff edition of Longbourn ust to get the point across Point being Wow you guys was there a lot of manure in the bad old daysYou know what there wasn t The kind of 21st century thinking Baker gives her miserable underclass characters The line about how Miss Bennet could be a little careful of her things was perfect But there s no way a teenaged maidservant in the eighteenth century was thinking Really no one should have to deal with another person s dirty linen Really This little revolutionary decided all on her own not that laundry day sucks a sentiment that holds true to this very day but that all people should have the doing of their own underthings Similarly Mrs Hill the housekeeper is often burdened by Mrs Bennet s emotional demands Mrs Hill has uite enough work to do to fill her day already without having to offer a shoulder to cry on ust when the bread is rising That works I love thatThis very Mrs Hill overworked miserable a character who seems to exist only to be taken advantage of is the one who decides near the end of the book that really there s not much difference between living as a servant and being a genteel lady The end was all the sameI mentioned this is a happy book rightThe writing is very very good The author has clearly done her research and it shows without seeming show offyBut in the end this book was ust A Bummer Reposted from my review at AustenBlogThe publication of Jo Baker s new novel Longbourn generated the same sort of excitement
as the arrival of a single gentleman of good fortune It has been described as beingthe arrival of a single gentleman of good fortune It has been described as being cross between Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey When we heard this premise we were all admiration What a brilliant idea Two of the most wildly popular and well known popular culture properties now together It might be the greatest idea since some genius combined chocolate and peanut butter The Commercial Publishing Industrial Complex has predictably lost its mind over it frankly we are astonished that its publication did not rip open the fabric of the universe creating a giant black hole that sucked us all into itWhile this soundbyte selling point
"makes it simple "it simple
Publishers And Booksellers We Thinkand booksellers we think has done the authoress a disservice We think Ms Baker was shooting for something less mercenary and ambitious the Wide Sargasso Sea of the Jane Austen oeuvre by which we mean a paraliterature title that strives for literary achievement as well as or perhaps even than popularity We have long wondered why no one has written such a novel Sadly Longbourn did not work for us either as ambitious literary fiction or as a PPDownton mashup There is nothing of the elegance of Downton Abbey and a Pride and Prejudice that we do not recognizeThe story takes place almost entirely belowstairs at Longbourn domain of the long suffering Mrs Hill the butler Mr Hill the two maidservants Sarah and Polly and the footman James The foreground story is their melodramas and heartbreak and there is a lot of both while the familiar story of Pride and Prejudice unfolds in the background like a dimly heard radio play Sarah is pretty much the main character She is fascinated with one of Bingley s manservants a freed slave who impresses her with his sophistication and tells her stories of London Sarah finds James annoying and she is convinced he is a Bad Man who will cause trouble and wait a minute haven t we read this story beforeThe link to Pride and Prejudice seems tenuous to us other than perhaps the romantic triangle The Bennets could afford than two maidservants and it s silly to say otherwise The Bateses in Emma could afford to employ a maidservant surely the Bennets could employ than two If Ms Baker truly wanted to tell the story of the servants of Pride and Prejudice and link it to the wildly popular Downton Abbey it would have been better to give the Bennets a fuller complement of servants If she wanted to write about overworked servants in Austen s time don t give them to the Bennets Why not the Lucases for instance They are certainly involved in the main story or perhaps another neighbor If the idea really was that marketable mashup it would have eual commercial potential marketed as a servant s story in Jane Austen s time set in the world of her novelsWe are probably not the audience for this being on record as unappreciative of Gritty Realism We acknowledge that it existed in that time and we acknowledge that it is present in Austen s novels if one looks for it but Austen s pen famously did not dwell on guilt and misery and the darker aspects of her world are sketched in lightly shadowing the background upon which her characters are drawn Ms Baker seems to be determined to inform the reader that life in that time at least for the servant class was dark dingy dangerous unpleasant painful and there is nothing wrong with that but if some information is enlightening then too much becomes a blunt object concussing the reader One is sometimes truly stunned by the imagery for instance militia officers converge on the Phillips house like lice on a beggar s head We struggled through this book constantly pulled out of it by this determination to dunk Austen s work in a literary mud puddle It seems to us a subversion of Pride and Prejudice not a celebration of it No doubt that is purposeful but it does not interest us and marketing it to Austen fans seems disingenuous There seems to be a determination to make us think ill of Austen s characters for committing the sin of making work for the servants If the somewhat sanitized version of GeorgianRegency England portrayed in many Austen film adaptations is overly romantic wallowing in filth poverty and misery has a romance of its own that is eually dangerousWe still like the idea of a PPDownton mashup but we would have preferred something different a properly big cast of servants and a olly rollicking tale of belowstairs hijinks There would be work hard work sometimes dirty work and all the sualid details of bodily fluids could have been worked in if absolutely necessary but importantly it would have been fun and the companion piece that Austen s light bright and sparkling masterpiece deserved Longbourn is ambitious and beautifully written we wish we could like it but we cannot I read five chapters and then I admitted defeat I threw up my arms through a sea of frothy pink fluff and pushed it aside and emerged if not a better person then at least a relieved one with one less cloud in my worldTo be fair I m not the audience for any. E laundry polishing the floors and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household But there is ust 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 ta.