“Charlotte’s kindness extended farther than Elizabeth had any conception of; its object was nothing else than to secure her from any return of Mr. Collins’s addresses, by engaging them towards herself. ….it led him to escape out of Longbourn House the next morning with admirable slyness, and hasten to Lucas Lodge to throw himself at her feet.” Pride and Prejudice, Ch 22
A telling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from the servants Hall, Jo Baker’s Longbourn is an intriguing new take on a well known classic.
Longbourn is the home of the Bennett family and the setting of this novel. Mr and Mrs Hill, the housekeeper and butler, have helped to raise Sarah the maid who they took from the workhouse as a child. Another young servant comes to work at Longbourne and after a fraught beginning the two fall in love but it is only a matter of time before James’s dark past means he is forced to leave again.
Longbourn can be easily divided into two sections, first where the lives of those above stairs rule the plot and the second, longer section which becomes a story in it’s own right. Baker deals well with keeping the upstairs characters as readers of Pride and Prejudice would expect them to be. There are also new and interesting character developments occurring such as Wickham who appears to wish to ruin James and the other maid Polly simply for the pleasure of it.
However, other characters such as Mr Bennett and Mr Hill change beyond all recognition for what seems to be only to produce a twist or a shock in the reader.
Jo’s prose style feels natural and she easily takes you with her to the house and grounds. She quickly establishes a warm friendliness between characters, particularly Sarah, Mrs Hill and Polly which pulls the reader in as well. These women have formed their own family downstairs and are protectively fond of each other.
The relationship between Sarah and James is touching and beautifully mirrors the fraught relations between Elizabeth and Mr Darcy upstairs. Baker frequently illustrates that the temptations are just the same upstairs as down and that they are all as equally likely to succumb to them.
Longbourn is full of twists and turns, some of them fairly obvious and some more inventive but it does not disappoint. It is just as good a read whether you already know the characters or not. It compliments Austen’s work and it is also a well written novel in it’s own right.
On a personal note I am thrilled to see Jo getting such recognition and praise for her writing as she has been for Longbourne because she was one of my creative writing tutors at Lancaster University and a thoroughly nice and talented lady.
“Lady Stark,” Elizabeth murmured in awe, curtsying so quickly and forcefully that she nearly stumbled over her own hem. “I never would have guessed that you would travel through our measly little town.” Lizzy cursed herself for speaking so lowly of Longbourn, but when standing in front of such a statuesque and important woman, it was hard to keep her manners straight.
Her Royal Highness receives the latest intelligence from her plant at Longbourn; soon she’ll have all the information she needs to destroy Lizzie Bennet’s reputation and save Mr Darcy from a disastrously inappropriate match
Probably my second favourite thing about Pride and Prejudice fanfiction is AUs. There is something wonderful about reading about all the different worlds and ways in which Elizabeth Bennet can fall in love with Fitzwilliam (or just plain William, or on one notable occasion George) Darcy. There is something wonderful about the sheer number of different stories, and yet they always end up together. I’ve read Darcy as the son of a poor steward to the Wickham family of Pemberley, as a second son turned naval officer, as adopted, as having lost his whole fortune and being obliged to turn to trade to support himself. I’ve read Elizabeth as a governess, a lady’s maid, a duchess, as the true mistress of Longbourn and an admiral’s daughter, and a thousand other things besides. And yet, always, they find each other.
My very favourite thing, of course, is seeing all the different ways these AUs provide to scandalise Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
Chilblains and Chamber Pots:
A (Biased, Temperamental) Review of Longbourn by Jo Baker
Jane Austen is my favorite author.
Under ordinary circumstances, I would be loathe to make such a bold claim. I would vacillate and equivocate, saying something like “Choosing a favorite author is like choosing a favorite child,” or “But what does favorite even mean? Is my favorite author the one who writes such beautiful sentences that I end up underlining every other line? The one who makes me laugh the hardest? The one who makes me feel the most hopeful about the world?” It’s an impossible question for someone like me to answer. Someone like me, to be clear, who is occasionally indecisive, prone to over-thinking, and book-obsessed.
However, when reviewing a book like Longbourn by Jo Baker, a book that makes me oddly defensive and territorial, I feel confident making such a claim.
Because it’s true. Jane Austen is my favorite author. She is my favorite author because she wrote not only Mr. Darcy, but Mr. Knightley, Captain Wentworth, Frederick Tilney, Edward Ferrars. Because she created the patron saint of introverts, Anne Elliott. Because Persuasion is the perfect mix of anguish and hope, regret and possibility. Because Pride and Prejudice is masterpiece in fairytale form, the kind of book that radiates so much light and warmth it could power a small country for days. Because Emma is a coming of age story that never shies away from its heroine’s faults. Because Sense and Sensibility is about family and truth and temperament and patience and the myriad ways we accommodate and compensate for the ones we love.
All of these things meant that it was impossible for me to go into Longbourn with anything but a trunk-full of baggage, hopes and expectations that couldn’t possibly allow for an impartial or unbiased reading. Having said that, I think that it is in some ways fair to approach a book like Longbourn with such a background. After all, who is Jo Baker’s target audience but the millions of rabid Austenites such as myself hungry for more of Darcy, Lizzie, Jane, Wickham, Charlotte, and the rest of the Bennets? In the acknowledgements at the end of the book, Baker says that “I can’t remember when I first read Pride and Prejudice. It seems as if I’ve always loved it. Jane Austen’s work was my first experience of grown-up literature, and has supplied a lifetime of pleasure: it’s the only book that, as an adult, I re-read. Even after all these years, all those re-readings, and even after unpicking the backing to look at the underside - I still love it.” Is it, then, unfair of me to expect this love to translate to Baker’s adapted work?
Longbourn gives life to the mostly nameless servants of the Bennet family, those under-appreciated, overworked members of the household who burn themselves on curling irons so that the Bennet sisters look pretty for the balls they attend, whose hands crack and bleed on washing days from washing pounds of soiled laundry in vats of lye soap, who empty chamber pots and spend hours preparing meals for others to enjoy. The idea of portraying the “Downstairs” equivalent of the Bennet’s “Upstairs” saga is both brilliant and necessary. Reading Austen, or any of her Regency peers, it is all to easy to forget that, for all their struggles and dilemmas, the characters who populate these novels are privileged indeed, able to spend their days embroidering and reading and playing the pianoforte while the manifold unglamorous tasks of running a household fall to the hired help. It is easy to forget that Elizabeth Bennet would have had someone to dress her, to fetch her water to bathe, to empty her chamber pot. It is easy to forget that, for all their worries about money, the Bennet’s are wealthy enough to hire others to cook for them, clean up after them, chauffeur them to various social gatherings, run errands for them. In this way, a novel like Longbourn presents the very real problems of underrepresentation, and reminds us of the many stories we never hear, the voices both historically and currently that are systematically silenced, doomed to obscurity rather than posterity.
Longbourn centers around Sarah, the housemaid, who chafes against the indignities of her role even as she takes a certain pride in her work, but also explores the inner workings of Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper and cook, Mr. Hill, her husband, Polly, a junior housemaid, and James, the new footman with a predictably shadowy past. The most intriguing among these is Mrs. Hill, who receives a startling backstory involving a certain member of the Bennet family, and James, through whose eyes we see the horrors of the Peninsular War. For me, Sarah never quite gets off the ground as a central character. Perhaps it is because her character feels largely defined by what she is not, rather than what she is. She isn’t a sparkling wit like Lizzie, or an angelic beauty like Jane. She isn’t especially adventurous like her friend and sometimes love-interest, former slave Ptolemy Bingley, but neither is she entirely content with the insular world of Hertfordshire. What emerges is unfortunately a reactionary, ill-defined character who fades into the background where the heroine of the original work commanded attention.
Ultimately, though, what I had the most trouble with was Baker’s portrayal of the original Pride and Prejudice characters. While she occasionally nails the voice of a character (Mrs. Bennet being the best example) her portrayals are either overly generous or overly critical. Her Mr. Collins isn’t the well-meaning but sanctimonious fool of Austen but rather simply a misunderstood, socially awkward man who deserves better treatment from the Bennets than he receives. Mary, rather than a priggish stick-in-the-mud is an insightful and kind young women waiting to emerge from under the shadow of her gregarious, charming sisters. Even more troubling than these rosy-eyed portrayals, however, are those of Mr. Bennet and Lizzie. Austen’s Mr. Bennet is not without his flaws: he is dismissive towards his wife and would rather retire to his library with a good book than set proper boundaries for his daughters. But he is a loving father, an intelligent and literate man, a witty and humorous conversationalist. In Jo Baker’s imagining, he is ill and rapidly aging, neglectful of his children, emotionally withholding and actively degrading towards his wife, a man plagued by regrets and past mistakes. Similarly, Lizzie shoes none of the charm, wit, and insight that have made her one of the most beloved heroines of literature. Instead, she is aloof, idle, and consistently self-involved. Perhaps it was Baker’s intention to demonstrate the ways that any employer would appear privileged and out of touch to his or her employee, especially in such a sharply striated, class-conscious society. However, in doing so Baker unfortunately fails to capture the core traits which enlivened and illuminated each of Austen’s characters, the unmistakable voices whose popularity, even two hundred years after they were first published, made Longbourn as a novel possible at all.
If you’ve been digging my Austen and Friends tag, you might be interested in my latest book. It’s a modern adaption of Pride and Prejudice set in Kentucky. And Darcy is a woman named Darla that suffers from Resting Bitch Face, and Elizabeth is a dude named Eli that plays a guitar in a band with his brothers called Longbourn. And it’s available on Amazon now.
Based from the
novel, I can summarize that the story combines with the elements of tragic love
and consuetude. The author, Jane Austen creates romance story in a tricky
conflict. This situation then establish Pride and Prejudice become an unusual
love story. The main theme of this story is not fully used by the author.
Elizabeth Bennet as the main character has four sisters. They are live in
Longbourn. As a second child, she is different with other women. She often
resist and she likes to use sarcasm words. Her parent have a contrast life
opinion. Mr.Bennet does not have any legacy for his children. Meanwhile, Mrs.
Bennet wants her kids to marry a wealthy guy in order to secure their future. Charles
Bingley who is a rich man attracts Mr. Bennet attention. He has an outgoing
personality and friendly disposition. Then, he invites Mr. Bingley to his
house. Having come twice to Longbourn, Mr. Bingley hold a dance party. Also, he
invites all Mr. Bingley’s daughter to his house. This event make Mr. Bingley fall
in love with Elizabeth’s elder sister, Jane. Moreover, Elizabeth meets Mr.
Darcy who is Mr. Bingley’s younger brother. Mr. Darcy has a different character
with Mr. Bingley. He is arrogant and he does not talk too much. But actually, he likes Elizabeth.
Slowly but sure, Elizabeth is fascinate with everything that Mr. Darcy owned. With
all the hatred and disinterest, both of them understand that they love each
The Theme is love. The Author has
radical view in her decade. She believes that marriage should not based of
financial problem and social status. She convinces that someone married for
love, not money. Jane shows to the readers the differences of the quality and
the impact of the marriage in the basis of love. It starts from Elizabeth who
previously hate Mr. Darcy but after going through several events, she fall in
love with him. Also Mr. Darcy is secretly amazed at her beauty and
intelligences since they meet. He prefers to bury those feelings because he
thinks what he feels is not rational and they come from different status.
Furthermore, the romance between Mr. Bingley and Jane make a plot and conflict
more attractive. The weakness of the book, the plot is too familiar. A woman
from middle class who are being loved by a man from prominent family. At first
they hate each other but slowly they fall in love. I think it is boring plot. But
the best part is the use of language which is easily understood whereas the
novel published in the past decade.
This book is highly recommended for
those of you who want to know the habitual marriage in London. The use of
sarcasm can be found in this book. Moreover, the figurative languages also can
be found in here. This novel is a literary work which is highly appreciated in
U.K. I can guarantee you of the time of your life. You will not regret it.