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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Achievement
To contextualise: I am a big Austen fan and I teach "Pride and Prejudice" every year so I can be hard to please! For example, "Death Comes to Pemberley" was better on the TV in my opinion. What makes "Longbourn" a success is that it doesn't try to reimagine Elizabeth and Mr Darcy's courtship. In fact, the latter barely features which many will...
Published 6 months ago by sharona27

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68 of 71 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reworking of the classic from the servants' point of view
'There could be no wearing of clothes without laundering, just as surely as there could be no going without clothes, not in Hertfordshire anyway, and not in September.'

I liked the premise the opening sentence makes clear - seeing the events of Pride and Prejeudice from the point of view of the servants and gaining insight into the lives of the ordinary classes...
Published 15 months ago by Purpleheart


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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Achievement, 21 May 2014
By 
This review is from: Longbourn (Kindle Edition)
To contextualise: I am a big Austen fan and I teach "Pride and Prejudice" every year so I can be hard to please! For example, "Death Comes to Pemberley" was better on the TV in my opinion. What makes "Longbourn" a success is that it doesn't try to reimagine Elizabeth and Mr Darcy's courtship. In fact, the latter barely features which many will hate, but why the novel works. Baker also avoids massacring Austen's original characters - PD James's reworking of Colonel Fitzwilliam anyone? For diehard Lizzie Bennet and Mr Darcy fans - this is not for you. Naturally, both characters are remote. There will be some fans appalled by one or two plot twists involving Mrs Hill which are a bit more risqué. An enjoyable novel which tackles the criticism levelled at Austen: no awareness of the lower / servant classes, little awareness of the Napoleonic war and slavery / money from plantations. If you want more than 'P&P: The Redux' this is well worth your time.
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68 of 71 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reworking of the classic from the servants' point of view, 3 Sep 2013
By 
Purpleheart (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Longbourn (Kindle Edition)
'There could be no wearing of clothes without laundering, just as surely as there could be no going without clothes, not in Hertfordshire anyway, and not in September.'

I liked the premise the opening sentence makes clear - seeing the events of Pride and Prejeudice from the point of view of the servants and gaining insight into the lives of the ordinary classes that Austen barely mentions. The novel opens well but is somewhat formulaic. It's as if Baker decided to make a list of what Jane Austen leaves out: war, politics, sex with overworked servants and then wrote a novel to address those. Clearly Austen didn't write state of the nation novels but her dialogue was great, her characters always believable, and her wit sparkling. Despite the current fashion of considering P&P to be chick lit, it is a sharply observed novel on one strata of society. It is pitch perfect. This novel strained my credulity - can you imagine Mr Collins having a chat about his choice of Bennet girl with a maid? For me, it added few new insights into Jane Austen's novel despite key references to slavery and fortunes made from sugar. Those are important issues, as were the difficulties of dismissed servants and I would have felt that more if Jo Baker had been able to simply concentrate on her own characters. I suppose that is the key point. A book like Wide Sargasso Sea (Penguin Modern Classics) casts new light back on our reading of Jane Eyre (Wordsworth Classics) and particularly its view of women and the exploitation of the colonies. I don't think this novel pulled that off - perhaps because it tried to pack too much in.

The strongest section is the first - a well imagined account of laundry day from the point of view of Sarah, the maid and main protagonist. 'If Elizabeth had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she'd most likely be a sight more careful with them,' is a good example of where we gain a different view of Elizabeth Bennet's trampling over muddy fields to her sister. The drudgery that supports the lives of the Bennets is well described, as is the contrast with the much larger house of the Bingleys.

I think an important question is whether the novel could stand on its own without the link to the original. In my view it doesn't, despite some enjoyable passages. The ending of Longbourn departs entirely from Pride and Prejudice and is the weakest part of the novel. I suppose I should learn my lesson from this, and Death Comes to Pemberley, and leave this sub genre of Austen prequels, sequels and re-imaginings alone.

Having said that, I seem to be in the minority of the reviewers here.
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94 of 104 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Richly Imagined, Engaging and Entertaining, 15 Aug 2013
By 
Susie B - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Longbourn (Hardcover)
Jane Austen is a favourite author of mine and, as such, I have always avoided reading any sequels, prequels or retellings of her novels, as I feel they would only disappoint - however Jo Baker's 'Longbourn' is something rather different and I must admit that I was pulled into this book from the very first pages. 'Longbourn' focuses on the lives of the servants who work for the Bennet family (from 'Pride and Prejudice') and the story is told almost entirely from the servants' perspective, so there is a lot of gritty 'downstairs' life and very little of the more genteel 'upstairs' variety.

In the servants' quarters we meet our main heroine, the housemaid Sarah, an attractive and determined young woman, similar in age to the older Bennet girls, but obviously leading a very different life. Then there is the cook/housekeeper, Mrs Hill (who has a painful secret she has had to keep hidden for years), her husband, Mr Hill, the butler (a man with secrets of his own) and lastly, twelve-year-old Polly, the kitchen maid. Into their busy, but quiet and uneventful lives arrives a new footman, James Smith, a dark, attractive man with a rather mysterious past, who finds himself falling for Sarah. However, Sarah, although initially attracted to James, feels a little rebuffed by his reluctance to discuss his past life, and consequently she finds herself becoming rather interested in the very good-looking Mulatto manservant, Ptolemy, who works for the Bingleys at Netherfield Park. But what is it that James is trying to hide from Sarah and should Sarah really be considering Ptolemy in a romantic light? (No spoilers, we learn most of this early on in the novel and there is a lot more for prospective readers to discover and enjoy).

This is a very atmospheric and wonderfully described story where the reader follows the servants in their day-to-day work, so we experience Sarah's back-breaking work with the family laundry ("If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah thought, she would be more careful not to tramp through muddy fields"); we feel the pain of Sarah's chapped and chilblained fingers; we clean and blacklead the grates; we beat the Turkish carpets and sprinkle tea leaves to gather the dust; we even have to empty the evil-smelling chamber pots that the genteel folk upstairs leave for Sarah to dispose of. And, as the author cleverly weaves threads from the original 'Pride and Prejudice' into her story, we also experience certain aspects of Bennet family life and are able to eavesdrop on family conversations, which makes for very entertaining reading.

In addition, Jo Baker is not just adept at describing indoor life - her descriptions of the Hertfordshire countryside were a pleasure to read, and her brief, but powerful depiction of a certain soldier's wartime experiences revealed during the course of the book was an interesting and involving aspect of the story. This, therefore, is a novel which works on different levels: as an exploration of injustice, inequality and poverty, but also as a romantic story of love and loyalty; it's not Jane Austen, of course, but it's not meant to be, and despite my initial misgivings I am pleased to say that I was entertained by this novel and read the entire book in one enjoyable sitting. Attractively presented and with each chapter headed with an extract from the original novel, Jo Baker's 'Longbourn' is a richly imagined story that makes for an engaging weekend, bedtime or anytime read, and one for which the film rights have already been acquired.

4 Stars.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunningly good book, 10 May 2014
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This review is from: Longbourn (Kindle Edition)
This is the other side of Pride and Prejudice - seen from the point of view of the servants and domestic staff, who have their own lives and loves, but who are constantly vulnerable to those 'above' them. For them, life is 'a trial by endurance, which everybody, eventually fails'.

This book succeeds in every facet. It is full of historical detail, whether of the drudgery of daily life or the horrors of an early nineteenth century war. The great and well known story of Austen's book is always relevant, but deftly kept in the background of this tale. Sarah and Smith, the lead characters are beautifully drawn, the former innocent but knowing and the latter more worldly but anchored in decency. There is immense confidence in the writing, which is not afraid to take its time to tell the story, yet rarely drags. An outstanding achievement - highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Below stairs at Pemberley, 25 Jun 2014
By 
Ms. P. J. O'CONNOR "Pen" (London UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Longbourn (Paperback)
This is a wonderful story of the servants of Pemberley in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. IT is a romantic story as is P and P, with a socio-political stance, showing how the lower classes loved and lived. Hard work. Nicely plotted, intelligently written, but not hard work to read.
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38 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Assured, absorbing, and completely respectful of Austen's original, 17 Aug 2013
This review is from: Longbourn (Hardcover)
Confession; I love Pride and Prejudice (not quite as much as Persuasion, but...) It's the book I've read and reread more than any other. So I must admit to more than a slice of apprehension on first reading Longbourn, in which Jo Baker tiptoes below stairs to reflect the servants' story. I need not have worried. Baker takes the original and respectfully, assuredly serves up a new tale full of hope, betrayal, anxiety, war and (yes) while the Bennet family play out their own histories upstairs. This is very much a fresh and completely satisfying entire novel all its own, with Baker's own voice. We have a new, richly drawn heroine and hero, not without their own flaws. There's no flinching from the grimier and grittier side of life in servitude, but there are so many light moments of hopefulness and blossoming romance that keep the reader turning the pages. One for Austen fans, yes, absolutely - but read it for itself, I really urge you. Longbourn deserves that and so much more. Wonderful!
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5.0 out of 5 stars The invisibility of servitude, 21 July 2014
By 
Susan Glazier (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Longbourn (Kindle Edition)
Longbourn sets Jane Austin's "Pride and Prejudice" in it's socio-political and historical context. It is a very finely crafted story written as a parallel but interlocking account to P&P. It is a story set in the same location, the same household and the same time-period (with some very relevant preceding events also included) but it's ingeniously centred around the Longbourn servants. It is set in the years immediately after the enclosure of common land when a vast number of people were driven from their homes and land and deprived of their means to subsist, consequently having to seek out work as wage slaves for landowners or early industrialists. The action also takes place during the time of the Napoleonic wars, and in the time of the slave-trade on which the fortunes of landowners were primarily based. I know the P&P story inside out and so very much appreciated this "alternative history" of P&P which includes the harsh realities of life for those below stairs, those not rich. The Bennet family, who own Longbourn, do display a certain fondness for their small retinue of servants, but nevertheless, to a large extent, they treat them as objects and do not recognise their full humanness. Here is a quote about the central figure, Sarah's, reaction to being in servitude: "To live at the mercy of other people's whims and fancies was, she thought, no way to live at all". Life below stairs unfolds as one full of drudgery, dirt, long hours, exhaustion, lack of security and fear of eventual penury. It is striking how mostly the servants are invisible to their master and mistress, their friends and relatives, and how often the servants' strenuous efforts are very much taken for granted. There are many examples of servants' invisibility in the book, but this one particularly stood out for me, showing as it does how individuals are moulded by it - Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley are passing Sarah on horseback: "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 skin". Although the gross inequalities and injustices in the story are set in the past, Jo Baker's strong political messages are still applicable today, in a world of "haves" and "have nots", where a huge amount of people still live lives of servitude, deprivation and hardship in a hidden world not visible to the more privileged in society.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The downstairs to Austen's upstairs, 22 July 2014
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This review is from: Longbourn (Kindle Edition)
A brilliant novel, showing us the cogs in the marriage making machine that is the Bennet household. After all, who fetches all those endless trays of teas and delivers the interminable letters? This novel only really works, of course, if you didn't realise that Pride & Prejudice was satire, and not meant to be taken seriously as the great romance it is today.

You become quickly bound to these people who have hopes and dreams of their own, but are powerless to do anything about it while they remain in service. Jo Baker has crafted an excellent setting where the world seems constrained to the outer fence of Longbourn, despite the characters' desire to travel beyond this boundary. It also manages to entertain while completely removing the shine from P&P. If you didn't like Mrs Bennet before, you certainly won't after reading this. She even managed to make me take a dislike to Lizzie and Jane.

I didn't enjoy the ending - I'm not sure why, but it just didn't seem to click with me. Other than that, it is a perfectly practical, realistic counterbalance to the fantasy of P&P and most definitely worth the read. The author's obsession with "that time of the month" did wear on me slightly, but I imagine it is something that would have been a concern of women at the time and that modern women would like to know more about.
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3.0 out of 5 stars You can only take so much of callouses and slop pails, 12 Aug 2014
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This review is from: Longbourn (Hardcover)
If allowed I would give this novel only two and a half stars - in my (very much in the minority) view it hardly merits a three. Am I really virtually alone in finding the middle sections of Longbourn actually boring? I could only take so much of incessant drudgery, calloused hands and trudges through mud. There was not sufficient plot to enliven all the painstakingly researched minutiae of running the Bennet household and (very unusual for me) I resorted to skipping through the final chapters till I found interesting bits to read. The main thread, i.e. the 'mysterious' James' history could be pretty well guessed from the start by most assiduous readers of crime novels, the revelations regarding the other characters were .....out of character, and the ending was pure Lancashire cheese, Unbelievable cheese.

However, everything, boring or not, is beautifully written, particularly the descriptions of the Hertfordshire countryside (though the weather seemed to be surprisingly harsh for an English September in the opening chapters). I hope Jo Baker applies her undoubted writing skills to a more interesting subject next time - less intensive research material, more story please.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beneath the sunny surface of Pride & Prejudice lies another story..., 15 Aug 2013
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Longbourn (Hardcover)
In a mash-up between Pride & Prejudice and Upstairs, Downstairs, this delves beneath the sunny surface of Austen's beloved novel to reveal another story peopled by the unnamed, invisible and silenced servants who keep Longbourn running.

This is a subversive re-telling, and one which runs alongside P&P rather than being a sequel. In the Longbourn parlour-maid Sarah, the mysterious new servant James Smith, and Bingley's glamorous black footman from Netherfield Hall we at first are given a story which shadows the familiar one. James' pride and Sarah's prejudice, especially, are interestingly done and throw light back on the original.

The last third of the book detaches itself from P&P and wanders far from Longbourn in both time and place, revealing some of the realities of early nineteenth-century life which Austen writes out. This is the least successful part of the book for me, and some of the plot workings are too obvious to hold any narrative tension.

That Austen's fiction erases the political both in terms of the Napoleonic wars, colonialism and the slave-trade upon which many of her characters' fortunes are based (particularly obvious in Mansfield Park) is almost a common-place of academic criticism, and this book picks up on that. It's more concerned, though, with the domestic realities of the servants who scrub Elizabeth's famously muddy petticoats and boots, who sit up half-asleep while waiting for the Bennetts to return from a ball, and who still have to start their working day at 4.30am while the Bennett girls are warmly tucked up in bed.

Baker makes no attempt to mimic Austen's style (thankfully) but this is an intelligent intervention into a famous novel which critiques it even while re-telling it from a transgressive angle. For a darker, though ultimately recuperative, story which reveals the shady undertow to the glossy glamour of Austen, this is highly recommended.

(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)
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Longbourn
Longbourn by Jo Baker (Paperback - 2 Jan 2014)
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