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25 of 25 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 11 months ago by sharona27

75 of 78 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 19 months ago by Purpleheart

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4.0 out of 5 stars An engaging read, 3 Jan. 2014
This review is from: Longbourn (Paperback)
I have been intrigued by the concept of this novel since I first heard about it. It's a wonderfully gripping read - I couldn't put it down - and vividly depicts below-stairs life in Georgian England, bringing to light a whole other world and way of living, which I found fascinating. The details of the domestic chores are well researched and described, from the making of soap to the scrubbing of boots and cleaning of petticoats.

I knew little else of the plot other than it being 'Pride and Prejudice from the servants' view', and was pleasantly surprised by the coming of age / love story of housemaid Sarah, and the mysterious arrival of new footman James. Baker's writing is beautiful, although the omniscient third-person narrative drifts through various characters - I would have preferred it to be more sharply focused on Sarah.

I enjoyed the mix of characters and scenery, at one point flashing back to the war in Europe and touching upon the issues of slavery and plantations. It runs alongside the narrative of Pride and Prejudice very faithfully, but sometimes I felt that Austen's characters felt a little flat compared to Baker's original creations (who were complex and rounded) - Wickham in particular is made even more explicitly dastardly than Austen implies - and sometimes I found myself thinking 'Would Lizzie say/do that?!', although these occasions were few and I do understand that everyone is entitled to their own interpretations of beloved characters. It is interesting to read reviews that suggest it would be a better read with more references to the original characters / plot - on the contrary, I think it stands up as an engaging and thought-provoking historical novel in its own right, and would do so even without the links to P&P.

Overall, an enjoyable read that makes a refreshing companion to Jane Austen's novels.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Review Jo Baker - 'Longbourn', 22 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Longbourn (Hardcover)
The Longbourn estate automatically reminds us of the Bennet family in Jane Austen's `Pride and Prejudice', but in this novel we get to take a trip downstairs, to find out the stories behind the servants working at Longbourn. There's Sarah, a hard-working young woman who has been part of the Longbourn household since she was a little girl; Mr. and Mrs. Hill, young Polly and the new footman, James. It's not entirely clear where James has come from, and Sarah isn't sure what to think of him. However, she unexpectedly starts to develop feelings for him and suddenly all kinds of things start happening downstairs, which the Bennet family have no idea of...

With this novel, Jo Baker has managed to add a complete new mix of engaging and fascinating characters to `Pride and Prejudice'. I love the fact that with this book the reader gets a chance to find out about the things going on below the stairs of the Bennet estate. There are hidden secrets, traces of love and deceit, longing and wishes... Just like any other family, which is what this group of servants really feels like: a family. Jo Baker manages to capture and explain the emotions of these characters perfectly, which is something I really enjoyed. I am also glad the author did not decide to imitate Austen's writing style; this is a modern novel, and a story on itself. I'd recommend readers to first read `Pride and Prejudice', just because it makes the reading experience a touch more special, but you can also read this novel without any prior knowledge of Austen's tale.

When I started reading `Longbourn', I felt myself waiting for scenes in which Elizabeth, Jane, or Darcy would make an appearance. However, after reading about 50 pages I was so engrossed in Sarah's story, I completely forgot about the original `Pride and Prejudice' characters. It was actually quite refreshing to see a different (slightly clueless and ignorant) side of them. I don't think every Austen fan will be able to appreciate this novel, because Jo Baker has really given it her own twist and added some quite controversial details. However, I personally really enjoyed this opportunity to look at `Pride and Prejudice' from a completely different and fascinating perspective, and I expect that every time I'll read `Pride and Prejudice' in the future I will think of the servants standing in the shadows of almost every single scene. `Longbourn' is an engaging and original novel that provides readers with a fascinating look into the downstairs world of Austen's most famous tale, and one that once again proves that there are always two sides to every story.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional treasure, 9 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Longbourn (Hardcover)
What an extraordinary feast of a book! I don't think I have ever read a better historical novel.

It's completely packed with everyday life detail for ordinary people. Far too many historical novels give us situations where it's just modern people wearing long dresses or riding a horse. Here we enter the real world of living with dawn starts, lugging every drop of water into the house in buckets, sore chliblained hands, mud up the skirts, horses needing care.
But although there is so much sheer information there it never swamps the drama that these are people, who love, hope, suffer, wait and struggle, as we do. That is a truly skilled writer. We share their dreams, and how some of them do not dare to dream.

My familiar friends in Pride and Prejudice move back into the background. I thought in the first hour of reading I might find this disturbing. But then I was engrossed in these ordinary people and I cared far more what was happening to them. I liked seeing Elizabeth, Jane, Mr. and Mrs. B. from another point of view when they did show up. But far more I became lost in this underworld which I did know quite a bit about - or I thought I did.

It was also good to find servants and other lower class people who were reading, thinking about politics and the great events of their times. Exhaustion and limited education did block much of this but stronger people could and did exercise brainpower. Oh and how sleekly this book explores women, the sexism of their world, but without preaching or moaning.

Then there's the romances, not so predictable, and an awesome hero with a rival who also fascinating. As for the older generation they are even more daring ... just read and find out!

After all that it is in many places an extremely funny book. Just how a lower class Austen should be. In fact if Austen had written the book about the servants and their interconnected stories, this is what she would have written.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely story.., 24 Sept. 2013
jaffareadstoo (England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Longbourn (Hardcover)
I'm always a little bit wary when I read spin-offs written around one of the great Jane Austen classics, but I am pleased to say that Jo Baker has done a really good job with this interesting look at life below stairs for the servants of the Bennett family from Pride and Prejudice.

In the actual classic we hear very little of the servants, in fact they remain rather shadowy figures who existed only to keep the Bennett's clean , warm and fed. But of course, they had lives and loves of their own, and aspirations, hopes and dreams that were not all that different from the folks upstairs.

Of course, running through the story like a thread is the original story of thwarted love and too much pride, but rather than having a starring role, Darcy's pursuit of Elizabeth plays second fiddle to servant, Sarah's, infatuation with the Bingley's footman, the aptly named Ptolemy Bingley. However, it is Sarah's realisation that showy manners and sparkling wit are no substitute for the solid and rather more understated feeling she has for the Bennett's own footman, James, which becomes quietly reflective.

Jo Baker has woven an altogether delicious story of warm camaraderie based on wholesome values, and has instilled in her characters a real sense of purpose. Life certainly wasn't a bed of roses in the servant's quarters at Longbourn House, but in this story, neither was it all unrelenting drudgery.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Life in the Bennett household as a servant, 17 May 2014
This review is from: Longbourn (Paperback)
I see that one particularly scathing and snobbish reviewer who gave this book one star says she fears for the state of the education system if it turns out readers who enjoyed this book. Well I thoroughly enjoyed it. Set in the famous Bennett household its storyline runs parallel to "Pride & Predjudice". I found parts of the book very touching, particularly the way the servants, a collection of waifs and strays, cobbled together their own loving family unit. They look after each other and Mrs Hill, the housekeeper extends small kindnesses to her young helpers, Sarah and Polly, knowing what hardships life has in store for them. The descriptions of wash day, where the staff rise at 4am, made me feel grateful for my modern day appliances. I did wonder why such a large household only had a small number of servants but it seems Mr Bennett was rather on the stingy side. To be a servant was to have no status, and Mrs Hill, the housekeeper, worried about being "turned over to the Parish" should she lose her job despite working for the family for years. Sarah speaks out of turn to a Colonel and is sharply reprimanded, her worries about a missing footman are of no consequence to anyone. There are lots of interesting twists to the plot particularly involving Lydia and Wyckham and also Mr Bennett. Maybe this isn't a book for die-hard Jane Austen fans bit I found it very moving.
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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
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
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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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read, 25 Mar. 2014
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This review is from: Longbourn (Paperback)
I did enjoy this book. I was put off sequels almost for life after reading that dire offering Pemberley. However, this book was extremely well written and captured the sense of the times very well. The contrast between the lives of the upstairs people and downstairs was very well done I thought. Harsh red hands of maids toiling from dawn to dark hauling coal and wood and the upstairs people with their laces, bonnets and pommades. And the servants had their own story which was quite credible.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Downton Abbey Meets Pride and Prejudice!, 27 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Longbourn (Kindle Edition)
Pride and Prejudice is my favourite novel, and in my humble opinion I believe it to be one of the greatest works of fiction to ever grace this planet. You can imagine, then, how critical and skeptic I can be of P&P sequels. I picked up this novel with no great expectations, but within a couple of pages I had changed my mind.

"Longbourn" is a complimentary read to Pride and Prejudice. You get to see all the hard work that is put into running a house of 5 fine young ladies and their oddly matched parents. I instantly fell in love with the staff: Mr & Mrs Hill, Sarah, Polly and their new manservant, James Smith. I was absorbed in the story, and I would whisper, "just one more chapter" to myself before bed. It was lovely to not only get to know the staff and their work-load, but to also have extra tidbits of some of the most beloved characters in literature.

There are so many twists and turns in this novel, and I wouldn't dare spoil them for you! All I can say is that Jo Baker is an angelic writer, and her book is a pure delight to read. The language can be, lets say... more colourful than Miss Austen's, but it stays true to the language of that time period. If you love Pride and Prejudice as much as I do, then scribble this down onto your "to-read list", you won't regret it!
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great premise, disappointing book, 2 Dec. 2013
Bookwoman - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Longbourn (Hardcover)
"If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah thought, she would be more careful not to tramp through muddy fields".
That's an irresistible premise for lovers of Pride and Prejudice - we all remember plenty of scenes in the classic BBC adaptation with Lizzie doing just that, but who has ever given a thought to all that extra work for the skivvies below stairs?
Pride and Prejudice spin-off books seem to be two a penny these days, but this one sounded particularly promising: just who was Hill, the Bennet housekeeper, and what was life like for her and all the other Longbourn servants? It's an interesting idea, and after seeing all the glowing reviews I was expecting a four or five star read. But after a really good opening scene, with the maids up to their necks in dirty Bennet underwear, it all went downhill pretty quickly.
So what went wrong?
Perhaps the author should have spent longer deciding what the book was meant to be about. Did she want to tell the story of overworked maids in early 19th century households through the character of Sarah? Or to give us a rather melodramatic spin on the unhappy Bennet marriage, involving an upstairs/downstairs love affair and a mysterious soldier on the run? A prequel about Hill and Mr Bennet, in the style of Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea (Penguin Modern Classics), might have worked better, saving the maid's story for a sequel.
And maybe she should have been braver in doing without all the references to the original novel, underlined by the quotes which head each chapter. There are far too many Downton Abbey-ish scenes with Sarah the maid helping Lizzie and Jane get dressed - we've all read Pride and Prejudice, we don't need to keep being told what's going on upstairs. And having established that the servants are all overworked and hard done-by it soon becomes very repetitive, and we have to wait until the end for all the mysterious longings and unexplained looks to be explained - I don't think I've ever read a more disconnected flashback.
The story is very formulaic and heavy-handed, too. Another reviewer has pointed out that it's as if the author made a list of everything that Austen doesn't mention, from slavery to soiled underwear, and made sure to tick off each item. Unfortunately this makes for a very disjointed and unfocussed novel - the inclusion of the token black servant is particularly clunky, while the arrival of the mysterious footman is simply odd. The graphic account of his army days reads like an afterthought inserted to tick another of those boxes, and belongs in a different sort of book altogether. And I just didn't buy the plot twist, when his origins are revealed, or the happy ending.
For me, Jo Baker is another one of those authors who spends a lot of time telling you about everything and everyone, but whose stories and characters never quite come alive. But it was a good idea, it's readable, and she's obviously done her research. And some things are done very well, like the opening washday scene and the convincing portrayal of Wickham, which shows a horrible new side to his character that's all too credible.
But in the end this book just didn't deliver for me - yet another disappointment, and a reminder that I really must leave these Austen spin-offs well alone.
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Longbourn by Jo Baker (Paperback - 2 Jan. 2014)
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