Customer Review

79 of 82 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reworking of the classic from the servants' point of view, 3 Sept. 2013
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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Showing 1-10 of 20 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 2 Dec 2013 11:57:01 GMT
Bookwoman says:
I'm happy to be in the minority with you - an excellent review, and I agree with every word.
Like you, I'm going to leave the Austen spin-offs alone from now on (hated Death Comes to Pemberley too, though maybe the good cast will rescue the upcoming tv adaptation?)

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Dec 2013 09:05:49 GMT
Last edited by the author on 27 Jan 2014 15:58:17 GMT
Purpleheart says:
Thanks Bookwoman. Would people be praising this as fulsomely without the P&P connection? I don't think so, and that's one thing I don't like about these spin-offs

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Dec 2013 17:58:40 GMT
Hear! Hear! to both comments.

In reply to an earlier post on 13 Dec 2013 14:30:45 GMT
Purpleheart says:
I was encouraged by the beginning but it was downhill from there.

Posted on 25 Jan 2014 14:37:54 GMT
Citing 'The Wide Sargasso Sea' is extremely apt. One point: The Darcys were rich, the Bennets were not. It's quite likely Elizabeth did some of her own washing at least! And who wants to read a novel about washing? The sparkling wit is the thing, as this reviewer notes!
Horrified at the very idea that Pride and Prejudice should even for a moment be considered chick lit. It's far too clever, even if it is one of Austen's lighter works.

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Jan 2014 13:38:23 GMT
Last edited by the author on 27 Jan 2014 13:38:52 GMT
Syntinen says:
It's quite impossible that Elizabeth Bennet did any of her own washing. Laundry was one of the hardest, most disgusting and most disfiguring-to-the-hands tasks of a pre-modern household; so much so that even women who scrubbed their own floors paid someone even lower down the social scale to do their laundry for them if they could. JA is careful to point out that, unlike Lady Lucas's daughters who routinely do some of the finer aspects of cookery, Mrs Bennet's girls never darkened the doors of the Longbourn kitchen; but even the Lucas girls would never have done any work in the Lucas Lodge scullery or wash house.

Posted on 8 Feb 2014 22:26:09 GMT
Last edited by the author on 8 Feb 2014 22:28:17 GMT
A. Campbell says:
I agree with most of what you have said. I am not sure if it would have been better if Jo Baker had been able to concentrate on her own characters, who are for the most part charmless, and I find her writing dull and pedestrian. Without the link to JA, this book would quite likely have been largely ignored.

Posted on 22 Feb 2014 13:22:21 GMT
M. Bleakley says:
I also agree, this has none of Austen's pithy humour; the best part of all her books. I found this disappointing and somewhat depressing, something Austen's novels never are!

Posted on 21 Mar 2014 13:41:30 GMT
Skeadugenga says:
A good and fair review. I thought the writing was better than the story. Not quite as atrocious as "Death comes to Pemberley".

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Mar 2014 15:46:46 GMT
Purpleheart says:
Good point about only having Jo Baker's characters and about how this has been good for publicity
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