- Paperback: 448 pages
- Publisher: Black Swan (2 Jan. 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0552779512
- ISBN-13: 978-0552779517
- Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.8 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 706 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 16,597 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Longbourn Paperback – 2 Jan 2014
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"Inspired...Baker has written an intoxicating love story but, also like Austen, the pleasure of her novel lies in its wit and fierce intelligence. Longbourn is a profound exploration of injustice, of poverty and dependence, of loyalty...a novel that contrives both to provoke the intellect and, ultimately, to stop the heart" (Guardian)
"Jo Baker gives us the story from the servants' perspectives and pulls off the seemingly impossible: a completely fresh take on Jane Austen. Utterly engrossing." (Guardian)
"ONES TO WATCH Just enough Darcy to delight, as well as being a fascinating insight into the harsh working conditions of life in a grand house 200 years ago" (Good Housekeeping)
"Debut novelist Jo Baker takes the reader on a journey back to a version of Regency England that is as much about poverty and war as social comedy and romance" (Metro)
"This clever glimpse of Austen’s universe clouded by washday steam is so compelling it leaves you wanting to read the next chapter in the lives below stairs" (Daily Express)
"GREAT READS: Pride and Prejudice reimagined as a mysterious manservant stirs up passions in the Bennet household both upstairs and down" (Woman and Home)
"Captivating and delicious. A brilliantly imagined and lovingly told story about the wide world beyond the margins and outside the parlours of Pride and Prejudice" (Maggie Shipstead, author of SEATING ARRANGEMENTS)
"The much-loved Pride and Prejudice is shaken up and given the grit that Jane Austen could never include - with great success" (Evening Standard)
"A novelist with a gift for intimate and atmospheric storytelling" (Financial Times)
"Superb... The lightest of touches by a highly accomplished young writer" (Mail on Sunday)
About the Author
Jo Baker was educated at Oxford and The Queen's University, Belfast. She lives in Lancaster with her husband, the playwright Daragh Carville, and their two children. Longbourn is due to be made into a film produced by Focus Features.
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It is a brilliant premise for a novel and from it Jo Baker has developed a set of characters every bit as absorbing as the family whom they serve. Their lives are painted with compassion but without sentimentality. The fortunes and misfortunes of the Bennets affect them greatly, of course, but it is their own struggle for happiness with which Longbourn is concerned.
Clever though the premise is, it is not the best thing about this book. The best thing is the writing, and , in particular, the description - the eye for small details, the awareness of the sensuality of objects. In beautifully turned prose, the rhythms of domesticity are intertwined with the rhythms of the natural world so effectively as to make you feel like you are actually there, in Longbourn, experiencing the world of the servants with its unceasing demands and stolen compensations. A novel to be savoured .
It's been wonderful to read a work set in the Regency which is actually about the common people - ie, the well over 98 per cent of the population who were not members of the gentry or connected to the 300 odd titled aristocrats.
The daily grind of servants in a genteel but not greatly wealthy establishment, the menial work, the sordid nature of much of it, including emptying bedpans, washing underwear and menstrual napkins,is unsparingly depicted.
So, if briefly, is the misery caused by the destruction of villages through the enforced enclosures. This, like so many ugly details of early nineteenth century life, is determindly ignored by most writers on the Regency era.
Sarah is a strong and lovable heroine. Even Elizabeth Bennett doesn't outshine her. The male lead is also sympathetic and believable - and so is his rival.
As someone who has never much liked Darcy, I was delighted by the treatment of him in this, the servants' perspective.
However, the final impression of this story is not of squalor and sadness, but of hope and regeneration.
Highly recommended, particularly for those who have a romanticised view of how life was for most people in this era, saying such things as: 'If only I'd lived then' and 'I was born in the wrong age'.
It is to Baker's credit that she keeps more or less to the tone and language of a Regency novel, and she awakens the reader's consciousness that someone needs to be laundering the Bennet girls' many dresses, curling their hair, sewing rosettes to their dancing shoes, and stoking the fires before dawn, getting chilblains and blisters doing all those chores to make the narrative of "Pride and Prejudice" possible. I found it especially sobering that Liz's memorable trek across the country to be with a sick Jane in P&P that was held up as evidence of her gutsy and selfless spirit came at a cost to her servants, who had to attend to her mud-caked boots and soiled skirts.
With such exhausting detail to remain faithful to Austen's novel, there is a good chance that the novel could fall flat on its face. However, Baker's work succeeds because she is able flesh out her characters well and incorporate them seamlessly into the narrative. Sarah is fully-realised as a budding girl who has aspirations which are contained by the stark realisation of her station in life. The mysterious James Smith, too, who comes to be the Bennet's footman, has a story entwined with the Bennet household and that gives a surprisingly fresh angle to one of the characters originally encountered in P&P. The second half of the novel also turns its focus on the war, which casts a harsh light on the significance of the militia who are stationed in the village, and contrasts itself from the light and bubbly narrative of P&P.
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