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Longbourn
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on 30 May 2017
A brilliant work!

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'.
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on 28 September 2017
Longbourn is the house in which Jane Austen set Pride and Prejudice. Jo Baker's novel is the story of the servants who washed the Bennet girls' linen, soothed Mrs Bennet when she was distressed, indulged Mr Bennet when they were obliged to indulge him and all the time carried on with their own unregarded lives.

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 .
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on 26 September 2016
This is the most brilliant book I've ever read that is tangential to Jane Austen's writing. The writing is of literary fiction quality; it mimes Jane's concern for her characters but breathes with the authenticity of a contemporary author. Jo Baker is not trying to be a fake 18th-century writer. It is well researched, insightful about how servants -- the constraints, the judgements, the painfulness of it --- lived in Georgian England. The parallel with Pride and Prejudice is just plain clever. I like how it was subtle; never does P&P come to the foreground, but if you know the book you'll know what's up as the maid hears conversations as she ladles out the soup. We the reader know its significance but the Longbourn servants are in the dark as they trudge through their endless chores. This makes the book highly suspenseful, with us knowing rather much more about their fate as significant events quietly unfold upstairs.
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on 11 February 2015
An alternative take on the goings-on in Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice", a 'simultan-uel' if you will, imaginatively seen through the eyes of the help at the Bennet household. Sarah, the teenage housemaid, takes centrestage, and the action happens mostly in the kitchen and servants' quarters while Elizabeth, Jane and their sisters deal with their dramas upstairs in the drawing rooms and parlour. Fans of the original novel will take pleasure in matching the events with this version, from the giddy excitement at the Bingleys' arrival at Netherfield, to Collins's clumsy courtship of Elizabeth, to Lydia's elopement with Wickham, the latter given a meatier and more sinister role that sees him meddling with the lives of the central characters in Baker's narrative.

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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on 17 November 2016
Interesting and original take on the Pride and Prejudice story, this is more than amateur fan-fiction (which I have read way to much of, and always regret) They use the background characters (the servants of the Bennett's home at Longbourn) and tell the story of housemaid Sarah and the supporting cast of other servants (only Mrs Hill the housekeeper is named in the original book) with the Bennetts mostly secondary. The writing style in unremarkable, but the book is easy to get into and read. I enjoyed the parallels between the haves and have nots, and it brought its own insight to Georgian England that both compliments and builds on P&P.

However I do think the book could be made shorter, there were aspects that took us away from the original story for longer than necessary so an edit wouldn't have gone amiss.

Ideally I would like to give this book 3.5 stars but Amazon won't allow it
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on 2 January 2018
Someone else on here mentioned the story being built on the frame of Pride & Prejudice. I like that description. Not the bones, but the frame of P&P.
If you're looking for the Bennets in all their glory, in a P&P style, you'll be disappointed.
If you want to know about the gritty workings of a busy home in Regency times, set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars, in all their grim reality, you'll be very pleasantly surprised.
I enjoyed the historical research that must have gone into the writing of this book... it made me google like crazy to find out more. I liked the characters, particularly James. He was a thoroughly decent man, thrown on hard times... the backbone of the working classes.
The narrative was very evocative, and some of Jo's descriptions were so beautifully written that they left their mark on me... so much so that I instantly downloaded The Telling.
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on 21 July 2016
Unusually, this is one I bought and not part of the Kindle Unlimited package.

It focuses on a servant in the Bennet Household and mirrors from the point of view of the under stairs occupants what went on with Elizabeth and D'Arcy in Pride and Prejudice. Fair enough, this doesn't seem that exciting when one states the bare facts like that, but the skill and attention to detail that must have taken is second to none.

It is so well written, with both beautiful straightforward and complicated characters that I couldn't read it quick enough.

The production values were, as you would expect, really excellent. It's another's Editor's Pick from me. There were some highlights, one error and no bug bears for this one, which as usual are detailed on my blog[...]
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on 31 May 2014
Jane Austen hardly mentions the family servants in any of her novels, and the characters in Pride and Prejudice have a total lack of care and concern for them, unless of course the washing is late or a dress isn't pressed. Here you see the people who kept those pretty Georgian houses running, pressed into service by poverty and misfortune and only released from it by the caprice of the gentry when they were worn out or their face no longer fitted. The Georgian society of the upper class or even the middling sort is certainly fascinating but these are the broken backs and red-raw hands on which it was built.

I thought the author was too kind to Elizabeth Bennett in suggesting some sort of altruism lay behind the kind words and gestures she kept for some of the servants. She was certainly like that when it suited her own interests, but she really only differed from her family in how she chose to get the best out of the servants. In all respects Elizabeth Bennett was a woman of her time and class.

So was Jane Austen. Her own letters give the name of an odd servant or two: the nanny who took care of her, the lad who collected the letters or the man who drove the coach, and she spares an occasional warm comment for them, but often only when some humour can be got from that comment. Yet you think of the dozens and dozens of servants who over the years worked to make her life pleasant in the houses of her family, and you have to conclude that scarcely one in twenty of those she met were worthy of a name for posterity. If you read Jane Austen, read this book.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 20 August 2014
This is Pride and Prejudice but from the view of the servants who served them at Longbourn, the Bennet family home. Mrs Hill, the housekeeper and cook, her husband, and the housemaids, Sarah and Polly. It is Sarah's story that features most strongly in this book, as she finds herself admired by both Ptolemy Bingley, a footman in the Bingley household, and James Smith, a young man who has turned up at Longbourn and is swiftly employed by Mr Bennet.

I very much liked working out which Pride and Prejudice event was going on in Longbourn. Seen from the viewpoint of the staff made it interesting. I also liked how the story came together and the new stories that Jo Baker has invented. It made me think. However, I did find the writing overall a little on the dull side and I think a bit more of a story was required to make it really work for me. I imagine that the lives of servants in the 1800s wasn't all that thrilling but for the purposes of a good yarn I think a bit more imagining might not have gone amiss.

Overall I thought this was a good read, a really great idea, but just needed a bit more oomph.
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on 11 January 2015
There are many books that have riffed off Pride and Prejudice and many terrible unauthorized sequels like PD James 'Death Comes To Pemberley', because of this I was somewhat wary of Longbourne and came to it quite late.

What makes it different, and the reason I gave it a chance is that it offers something that feels like a fresh take by retelling the story from the perspective of the Bennett families lowly servants on their small estate.

I enjoyed this book but I also found it quite hit and miss. Some of it is very well observed. Would Elizabeth Bennett for example have traipsed about the countryside getting her petticoats three inches deep in mud if she'd had the washing of them? Ditto other household chores of the age like making soap from scratch and having to boil and reuse menstrual napkins.

By sheer coincidence, prior to reading this book I'd had a long conversation on Twitter about the uncertain nature of Mr Bingley's background. Just why was a young man of breeding and fortune on the hunt for a Rent-A-Mansion? Why didn't he have a family seat?

This book posits that the Bingley's made their money from the slave trade and were plantation owners which suddenly casts the affable cheery Mr Bingley in a new unpleasant light. But this got me to thinking that with all of our landed gentry Austen heroes a good source of their wealth must have come from exploitation of those 'beneath them' be it slavery, or through owning mills or collieries or via the feudal system.

It does take a wider perspective of life at the time and that it wasn't all drawing rooms and balls for everyone.

Sarah, a maid and one of the main characters, who begins to fall for the new footman James is likeable as a protagonist, and the much harried Hill, likeable too, and there were a lot of nuances about the James back story that I liked in terms of the way they impacted the original novel. I liked how each chapter was prefaced with a sentence from a Pride and Prejudice indicating which part of the novel Sarah's story was running concurrently to. I also loved how the below stairs staff were completely on to Mr Wickham from the start.

It does have a tendency to drift though, and the section featuring James's experiences in the army was unnecessary. For reasons I can't be clear on without spoilers the denouement is quite silly and would have worked much better had the roles been reversed.

It's a good book, if not a great one.
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