Author: Jo Baker
Provided Synopsis: In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended.
Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Jane Austen’s classic—into the often overlooked domain of the stern housekeeper and the starry-eyed kitchen maid, into the gritty daily particulars faced by the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars—and, in doing so, creates a vivid, fascinating, fully realized world that is wholly her own.
Review: While Darcy and Elizabeth fell in love upstairs, there were people with lives being carried on downstairs, too. Fans of Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey are sure to be as captivated by this story as I was.
In Longbourn, Jo Baker breathes life into characters whom remained on the peripheral vision of the original story. She takes a look into what it would be like to be a servant during the times, diving into the hopes and fears of these characters. Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper and cook, has a long history with the house and is worried of what will become of her and the rest of the staff once Mr. Bennett passes away. She strives to please every whim and fancy Mr. Collins has to remain in his thoughts, therefore giving the storyline of Longbourn’s entailment a new meaning and set of outcome for those who depend on the house for shelter. Polly, the youngest housemaid, is but a child and easily taken in by the sweets promised by Mr. Wickham to further explore his rakish character. James, the footman and newest member of the staff, wishes nothing more than to go unnoticed so he may retain the security he has; his storyline explores the reality of being in the militia. Then there is Sarah, another housemaid and our main character of sorts, who longs to be alive in life rather than at the never-ending demands of others. All of these characters worm their way into your heart to the point that you want nothing but the very best for them, no matter the reality of their circumstances and what they shall be allowed to achieve.
Before this book I had never expanded beyond the romance of Pride and Prejudice to consider the lives which swayed in the balance of every action in the book. Romance is alive in Longbourn, as well, and it even falls under a vein of misunderstanding before love, but within the pages of Longbourn the realism is very grounded. I saw familiar characters in a different light, which is to be expected since Elizabeth is being viewed through the eyes of someone who has known her for years and must clean those mud stains out of her petticoats every time she decides to go for a walk. The prose was so eloquent to evoke the landscape of the house and Meryton along with the voices of the characters. Jo Baker not only lived up to the premise she set, but far exceeded expectations with this creation.
(P.S. – It took me a few chapters to become really invested in this book, so if you aren’t feeling it right away please don’t give up!)