I did not like this book. Sorry.
First of all, several people describe it as a retelling of Pride and Prejudice and i think that's really misleading. This book has little to do with P&P and that was disappointing to me. Just as the servants were in the background of P&P, P&P was in the background of Longbourn. That makes sense with P&P, but is problematic in the case of Longbourn because its huge draw is the fact that it is a "retelling of P&P".
I did like simply thinking about the servants and all they had to go through to allow the wealthy to live their lives of luxury. The line on the inside cover was probably my favorite in the whole book: "If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she'd most likely be a sight more careful with them."
However, they seemed to have very modern attitudes, which is a fault that many TV shows, movies and books contain these days. For example, it seemed unlikely that the servants would dwell so much on the dirty tasks they had to do. If that was your job and life, thinking about how much you hate it all the time would only make your life miserable. I just think more of them would have accepted that that's the way things were.
I didn't really care about any of the characters. Especially not James, despite so much of the book being spent trying to convince me that i desperately needed to know what happened in his past. When he disappeared, i really couldn't have cared less whether he was dead or alive, happy or miserable.
Baker definitely added some grit to the story. Plenty of details about human waste as well as mentions of masturbation, homosexuality and adultery. I wasn't a fan of all that. And the Bennets (except Mary) are portrayed so negatively. Even Jane. Sweet Jane. It's like we're supposed to scorn the Bennet family for employing servants period.
I didn't appreciate the secret illegitimate son added to Mr. Bennet's backstory. I did, however, approve of the addition of Mrs. Bennet's miscarriage. That's definitely something that could easily have happened before the events of P&P. I also think it realistic that Wickham would have taken advantage of the maids, so i didn't mind that addition.
I did like the research that went into Longbourn and that Baker was careful to make sure the timeline lined up. I just think that the whole thing fell short of what it could have been. It was a good idea, but poorly executed.
*Review written on June 8, 2015.*
Book Riot Challenge Item: A Historical Fiction Set Before 1900
I think the people who dislike this book because they don't like the way Elizabeth or other Bennets act in it really need to venture out of their protective bubble.
There's a reason the characters in Longbourn are mentioned only in passing in [book:Pride and Prejudice|1885]: it's because the upper classes barely noticed that the servant class existed. The portrayal of the Bennets in this book seems perfectly in line with their portrayal in the book; they are kind to the servants, they are not monsters, but they have a sense of entitlement -- which is barely noticed when the story is told from their perspective, but which rankles a bit when you see it through the eyes of those who must work to make sure the Bennets continue to receive what they feel entitled to, whether it is new shoe roses despite the rain or three warm meals each day.
Although I consider myself a Jane Austen fan and I like the romance between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, I get easily irritated by the Jane-ites that fawn over the romance in the books as though Austen was merely a writer of Harlequins and not a woman who was attempting to critique the society in which she lived even as she upheld it. And I have limited patience for books such as [book:Austenland|248483] and [book:The Jane Austen Book Club|2152] that seem fixated on "cute-sy-fying" Austen.
What I loved about Longbourn is that it brought Regency England back down to earth. There are cold mornings, chamber pots to be emptied, a war in Spain, wealth that is acquired through connections with the slave trade. This should not "tarnish" our view of the original works but instead deepen it with a more complete appreciation of their full context. This book is rich in sensory and historical details and delves fully into the lives of those who are often considered disposable and forgettable by history -- and yes, by Austen herself, whether you like it or not.
Although it does have some similar themes to P&P, it is not too obvious, nor does it cripple itself by trying too hard to emulate the source material. At the same time, this book is eminently faithful to the original -- all the events are the same -- and only the perspectives are different. This time, the Bennets are in the background, and while this might be disappointing to those hoping to slather over a new take on Elizabeth and Darcy's love, I found it to be perfectly acceptable because the main characters here are fully realized enough that we don't need to rely on an old, beloved story to make it through. I also appreciated that, because this book was written much later than P&P, it could more fully explore issues that would have been improper to write about then, such as just how creepy Wickham might have been, what happened when children were born out of wedlock, etc.
It was a little slow to start, and I found my interest waning in the section about James near the end, which took the action away from the core group of women we had been following for the rest of the book. But it is definitely a worthwhile read, especially if you enjoy well-rendered, intimate historical fiction, and whether you love, hate, or are indifferent to its source material.
The story of Pride and Prejudice, but seen through the eyes of the hidden class, the servants in the Bennett household. If you are a dyed-in-the-wool P&P fanatic, this might just turn you off, because the characters in P&P are mere backstory here. In addition, it is a somewhat moody novel, even bleak or grim in places, without the cherry-on-top happy ending that we often crave, so bear that in mind. That said, I liked it a lot (and I am a Jane Austen reader, but not a fanatic) and am glad to have read it, and would recommend it.
Our hero is the Bennett's downstairs maid, Sarah, an orphan who chafes at her restricted life, and whose concerns are far more pressing than when the next ball might be. The servants have a whole world of their own "under the stairs". There is a hierarchy of servants, and they have their own spats, and secrets, as well as kindness and hope, and perhaps a bit of romance as well. But their days are long, unbearably long, and their labors are far more burdensome than the upper-crust Bennetts might realize. It was interesting to me, from a historical point of view, to see the amount of dirt and mess and muck and manure (lots of that) they had to deal with, while always appearing pristine, polite, and well-coiffed. The reader unfamiliar with what it takes to maintain an "aristocratic" home (though the Bennetts barely make the cut, as country gentry) will be surprised by the long and arduous daily tasks the servants must do, and always do invisibly, to keep the household running. There was a reason maids often died before age 30.
Our main character, Sarah, spends a lot of time complaining about her chilblains (blisters that arise when skin is exposed to extreme cold or heat). She is in charge of laundry, so her hands are constantly subjected to hot water and cold water, and hot irons and and cold air, and yet she must take care not to get any fluids from her chilblains onto the laundry. Then there's the wood to cut, the water to boil, the uniforms to starch and iron, the food to store and cook and serve and clean up after... This disconnect between the leisurely life of the Bennett sisters, who chat and read, visit with others, and play the piano, while changing clothes three or four times a day, and the stupefying struggle of their maids to just get through the workload of another day really highlights the difference in the classes. In some places I found Sarah to be a bit TOO modern in her thinking. By that I mean that most house servants in the Regency era knew they were servants and were, quite early on I imagine, disabused of any ideas of moving up in society. Sarah has a more modern outlook: she KNOWS she can be more. That said, the truth of the matter is, she probably cannot.
The main housekeeper, Mrs. Hill, (I loved this character) is stern but kind hearted, and (SPOILER ALERT) towards the end when Mr. Hill dies we discover just how kind-hearted she really was. She sees in Sarah the yearnings for a larger world, and tries to help her find some peace with her lot in life, as she herself has done. But in Sarah's eyes, Mrs. Hill has merely "settled" for less than she could have had, and Sarah refuses to do so. The reality was, in those Regency days, crossing "up" into higher levels of society was virtually impossible. Mrs. Hill found her love and her peace where she could.
There's a love interest for Sarah, who seems like a good hearted fellow, but he leaves, and while he is gone, there is an exotic footman she meets as well, who pursue her a bit. So, SORT of a romantic love triangle, but not really, because good guy comes back and footman graciously yields. (Through the footman's eyes we see how narrow Sarah's life experience really is.) Honestly the romance was far less interesting to me than the feeling of peeking behind the kitchen door to see what was REALLY going on in the gentry homes of that era, all across Europe.
Recommended. Conservative parents should be aware of the presence in the novel of a brief mention of a loving, committed homosexual relationship, and an out of wedlock pregnancy. Makes for great conversations with your teens!
|This gives us the servant's point of view of Longbourn and the Bennet family. While everything focuses on making advantageous marriages in Pride and Prejudice, Longbourn focuses on the servants who make that possible by taking care of the house, kitchen, and laundry. I liked the people who served but would have liked to have smacked the Bennet's at times. I found it interesting what had to be done and give the servants all the credit in the world for doing these jobs. It was hard work. I would h This gives us the servant's point of view of Longbourn and the Bennet family. While everything focuses on making advantageous marriages in Pride and Prejudice, Longbourn focuses on the servants who make that possible by taking care of the house, kitchen, and laundry. I liked the people who served but would have liked to have smacked the Bennet's at times. I found it interesting what had to be done and give the servants all the credit in the world for doing these jobs. It was hard work. I would have never made it. I liked that the story was written in modern English and not in the cadence of Pride and Prejudice. I liked Sarah and her decision to go after what she wanted. I'm glad I read it and got a different perspective of those times.|