You might have noticed already that I tend to devour things created around Pride and Prejudice. So, naturally, I also read
Longbourn by Jo Baker
Find it on: LibraryThing
What it is:
It’s a book that happens around and between the story of Pride and Prejudice or, to put it simply, it’s Pride and Prejudice from servants’ point of view. So naturally it focuses less on new bonnets and marriage prospects and more on all the scrubbing, soaking, cooking and tons of other physical work these require. The main character, Sarah, is one of the housemaids of the original story and Baker imagines the lifestory of hers and other servants.
How I found it:
I think it might have been a list of things to read for Pride and Prejudice fans? Maybe.
I enjoyed the book thoroughly, though I’m not unaware of missed opportunities.
Best things about it:
It reads fast and manages to recreate a lot of the magic of the original, without a slaverish attitude towards it. The world feels vivid and believable, even though I suspect some anarchronisms have crept in (not being a scholar of history of manners, I didn’t mind much but the characters’ outlooks felt maybe a tad too modern). I found the description of the servants’ work and the difficulties they face quite enlightening.
Worst things about it:
While, contrary to what I expected, this book is not just a fan-fiction historical romance, it still feels like a bit of a wasted possibility. The idea is just so grand and theoretically allows for such a multi-faceted examination of social and feminist, literary and moral issues of the time. Obviously, taking up a subject like this is, in a way, bound to fail: I don’t imagine a convincing modern rendition of Austen’s wit and artfulness so, I guess, not even attempting it is one way to go. But I kept wishing for something like Alias Grace on the subject: a more prying attempt to disover the intricacies of the mind of a 19th century servant girl.
✤ I enjoyed the villification of Mr. Bennet. He’s shown as cowardly, cruel and small-minded and I’m glad other people also notice this about such a bafflingly beloved Austen character.
✤ Perhaps what I’ve already written doesn’t emphasize this enough but this really is a good book that doesn’t mostly give in to the temptation of pleasing fan girls.
✤ Both Elizabeth and Darcy are much less delightful in the novel, which I found refreshing.
✤ I really hated the James chapters. This is perhaps the best example of the lack of subtlety and it completely breaks down the unity of the novel, giving very little in return. As his secret is very easy to figure out, the same exposition could’ve been achieved within the main narrative and with fewer unnecessary details.
How it enriched my life:
It gave me a bit of the Regency fix I sometimes crave and it made for a fun (while not trashy) reading.
I like the painting they found to encapsulate the theme of the novel but I’m not crazy about the unimaginative (and, frankly, a bit clumsy) way they combined the picture with typography.
Nothing right now but I’m sure some Regency reading is in my future.
Pride and Prejudice fans, of course, who always look for more of the story, even those generally discouraged by most fan fiction productions of the sort.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Next time: Parasol Protectorate