Summary and book reviews of Longbourn by Jo Baker

Longbourn

By Jo Baker

Longbourn
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2013,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: 17 Jun 2014,
    352 pages.

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Book Summary

Pride and Prejudice was only half the story.

If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she'd most likely be a sight more careful with them.

In this irresistibly imagined below stairs 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.

Chapter II

'Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable.'

They were lucky to get him. That was what Mr B. said, as he folded his newspaper and set it aside. What with the War in Spain, and the press of so many able fellows into the Navy; there was, simply put, a dearth of men.

A dearth of men? Lydia repeated the phrase, anxiously searching her sisters' faces: was this indeed the case? Was England running out of men?

Her father raised his eyes to heaven; Sarah, meanwhile, made big astonished eyes at Mrs Hill: a new servant joining the household! A manservant! Why hadn't she mentioned it before? Mrs Hill, clutching the coffee pot to her bosom, made big eyes back, and shook her head: shhh! I don't know, and don't you dare ask! So Sarah just gave half a nod, clamped her lips shut, and returned her attention to the table, proffering the platter of cold ham: all would come clear in good time, but it did not do to ask. It did not do to speak at all...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What did you think of Jo Baker's stylistic choice to include multiple characters' perspectives in a single chapter? Do you think it enhanced the book?
  2. What were your thoughts on the beginning of Volume Three, which was dedicated entirely to James Smith?
  3. How would you compare and contrast the love stories between Sarah and James, and Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy?
  4. Longbourn provides an alternative angle to Pride and Prejudice. Can you think of a classic novel that you would like to see rewritten in another character's voice?
  5. What did you make of each chapter's introductory quote? Were there any that you were particularly drawn to? Why?
  6. Lizzie Bennet is a much-loved heroine. Has Longbourn changed your view of her ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Pride and Prejudice and Longbourn create a delightfully unified whole. It is possible to read one without the other, but reading them together provides a broad and nuanced view of early 19th century England - and takes readers into the lives of some of literature's most beloved characters.   (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

Full Review Members Only (1223 words).

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Maggie Shipstead, author of Seating Arrangements
Captivating ... A brilliantly imagined and lovingly told story about the wide world beyond the margins and outside the parlors of Pride and Prejudice.

The Guardian (UK)

A triumph: a splendid tribute to Austen's original but, more importantly, a joy in its own right, a novel that contrives both to provoke the intellect and, ultimately, to stop the heart ... Inspired.

Mail on Sunday (UK)

Who washes Elizabeth Bennet's dirty petticoats? Jo Baker not only poses the question, but uses it superbly to rework a familiar tale ... All done with the lightest of touches by a highly accomplished young writer of whom more, surely, will be heard.

The Daily Express (UK)

This clever glimpse of Austen's universe through a window clouded by washday steam is so compelling it leaves you wanting to read the next chapter in the lives below stairs rather than peer at the reflections of any grand party in the mirrors of Netherfield.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A must-read for fans of Austen, this literary tribute also stands on its own as a captivating love story.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Sequels and prequels rarely add to the original, but Baker's simple yet inspired reimagining does. It has best-seller stamped all over it.

Library Journal

This exquisitely reimagined Pride and Prejudice will appeal to Austen devotees and to anyone who finds the goings-on below the stairs to be at least as compelling as the ones above. Highly recommended.

Reader Reviews
Leslie D.

Truly original Austen take
The list of homages and continuations of Austen novels seems endless, but Baker's new novel centered around the servants of the Bennet household (Pride & Prejudice) is truly new and original. Even more, it's audacious in its interpretation of a ...   Read More

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Rinse and Repeat: Laundry in the Nineteenth Century

In Longbourn, the housemaid Sarah's frustration with the laundry would have been shared by anyone who cleaned clothes during the early 19th century. Our modern process of sorting, dumping into a machine, pouring in soap, and pressing a button is an embarrasingly wonderful diminution of this once complicated and time-intensive process.

Nineteenth Century Woman Doing Laundry, Henry Robert Morland Doing the laundry during this period was such a daunting task that even mistresses of households that employed servants often pitched in. The wealthier families were able to employ servants who, like Sarah, focused mainly on laundry duties. For most families without dedicated laundresses, two days a week were set aside for doing laundry. Washing, boiling, and rinsing a standard load of laundry required ...

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