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.
'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...
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 (1223 words).
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.
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 ...
If you liked Longbourn, try these:
Brilliantly evoking the long-vanished world of masters and servants, Margaret Powell's classic memoir of her time in service is the remarkable true story of an indomitable woman who, though she served in the great houses of England, never stopped aiming high.
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