BookBrowse Reviews Longbourn by Jo Baker

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Longbourn

by Jo Baker

Longbourn by Jo Baker
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Oct 2013, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2014, 352 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


Jo Baker's delightful novel gives us a look at Jane Austen's society from the point of view of the servants.

If Jane Austen had written Longbourn, she might have begun with a variation of Pride and Prejudice's famous first sentence: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a gentlewoman in need of a husband is also in need of a good servant." Pride and Prejudice has been turned into movies, adapted for the stage, and inspired many volumes of fan fiction and spin-off stories. In my humble opinion, none of these complement and expand on Jane Austen's most famous novel, quite like Jo Baker's Longbourn.

Longbourn is the childhood home of Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice's main character. The Bennets are not wealthy enough to afford full-time maids for the women of the house, so the house servants often have to do double duty. In Longbourn, we hear from Sarah, the young housemaid, who washes the clothes, assists in the kitchen, and sets Elizabeth's curls if she's in need of a lady's maid. Sarah envies the five Bennet daughters their leisure time and marvels at their carelessness with shoes and clothes. She tires of the long hours of work, and dares to imagine a different life for herself. As if on cue, James, the new manservant, enters the picture with a dashing demeanor and a heart full of secrets. Sarah's interest in him turns to frustration when she determines that he would rather keep to himself than confide in her. Meanwhile, Sarah also makes acquaintance with a Creole manservant named Tol Bingley who fascinates her with his ideas about his employers and plans to own a tobacco business. Mrs. Smith, the housekeeper at the Bennets, and a mother figure to Sarah, worries that the young woman will fall in love with Tol and leave Longbourn before she understands the value of working for a happy family in a safe, contented place.

Along this storyline, Baker recreates the world of the Bennets' Longbourn in vivid detail, and it is from this perspective that the novel truly shines. Readers interested in knowing how people ate, slept, loved, and celebrated during Jane Austen's time will find ample illustration here. Even if Sarah's daily experience is preoccupied by the Bennets' needs, her independent spirit urges her to conceive of a life beyond theirs. In this way, as she evolves from a naive child to a mature woman, the novel is fully hers. It is interesting to note that despite the class differences, Sarah's story is similar to Elizabeth's: love and marriage offer the only real change a woman can expect in her life.

In addition to the captivating insights about life "below stairs" in the servants' quarters and the excitement of Sarah's character development, Longbourn attempts to fill in a few gaps left by Austen's famous book. Whereas Pride and Prejudice focuses, among other things, on the delicate inner workings of Regency society and the young ladies' experiences with finding husbands, Longbourn provides historical context and details of place for Austen's story. For example, where Pride and Prejudice spends time exploring ballroom conversations, Longbourn describes the ballroom – and the amount of work the servants put in to make the ball possible. Where Pride and Prejudice mentions the Napoleonic Wars or colonialism in passing, Longbourn delves in, attempting to understand the bubbling tensions in the upper crust of a society that preoccupies itself with more "civilized" pursuits.

In essence, though the storylines for both Pride and Prejudice and Longbourn unfold concomitantly and many plot points overlap, Baker's intent is not to retell the story of Austen's classic. Pride and Prejudice simply provides a delightful context for Longbourn, which stands well on its own. It soon becomes obvious that 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.

This review was originally published in October 2013, and has been updated for the June 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: All Our Wrong Todays
    All Our Wrong Todays
    by Elan Mastai
    You need a great deal of time to read All Our Wrong Todays, but don't let that put you off. ...
  • Book Jacket: Dadland
    Dadland
    by Keggie Carew
    In her notable debut, Keggie Carew examines the life of her father Tom, a decorated war hero whose ...
  • Book Jacket: Piecing Me Together
    Piecing Me Together
    by Renee Watson
    Race and class in American culture certainly dominate the news right now. These two things seem to ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church

In the spirit of The Aviator's Wife, this resonant debut spans from World War II through the Vietnam War.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Mercies in Disguise
    by Gina Kolata

    A story of hope, a family's genetic destiny, and the science that rescued them.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Lola
    by Melissa Scrivner Love

    An astonishing debut crime thriller about an unforgettable woman.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

Flaming enthusiasm, backed up by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for ...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

O My D B

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
Modal popup -