“If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.”
Austen fans, prepare to be delighted! Longbourn by Jo Baker is a charming and thought provoking twist on the Austen classic that we have all come to know and love. Taking readers back to the Bennet household, Longbourn gives us a glimpse of what life would have been like working as a servant below the stairs.
Sarah, a young housemaid, spends her days scrubbing Lizzie’s dirty clothes, running errands, and emptying chamber pots. Far from the refined and genteel world being lived upstairs, Sarah nevertheless finds herself in the middle of a love plot. Being pursued by both Mr. Bingley’s manservant and the mysterious new footman who has started working at Longbourn, Sarah finds her life turned completely upside down.
Being as obsessed as I am about Jane Austen, I’ve read and watched a lot of adaptations over the years, ranging from good, to bad, and just plain ugly. Out of all of these re-imaginings, however, I’d have to say that Longbourn is one of the best Jane Austen adaptations that I’ve read! Baker stays true to Austen’s spirit, and it’s obvious that she has attempted to try and emulate the author’s original writing style as best she can.
What I really loved the most about Longbourn, however, was its genuine creativity! Getting to view Pride and Prejudice from behind the scenes gave me a fresh perspective on the entire story! I don’t think I’ll be able to look at an Austen novel again without imagining what is going on in the lives of the working class characters who pass through a scene and are quickly forgotten. After all, someone had to wash Lizzie’s muddy clothes, cook a dinner for the picky Mr. Woodhouse, and take care of Mr. Willoughby’s horse.
My only complaint about Longbourn is that it does have its slow moments. This was a book that was easy to put down and walk away from, but my curiosity about what would happen next always brought me back. Nevertheless, I think Austen fans will bask in this enchanting return to Pride and Prejudice, and genuinely enjoy the way that this classic story is turned on its head.
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Want to learn more about Servants in Jane Austen’s novels? Check out this academic paper by Judith Terry!