Longbourn by Jo Baker tells a story that bustles behind and beneath the familiar world of Pride and Prejudice.
was an orphan before the housekeeper at Longbourn took her on as a
housemaid. Now she scrubs floors, does laundry, helps prepare meals, and
does dozens of other tasks for the members of the Bennet family. Sarah
sometimes dreams of more -- of being a lady, or at least, not a servant
-- but Longbourn is a good place, all in all, and Sarah is lucky to be
there. When a new footman is hired, a taciturn man with a mysterious
past, Sarah is at first intrigued, and then, when he seems to snub her
in favor of keeping to himself, disdainful. Another man, a servant of
Mr. Bingley who has recently arrived in the neighborhood, also
fascinates Sarah, as he has ambitions beyond his current station. Will
he be Sarah's ticket to freedom, or does happiness lie with the
enigmatic but undeniably attractive footman?
One of the fascinating things about this story is the way it ties in to the familiar events of Pride and Prejudice,
but does not tell that story from a different perspective. Those
looking for a below-stairs view of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy's romance may
be disappointed; Sarah has plenty going on in her own life, and the
concerns of her employers take a backseat to matters of her own heart.
The Bennets, though generally portrayed as kind employers, are also
exposed in some of the foibles that only servants would be privy to.
And, of course, some events in P&P have more of a bearing on the
servants' hall than others: the visit of Mr. Collins is a noteworthy
affair, since he will someday be the servants' employer, and could
decide to summarily fire all of them when he takes possession of the
house if he is not suitably impressed by the quality of service!
found this a highly enjoyable book, well-written and well-researched.
If you are an Austenophile or generally interested in historical fiction
about ordinary people, I certainly recommend this book.
(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)