Review of Longbourn by Jo Baker


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Review written by: Jessica C.
Book Published by: Knopf/Doubleday

“She stood there on the threshold, feeling quite transparent: the brassy polish of the doorknob seemed to shine through her hand; the evening blue leached right through her.”

Longbourn is not a sequel or even a side note of Pride and Predjudice, instead it is a book entirely devoted to itself. In Longbourn the nameless servants of Pride and Predjudice emerge from the shadows and are given names. If you are seeking the Bennets in Longbourn, they are there in the background because Longbourn is not their story. Longbourn is the story of those that are so rarely given a voice… the servants.

The story follows the life of the house maid, Sarah, as she goes about her daily chores and obligations. She helps the reader become enlightened on the reality that the Bennets are as normal as any other human out there. Sarah sees the Bennets for who they are, those that she works for and cleans up after. It is during her normal chores that she comes to hear the whistle of a young man approaching, a man called James Smith, who later becomes a key component to the story.

Longbourn is separated into three volumes, and while each volume has a particular focus they all tie together beautifully. The reader discovers that James Smith is far more than he seems and the truth of his character is revealed later in the novel. I will not spoil his character for those that have yet to read Longbourn, but I can say the secret he shares with only a few is one that would change Pride and Prejudice if his secret was exposed.

Baker writes so beautifully and elegantly and  although the writing is not that of Austen, it still easily is interwoven.  The adoring fans of the classic can appreciate the insider revelation of the servants life in Longbourn and the harsh reality of the life and times of those less fortunate. Baker faces the harshness of war in the time of Pride and Prejudice and does not shy from the seedy character of Wickham, and for that she earns my respect and admiration.

So many adaptations and sequels have been made of Pride and Prejudice that focus only on the Bennets I found reading Longbourn refreshing. While I have always been an Austen fan, I was completely engrossed with Longbourn and the main character Sarah. I couldn’t help but find it ever so intriguing that even though Sarah in her own way judged and criticized the nature of the Bennet ladies, she acted much the same. I found it also interesting that Baker chose to portray  the relationship  of Sarah and James, and Sarah’s nature towards James from the start to be near identical to that of Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship.

Regardless of the opinion that any may have about adaptations, sequels, and new ‘spins’ on the story of Pride and Prejudice, I urge fans of Austen to take the time out to read Longbourn. While it does carry some darker undertones and touch upon some elements of a story that Austen would shy from, it possesses a beautiful story and an equally beautiful ending for the determined Sarah and her honorable James. It only seems reasonable that you give the pair their time in the light, and let them out of the shadows of their employers, at least for a short while.

“It was not the end, of course; it was just an end”

 

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