This is the story that may have never been told.
The story of those who are behind the scenes in one of the most famous novels of all time.
This is the story of those that keep Mr and Mrs Bennet and their daughters; Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty and Lydia fed, clothed and clean. Presenting Longbourn to be as good as Pemberley or Netherfield Park if at all possible.
The story is Pride and Prejudice; but this is merely information. What author Jo Baker has done has given us the story of the servants and whilst may have taken liberties with their charters has remained true to Pride and Prejudice and you can see the story unfold upstairs as those that work tirelessly downstairs struggle.
In fact the two stories are very similar. Meet Sarah, the maid. Tired from working long hours, hands raw from washing in soda and bleach, nose twitching from having to make soap out of animal fat, has rather an outspoken manner about her (Elizabeth Bennet?) and would like nothing more than to experience love and fine and pretty things such as those ladies upstairs. Love for her is more actual, it is not about position or place or indeed money. It is much more pure.
Meet Mrs Hill, the housekeeper. She is playing the game just like Mrs Bennet. She needs to secure her future and that of her husband Mr Hill and those that work downstairs. By working hard at the cooking and cleaning and making the house presentable, when the time comes for Mr Collins, who is as slimy as Austen makes him out to be, inherits he will be able to easily inherit the staff as well. Trouble is the Bennet girls cannot think of anyone they would rather not marry than Mr Collins. It looks like Mrs Hill might have to well impress her skills on another female to ensure longevity.
Meet James. A mysterious character who walks into town and walks straight into a job at Longbourn. Every good place needs a footman. There is something dark and brooding about him, something of the Mr Darcy perhaps. But he has a past and he would rather that it was kept there for no one to discover. He is charming and helpful (Mr Wickham?) Trouble is, Mrs Hill knows about his past and Sarah has the strong will to want to know.
And so life goes on day to day at Longbourn. Jo Baker, creates characters that you care for, that you want to only see good things happen to. When truths are revealed about some of them, we are taken away from Longbourn and into another world. A world of war, and the destruction of landscape and strength of discipline that forces men into positions that they then try and escape. I was unsure whether being taken away from Longbourn would detract away from the idea of the book – the servants. It works, although slowly at first as then you actually forget about the Bennet’s and their contemporaries you are far more concerned as a reader about Sarah, James, Mrs Hill et al.
I have never read Pride and Prejudice although I know the story. This books stands alone from that so well, that you would actually be forgiven that it is based on a story which is 200 years old. It is historical fiction with added romance at it’s best. With the added appeal that it is a truth universally acknowledged that we always find those people that work downstairs or behind the scenes just as if not more interesting!
Longbourn is out now in hardback published by Doubleday.
Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy to read and also letting this blog be part of the blog tour. If you have missed out : please click here to find out all about washing 200 years ago.
And I think I will go and read Pride and Prejudice now. The reason I think for not having read it, was the occasions I did pick it up, I could not fall into the way of writing and the language. As I have got older, I have found that it has become slightly easier to pick up these books and expand my reading knowledge further.