January 11, 2014

Book Review: Longbourn by Jo Baker

"If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she'd most likely be a sight more careful with them." Alas for Sarah, she's the housemaid in charge of the Bennet family's laundry, and every Monday she has to scrub and launder until her hands bleed.

Jo Baker's Longbourn presents a grimy underside to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The Bennets' housemaids, Sarah and Polly, empty the chamberpots while housekeeper Mrs. Hill worries about what will become of them after Elizabeth Bennet turns down Mr. Collins--and all the servants sigh whenever the Gardiners, and their many messy children, come to visit. Baker brings to life all the things Austen left out: Mr. Wickham's slimy ways with those beneath him, the endless duties that await the overworked servants and how a housemaid's longing for a better life can change the lives of many people around her.

This vivid story of personal growth and love could stand independently of its literary predecessor. The inclusion of familiar bits from Pride and Prejudice, however, take Baker's novel to a new level, offering alternate insights into Austen's characters. Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins seem unexpectedly pitiable, while other characters come across as surprisingly calloused. Fans of historical fiction and Austenites alike will enjoy Longbourn .

Or maybe not? I don't know, I liked this mostly at first, but the more I think about it, the more it was a little disillusioning. And I've heard quite a bit of backlash from other Austen-lovers*, who really didn't enjoy it.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Should I recommend this to my grandma? Maybe? There are a few hinted sex scenes. And Mr. Darcy looks like a jerk! (Sniffle)

Have you read Longbourn? 
What did you think?

I originally wrote most of this review for Shelf Awareness. And the post contains my affiliate links.

*P.S. The Motherhood and Jane Austen Book Club has more than 750 members already! We're discussing Pride and Prejudice through the end of February, so you have plenty of time to join in still.