Longbourn by Jo Baker

As Darcy and Elizabeth’s #2 fan (after my friend Naomi) I was always going to be biased reading and reviewing this book. When I finished Longbourn I tried to imagine if I would’ve read it differently if I knew nothing of Pride and Prejudice? The beauty and attraction of Austen’s novel is with the ‘upstairs’ family, their characters and their society. Not once did I think, ‘I wonder what’s going on in the lives of the folk downstairs?’

Longbourn reveals an interesting insight into the labour intensive life below stairs in 19th Century England. The story is a little predictable and you were given such a small glimpse into the lives of the Bennett’s, that when Elizabeth gets engaged to Darcy it isn’t a big deal…but then, would it have been in the servants eyes? If anything, it meant a time of change and uncertainty; with a reduced household the Bennett’s would no longer need so many pairs of hands, and in a time of war jobs were a thing to keep hold off.

For me, any additional insight I can get into the characters’ lives is like gold dust and i’ve read many sequels to P&P just to get inside Darcy and Elizabeth’s head.  I suppose the glory of this book is that it does just that, but from a completely untold perspective. The ‘heroine’ of this novel is servant Sarah, whose perception of the Bennett’s is certainly a revelation. Naturally, Mrs Hill is a central character, and my oh my does she have a secret up her sleeve. And believe it or not so does the largely silent Mr Hill! Wickham is still the rouge of the story, and he’s even sleazier this time around. Just think, if he can behave like a scoundrel with the polite upstairs crew, just imagine how he behaves out of their sight with the servants!

Everything about P&P is just lovely, and that’s exactly how I would describe this novel; just lovely. It’s not going to change your world but it is a beautifully written account of what might have gone on below stairs while Kitty was putting ribbon on bonnets and Lydia was chasing officers!

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