Thursday, October 16, 2014

Longbourn - Jo Baker

For a woman who loves all things Jane Austen, this book is really quite fun. It is a re-telling of the life and times at the Bennet household during the time when the events of Austen's tome, Pride and Prejudice are unfolding. The characters of the Bennet family are intact with the addition of a strong new cast of characters - the household staff. Yup, Downton Abbey meets Pride and Prejudice ...

I was quite happy with the way Jo Baker told her story. The characters are really strongly developed. Sarah, a young housemaid bridles at the yoke of servitude and wishes for a broader view of the world and a happier existence. Mrs. Hill, the stalwart housekeeper, guards her staff like a barnyard goose, but hides her own hurts and hopes behind the veil of loyalty to the Bennet family. Young James, a mysterious young man who is taken on as the Bennet's footman has a story of his own that slowly unfolds. What's central to the novel, though, is the strange incongruity between wealthy England's dismissal of slavery as a cruel business and the callous class structure that kept the serving and working classes firmly in place at the bottom of the social ladder.  Spending years in servitude without being given the means to form family bonds or homes of their own,  working long hours without notice of their social and emotional needs, being dismissed for any reason - this was surely not an easy life. It was to be endured because it was the only sure way to have a roof over one's head, sure food for one's belly, and a certain amount of protection from the harsh reality of economic conditions in the greater society. UGH ... it all seems so romantic when we see the Austen movies, but it wasn't all it was cracked up to be!

Ms. Baker has added a wonderful addition to the story of the Bennet family and the staff that cares for them, but no spoilers here. There's sure to be a movie adaptation for this novel and if not that, then a PBS production for the Austen fiends. I'll climb on board that fan wagon when it happens.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review. I've enjoyed all the movies made about Jane Austen and her books, and I've enjoyed her books and spin-offs.. I'm a fan of Downton Abbey and was also a fan of Upstairs, Downstairs when it was so popular. Your point is well made: how could the upper classes justify the conditions imposed on those in service. Whew..