It takes you back through the story of the Bennett sisters from behind the scenes. Instead of fretting over whether or not Mr. Darcy and Lizzy will become engaged, you’ll fret over the trials and tribulations of the maid servant, Sarah. When the girls go to a ball, the below-the-stairs staff are all in a flutter, getting just the perfect shoe roses and lace. It’s a different and fully engaging world.
Perhaps Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper, was mentioned in Pride and Prejudice, but if she was, I don’t remember. Surely the maid servants were never called by name, and I don’t remember a butler or a footman. Baker clearly did a lot of research to learn how a typical household of Longbourn size would operate. How many staff it would take to keep it going. She never took us out of the time period. Never having had to experience laundry day in fiction or real-life, I was aching with Sarah as she scrubbed out stains. The chilblains and open soars on her hands bled with real intensity. Readers felt the drudgery of it all while the upstairs staff glittered.
The story of Pride and Prejudice happens without us being privy to it. As you read Longbourn, you’ll become less concerned about the goings-on upstairs. The downstairs characters take on a life that keeps you reading and worrying about them. Certain ettiquete keep the two worlds separate even when they have collided in the past. For me, I kept hoping the Lizzy I admired in Pride and Prejudice would
notice Sarah’s distress. But she was completely lost in her world. The servants remained invisible until they were needed. Baker did a good job of keeping everyone in character and not stepping past those boundaries.
My only complaint with the book was the point-of-view changes. The author bounced from one one point-of-view to another and sometimes gave the impression of omnipresence. This troubled me, but I kept reading because the story and the character were so well written. Perhaps Baker chose this point-of-view to match that of Austen?
If you are a Jane Austen fan, you will love this book. I suggest reading Pride and Prejudice first to fully enjoy both worlds. But, Longbourn can be read separately. Definitely worth all four stars and is a must read!
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