Rated Reads

Longbourn

by Jo Baker

Rated: Mild

In all my many years of reading Pride and Prejudice take-offs (fan fiction, if you want to be literal) I’m not quite sure I’ve come across one written from the servants’ point of view. But, with Downton Abbey bringing the servants to the forefront, I guess it was about time we got one.

All the familiar settings — Longbourn, Pemberly, Rosings, London — are there, as are the familiar characters, especially Lizzie, Jane, Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, Bingley, and Wickham. (Darcy not so much) However, it’s really only the framework of  P&P because our main characters are three servants: Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper; Sarah, a maid; and James, a footman.

The format follows the plot arc of P&P, though the concerns of the servants are (predictably) not the concerns of Lizzie and Jane. However, unlike Austen’s witty observations on human character, Longbourn is a very pedantic book: every day is get up, do the work, collapse in bed. It’s also a dirty book — literally, there’s dirt, blood, pig slop, mud, you name it — Baker doesn’t whitewash the 19th-century.

There’s a slight love triangle among Sarah, James and Mr. Bingley’s footman (who, in the end, isn’t given nearly enough page time), and while it goes somewhere, it feels kind of superfluous. I never really connected with the help; Baker didn’t make me care about all the work they were doing, or how annoying Mrs. Bennett was, or what a creeper Wickham was. And so, when at the beginning of the last volume, Baker got around to the back story on Mrs. Hill and James, I was more than annoyed. First, at the timing — why wait until most of the way through the book? — but secondly, because Mrs. Hill and James were not who I cared about or was interested in.

And then it just kind of petered out at the end. Baker kept the story going past the end of P&P, through the marriage of Lizzie and Darcy and even later until everyone is Old. I didn’t care. I wanted to care, but I was just Tired of the story.

I finished it. But I’m thinking that I shouldn’t have. Which is too bad.

Rated: Mild. There is some talk of sex, but it’s vague and not at all explicit. And some mild swear words.

— Reviewed by Melissa Fox

Melissa Madsen Fox's blogging career began in 2004 when she started Book Nut. Reading, reviewing and book blogging have taken over what's left of her life after being a stay-at-home mom to four rambunctious daughters and wife to a slightly- absent-minded professor of political science.

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longbourn
  • Longbourn
  • by Jo Baker
  • Rated: Mild
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: