Talking about Longbourn by Jo Baker with Chrissi

Published May 25, 2014 by bibliobeth

18041982

What’s it all about?:

• Pride and Prejudice was only half the story •
 
If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.
 
In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice,the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended. 

Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Jane Austen’s classic—into the often overlooked domain of the stern housekeeper and the starry-eyed kitchen maid, into the gritty daily particulars faced by the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars—and, in doing so, creates a vivid, fascinating, fully realized world that is wholly her own. 

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: Do you think it’s important to have some knowledge of Pride and Prejudice before reading this book?
BETH: Hmmm, yes and no to this question! I think it helps knowing the bare bones of the story as to what is going on in the Bennet household at certain points but I think it also wouldn’t matter if you had never read P&P before. This novel can also work well as a stand-alone in my opinion, as it has plenty of plot without even bringing the Bennet sisters into consideration.

BETH: As less of an Austen fan, was Longbourn what you expected?
CHRISSI: It was better than I expected. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m not a fan of Austen. I was expecting to be bored by this book. Whilst it isn’t really my cup of tea, I found it enjoyable enough and I was expecting to give up on it. So it definitely exceeded my expectations. I actually found the first part of the book incredibly engaging and I was surprised. Unfortunately, I did begin to lose that initial enthusiasm, but it was still a good read for a non-Austen fan!

CHRISSI: As a huge Austen fan, how did you find the reimagining of Pride and Prejudice from the servant point of view?
BETH: It’s true, I am a huge Austen fan, and to be honest I was really worried that I wasn’t going to like this book- how could it every compare to the original? In all honesty though, what I really like about this story was that it didn’t rely too heavily on the merits of P&P and had an intriguing story of its own. It gives voices to those shadowy characters that we don’t hear too much about, and I think it’s a fresh twist on a much loved classic.

BETH: What did you think about the relationship between Sarah and James and how it developed?
CHRISSI: I thought Sarah and James’ relationship was intriguing. I thought James was an incredibly interesting, mysterious character. I wasn’t quite sure how to take him, or what his secrets were. However, I wasn’t overly convinced by their relationship. I don’t know why I didn’t really connect to them as a couple. I liked James as a character, but Sarah grated on me after a while.

CHRISSI: Compare the choices that Sarah has in the novel, with those that Lizzie and Jane have to make.
BETH: Sarah’s life is a world away from Elizabeth and Jane’s and it is interesting how she views it at times. For example, when she talks about the fact that if Elizabeth had to clean the mud off her own petticoats perhaps she wouldn’t tramp about in it too much! The life of a servant in Austen’s time was long and incredibly difficult, a large amount being very physically demanding which in comparison to the ladies is a huge difference – the heaviest thing they lift might perhaps be a needle for their embroidery?! On the other hand though, Elizabeth and Jane have a huge obligation to their family to marry well and perhaps not necessarily for love, which is a mammoth undertaking whereas Sarah is slightly more free to fall in love with whomever she wishes.

BETH: Sarah has to choose between James and Ptolemy in the novel. Does she make the right choice?
CHRISSI: Is it bad to comment that I don’t think she should have picked any of them?! I didn’t think any of them were particular amazing. I grew to like James more, but I won’t spoil it for anyone that hasn’t read Longbourn. If I’m thinking about it through the eyes of Sarah, then I think she made the right choice for her.

CHRISSI: Discuss what the novel tells us about class, gender and race in the time of Austen.
BETH: In the time of Austen, class was everything if you expected to make a decent marriage and women were not thought of as very useful creatures and were used by some men as mere ornaments to their good name. I did enjoy what Jo Baker brought to the table as regards race and being of a different colour which I think is rarely emphasised in many “white” classic novels. Sarah’s relationship with the black footman Ptolemy is regarded with some horror by Mrs Hill and he is rarely acknowledged as a person in his own right.
BETH: I was slightly disappointed by the version of Elizabeth Bennet I read in this novel. Can you see why?
CHRISSI: Yes. I don’t think Elizabeth Bennet in Longbourn was a very memorable character at all. I know I wasn’t the biggest fan of Pride and Prejudice, but I still remember her vividly. In Longbourn, she didn’t seem to stand out and wasn’t how I imagined her.
CHRISSI: Did you have a favourite character?
BETH: I actually developed a bit of a soft spot for both Mrs Hill and James, especially when we learn more about their history and back stories. I think the author took a bit of a risk with this (especially for die-hard P&P fans) but I think it really paid off. I actually loved the chapters where we learned more about James past and the trials that he has suffered.
BETH: Would you read another book by this author?
CHRISSI: I think I would give her writing another go. I thought the writing and prose was beautiful, I just wasn’t blown away by the story.
Would WE recommend it?:
BETH: But of course!
CHRISSI: Yes!
Star rating (out of 5):
BETH:
four-stars_0
CHRISSI:
3 Star Rating Clip Art
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