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Original Essays | September 17, 2014

Merritt Tierce: IMG Has My Husband Read It?

My first novel, Love Me Back, was published on September 16. Writing the book took seven years, and along the way three chapters were published in... Continue »

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Longbourn Cover

ISBN13: 9780385351232
ISBN10: 0385351232
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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writermala, May 9, 2014 (view all comments by writermala)
We've read and reread the "Pride and Prejudice," enthralled by the characters; but there is more to this novel than the Bingleys the Darcys and the Bennetts.

"Longbourn" shows us that the characters downstairs at Longbourn - Mrs Hill and her brood - lead lives just as exciting. Amidst their scrubbing and cleaning and washing they have time for falling in love and when they do, it is an exciting story.

Jo Baker tells a tale which is independent of the "Pride and Prejudice," yet connecting the two with some details from the original. When James, the footman, arrives we know there is a mystery surrounding him and indeed there is.

This is a very well-told tale and novices as well as experienced fans of "Pride and Prejudice" will love it.
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nicole d, March 3, 2014 (view all comments by nicole d)
A fabulous re-imagining and retelling of the classic Pride and Prejudice. Rather than focus on the story and characters we already know and love, this novel focuses on the servants who are only briefly mentioned in P&P. It's kind of like the Upstairs/Downstairs or Downton Abbey take on Pride and Prejudice. The characters are complex, the story compelling and details of events of the times, like the Napoleonic Wars and the slave trade, are really interesting.
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Elise90, November 30, 2013 (view all comments by Elise90)
I adore Jane Austen, and I was dreading reading this take on Pride & Prejudice from the servants' point of view. I thought it was a crass cash-grab on Baker's part, and that I'd spend the entire novel longing to reread P & P. I couldn't have been more wrong! I got entirely wrapped up in the story of Sarah, a servant at Longbourn, and felt impatient even with brief mentions of favorite characters (Jane, Elizabeth), who seemed selfish, boring, and clueless because of their wealth. Crucially, this novel does NOT feel like a gimmick; it's beautiful and literary, and stands on its own--non-fans of Austen will love it too, I think.
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The Lost Entwife, November 5, 2013 (view all comments by The Lost Entwife)
I'm not really a fan of books that spin off of classics - with the exception of a few notable works. I loved Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys for the alternate viewpoint it brought and the way it didn't really touch on the main storyline and themes of Jane Eyre. Instead, it played with the untold story and, as a result, left the bulk of Jane Eyre untouched... except now the reader has seen Mr. Rochester through the eyes of another woman. The same with Budge Wilson's Before Green Gables, a story that touches on the earlier years of Anne Shirley's (Anne of Green Gables) life before the Cuthberts, before beautiful Prince Edward Island, before her story began. But Wilson introduces us, again, to the untold story. The story of Anne's parents and the wee years of Anne's life and explains why it shaped Anne the way it did. She wasn't always the red-headed imagination-filled kindred spirit that we have always known. And Longbourn follows along those same lines - touching briefly on the traditions, but only in a way to offer a different viewpoint. She doesn't play with the romance or the character of the Bennet girls, instead, she takes seemingly trivial things that Jane Austen mentions in her classic book and Baker expands on them. And that is why, out of all of the Pride and Prejudice spin-offs written, if you were to pick just one to read, this would be it.

I've tried reading a few of those spin-offs and I always walked away frustrated and annoyed. How dare those authors try to put words in Jane or Elizabeth's mouths; how dare they besmirch the character of Darcy or make Wickham to be something he isn't. Baker doesn't presume to know those characters as well as Austen did; rather, Baker presumes to know the characters behind the scenes. The maids, the housekeeper/cook, the stable man. These are given front and center stage and the little things they do to keep the story running smoothly are finally given the recognition they desserve.

Imagine Elizabeth walking to Netherfield to sit beside her sick sister Jane. We all love the thought of Miss Bingley's disdain as she looks at the mud-soaked hem of Elizabeth's petticoat and we praise Elizabeth's lack of conformity to societal norms. We cheer her on - you walk Elizabeth! You put color in those cheeks and put family before fashion. But how often to we stop to think that the petticoat was pristine when Elizabeth put it on and, sure enough, it's bound to be pristine again. Then, we never consider that Elizabeth has to pay for the choices that she's made. It's not Elizabeth's hands who will be rubbed raw as she scrubs away the stains in order to bring the garment back to a state that is close to the original as possible. No, it's the maid's job to do this, and Jo Baker gives life to that maid by giving her a name (Sarah) and a story.

I remember talking about Pride and Prejudice in various book clubs and in university courses. We always would talk about how Austen wrote to show us a side that was not quite the uppercrust of society but not the slums either. She wrote a story that spoke of the themes of love and life and family and she poked some fun as well at the rules and the strictures binding young women at the time. But there is a decided lack of historical reference in her books. Why were the militia present? What war was happening? Where was Bingley and Darcy's money from? Who did all the work of putting that food on the table for Mr. Collins to admire, or helped the girls doll up for the upcoming balls and dances?

Longbourn is a beautiful example of a book that incorporates both intimate history in the form of household running with broader history. She touches on racial tensions, romance, war, the brutal treatment of soldiers and the brutal treatment soldiers inflicted on the people of the other side of the war. Through the story of Longbourn, Pride and Prejudice becomes a story that is less about the little pieces of daily life and more about a broader picture of historical significance. Were the Bennet girls that coddled that all they could think about was uniforms and balls? Even Elizabeth, our heroine, never questions Darcy's money or Jane, the sweet-hearted girl, never considers just where Bingley's family may have come from. And what about America? Do the girls never think of that new and unusual place across the ocean? Sarah does, that's certain.

I highly, highly recommend Longbourn as a book club read, as a companion to Pride and Prejudice, and especially for those who enjoy dramas like Downton Abbey or Upstairs/Downstairs. I am extremely pleased to see that books of this quality are being written to complement the classics and I cannot wait to see what Jo Baker does next.
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Product Details

Baker, Jo
Jo Baker
Literature-A to Z
Publication Date:
9.52 x 6.64 x 1.28 in 1.36 lb

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Longbourn Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$10.50 In Stock
Product details 352 pages Knopf - English 9780385351232 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "The servants of the Bennett estate manage their own set of dramas in this vivid re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice . While the marriage prospects of the Bennett girls preoccupy the family upstairs, downstairs the housekeeper Mrs. Hill has her hands full managing the staff that keeps Longbourn running smoothly: the young housemaids, Sarah and Polly; the butler, Mr. Hill; and the mysterious new footman, James Smith, who bears a secret connection to Longbourn. At the heart of the novel is a budding romance between James and orphan-turned-housemaid Sarah, whose dutiful service belies a 'ferocious need for notice, an insistence that she fully be taken into account.' When an expected turn of events separates the young lovers, Sarah must contend with James's complicated past and the never-ending demands of the Bennetts. Baker (The Mermaid's Child) offers deeper insight into Austen's minor characters, painting Mr. Collins in a more sympathetic light while making the fiendish Mr. Wickham even more sinister. The Militia, which only offered opportunities for flirtations in the original, here serves as a reminder of the horrors of the Napoleonic Wars. Baker takes many surprising risks in developing the relationships between the servants and the Bennetts, but the end result steers clear of gimmick and flourishes as a respectful and moving retelling. A must-read for fans of Austen, this literary tribute also stands on its own as a captivating love story. First printing of 150,000. Agent: Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Associates." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Review" by , “Captivating and delicious. A brilliantly imagined and lovingly told story about the wide world beyond the margins and outside the parlors of Pride and Prejudice.”
"Review" by , “Masterful....From the same stream that fed Austen’s literary imagination, Baker has drawn forth something entirely new and fresh.”
"Review" by , “If you are a Jane Austen fan with a pronounced predilection for Pride and Prejudice, you will devour Jo Baker’s ingenious Longbourn as the ambrosia from the Austen gods it is....It’s an idea that could have felt derivative or sycophantic in its execution, and yet the novel is rich, engrossing, and filled with fascinating observation....Dive in and you might even forget to watch Downton Abbey.
"Review" by , “An absorbing and moving story about the servants at Longbourn....Both original and charming, even gripping....If Charlotte Brontë had taken up the challenge of a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, she might very well have hit upon the sort of broader, more sympathetic point of view Jo Baker has derived from the servants’ quarters.”
"Review" by , Longbourn is a bold novel, subversive in ways that prove surprising, and brilliant on every level. This is a masterful twist on a classic....Much more than a frothy, Downton Abbey-like twist on Austen. This novel is moving, filled with suspense, and impressive for the sympathy with which it explores the drudgery of the servants’ lives, as well as their heartaches. That said, there’s plenty of Austen-worthy wit too.”
"Review" by , “Delightful....The achievement of Baker’s reworking is that Sarah is no mere foil for Elizabeth Bennet; her notions of individual agency and the pursuit of happiness push more forcefully against the class and social strictures of her time than any character in Austen’s novel. The result is a heroine whom it’s impossible not to root for.”
"Review" by , “Irresistible....Sequels and prequels rarely add to the original, but Baker’s simple yet inspired reimagining does. It has best-seller stamped all over it.”
"Review" by , “A witty, richly detailed re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice....Fans of Austen and Downton Abbey will take particular pleasure in Longbourn, but any reader with a taste for well-researched historical fiction will delight in Baker’s involving, informative tale.”
"Review" by , “Achingly romantic....This exquisitely reimagined Pride and Prejudice will appeal to Austen devotees and to anyone who finds the goings-on below the stairs to be at least as compelling as the ones above. Highly recommended.”
"Synopsis" by , 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.

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