Synopses & Reviews
A brilliantly imagined, irresistible below-stairs answer to Pride and Prejudice
: a story of the romance, intrigue, and drama among the servants of the Bennet household, a triumphant tale of defying society's expectations, and an illuminating glimpse of working-class lives in Regency England.
The servants at Longbourn estate — only glancingly mentioned in Jane Austen's classic — take center stage in Jo Baker's lively, cunning new novel. Here are the Bennets as we have never known them: seen through the eyes of those scrubbing the floors, cooking the meals, emptying the chamber pots. Our heroine is Sarah, an orphaned housemaid beginning to chafe against the boundaries of her class. When the militia marches into town, a new footman arrives under mysterious circumstances, and Sarah finds herself the object of the attentions of an ambitious young former slave working at neighboring Netherfield Hall, the carefully choreographed world downstairs at Longbourn threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, up-ended. From the stern but soft-hearted housekeeper to the starry-eyed kitchen maid, these new characters come vividly to life in this already beloved world. Jo Baker shows us what Jane Austen wouldn't in a captivating, wonderfully evocative, moving work of fiction.
"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.
“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.” Maggie Shipstead, author of Seating Arrangements
“Masterful....From the same stream that fed Austen’s literary imagination, Baker has drawn forth something entirely new and fresh.” Miami Herald
“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.” O magazine
“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.” New York Times Book Review
“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.” USA Today
“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.” The New Yorker
“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.” Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“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.” People
“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.” Library Journal (starred)
• 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.
About the Author
Jo Baker was born in Lancashire, England, and educated at Oxford University and Queen’s University Belfast. She is the author of The Undertow and of three earlier novels published in the United Kingdom: Offcomer, The Mermaid’s Child, and The Telling. She lives in Lancaster.
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Longbourn,
the captivating new novel by Jo Baker that proves that Pride and Prejudice
was only half the story.
1. What did you think of Jo Baker’s stylistic choice to include multiple characters’ perspectives in a single chapter? Do you think it enhanced the book?
2. What were your thoughts on the beginning of Volume Three, which was dedicated entirely to James Smith?
3. How would you compare and contrast the love stories between Sarah and James, and Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy?
4. Longbourn provides an alternative angle to Pride and Prejudice. Can you think of a classic novel that you would like to see rewritten in another character’s voice?
5. What did you make of each chapter’s introductory quote? Were there any that you were particularly drawn to? Why?
6. Lizzie Bennet is a much-loved heroine. Has Longbourn changed your view of her at all? Do you think she acts selfishly in relation to Sarah?
7. For those who have read Pride and Prejudice recently, do you know the significance in Pride and Prejudice of the whipping that Sarah witnesses in Longbourn?
8. Longbourn is a book that stands alone as having its own story, characters and themes–how far has the author ensured her novel is not pastiche, that it is a novel with a separate identity?