Two weeks ago, I wrote a preview for Longbourn (2013), by Jo Baker. It takes place in the Bennett household during the time frame of the novel Pride and Prejudice (1813), by Jane Austen, following Austen’s characters and plot but focusing instead on the servants. Now that I have finished reading it, I have more to say.
This tantalizing tale takes place from the attic rooms of the Bennett home where the exhausted staff take their minimal rest at night to the kitchen and scullery where much of the work of the housekeeper and housemaids is done from before sunup to well after sundown, to the yard and stable where laundry is hung, pigs are fed, and horses are groomed. Ms. Baker paints an entirely different picture of Longbourn from the one portrayed by Austen.
In Ms. Baker’s version, the untidy details of life are brought to the surface. From keeping the persons, laundry, furnishings, and house of the Bennett family clean to covering up their misdeeds, each member of the staff has their callused hands full. They stifle their own needs and dreams and settle for a relatively safe home and unending service, until one housemaid dares to ask for something more from life. This is a graphic portrayal of a harsh period of history, even though the ending is rather neatly tied with a tattered bow.