As most readers of my blog know, I am obsessed with all things Jane Austen. What you might not know is that I am also an avid Downton Abbey fan. I love Masterpiece Theatre in general, but as soon as I saw this series I was hooked and devoted. My entire family loves it as well.
In Longbourn, author Jo Baker brings together my two obsessions. Longbourn is the story of the staff behind the scenes that make Pride and Prejudice possible. Author Jo Baker is descended from a family that was “in service” and was able to incorporate just what it would be like to be the staff at a regency manor.
Sarah was taken in as a young orphan and raised by the infamous Mrs. Hill (infamous in that Mrs. Bennet is constantly calling for her in the novel and can’t seem to get along without her). Her childhood is spent learning to be a housemaid in a small estate. There is Mr. Hill, Mrs. Hill, Sarah, and young Polly working at the estate by the time Sarah becomes a young woman. The house is put into an uproar when Mr. Bennet hires newcomer James as a footman. He is a great help with the work, but is also very mysterious. Sarah finds herself suspicious and trying to solve the mystery of him.
Sarah also finds herself captivated by Ptolemy Bingley, a young mulatto footman that arrives at Netherfield with the exciting new family in the neighborhood, the Bingleys. Ptolemy is different than anyone Sarah has ever met. He was born a slave on the Bingley estate in the West Indies, but is now a free man in England. Will Sarah find love with Ptolemy or the mysterious footman James?
I LOVED this novel. Longbourn opened up an entirely different world to the Austen novels than I have ever read before. How are all of the ladies able to get ready, eat, and get to their dances? There is an entire team that works behind the scenes to make it possible. It was wonderful to finally read a story about the pros behind the scenes and to know that they have a story too.
I also loved James’s backstory in the Napoleonic Wars. I was also intrigued by so many secrets to Pride and Prejudice that would make sense. So slavery is where the Bingley’s made their fortune, etc. I felt like the secret of this novel is that it in no way changed Pride and Prejudice, but instead expanded the story and gave a back story to so many intriguing plot lines. I loved learning more about Mr. Bennet and Mr. Wickham. I love how Sarah thinks to herself that Miss Elizabeth wouldn’t be taking such long walks through the mud if she had to scrub her own petticoats.
Overall, Longbourn is a great historical fiction novel about the fascinating people often overlooked in literature, the servants who made all of the great events possible. It was a fascinating story
Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library