Gentle reader, I’m sure you’ve occasionally imagined yourself as the apple-cheeked mistress of Pemberley and the preferred life companion of Mr. Darcy (as long as he’s played by Colin Firth). I mean, who hasn’t?
But I’ll wager you haven’t sat and wondered what it would be like to be a housemaid in the world of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Jo Baker’s best-selling novel, Longbourn, now in paperback, does just that. Even better, Baker makes it dramatic.
Need more convincing? Here are five reasons to make Longbourn your weekend read:
1. The novel turns Pride and Prejudice inside out and upside down. Characters who were simply props carrying off gowns and letters in the Austen novel—Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper; Sarah, the housemaid; James, the manservant—are fully fleshed out. They become real people, while the Bennet sisters fade into the background.
2. There are big ideas to contemplate. Austen fans might be slightly disheartened by portraits of their beloved heroines appearing so completely self-absorbed that they fail to empathize with the people that surround them most intimately. But that’s not really the point of Baker’s novel, which in many ways is about the limits of perspective. Sarah, the housemaid, is as clueless about the goings-on in Lizzie Bennet’s mind as her mistress is of hers. In conclusion, nobody has mastered the art of empathy. (Except Baker.)
3. Jo Baker shows us another side of the Bennet gals—um, the underside. Baker is not hamstrung by the modesty of her era as Austen was, so she ventures into the forbidden territories of sex and hygiene. In the novel, the Bennet gals get their periods and soil their linens. Lizzie Bennet has musky tufts of armpit hair! That revelation honestly changed my view of Regency England in a heartbeat.
4. Baker suggests there’s more to life than finding a hubby…hallelujah. Baker’s fictional women understand something their privileged counterparts, who spend most of the time skittering around in search of a rich husband, don’t: it’s no tragedy if you don’t get married, and there are options for women outside of the home.
5. It’s not that different from Pride and Prejudice. Longbourn shares something in common with its origin story. Baker, like Austen, wants to see her heroine happy. Fortunately in Longbourn, that’s a state that can be achieved without becoming the mistress of Pemberley. Imagine that!
Want to win your own copy? Tweet us the name of your favourite Bennet sister—and why she’s the best—to @flarefashion with the hashtag #winwithFLARE