Longbourn (Baker)

Longbourn 
Jo Baker, 2013
Knopf Doubleday
352 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780385351232



Summary
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. . (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—N/A
Where—Lancashire, England, UK
Education—B.A., Oxford University; Ph.D. Queen's
   University-Belfast
Currently—lives in Lancaster (in Lancashire), England


Jo Baker was born in Lancashire, England, and educated at Oxford University and Queen’s University Belfast. Although she has published three previous novels in the UK, The Undertow was her first US publication. It was released in 2012, followed by Longbourn in 2013.

Her previous UK novels are Offcomer, The Mermaid’s Child, and The Telling. She lives in Lancaster. (Adapted from the publisher.)



Book Reviews
A triumph: a splendid tribute to Austen’s original but, more importantly, a joy in its own right, a novel that contrives both to provoke the intellect and, ultimately, to stop the heart.... Like Austen, Baker has written an intoxicating love story but, also like Austen, the pleasure of her novel lies in its wit and fierce intelligence.... Baker not only creates a richly imagined story of her own but recasts Austen’s novel in a startlingly fresh light.... Inspired.
Guardian (UK)


Impressive.... Baker takes ownership of this world without mimicking Austen’s style, asserting instead her own distinctive, authentic voice. Longbourn is not just nicely packaged fan fiction, or an Austenian Downton Abbey; it’s an engrossing tale we neither know nor expect.
Daily Telegraph (UK)


This clever glimpse of Austen’s universe through a window clouded by washday steam is so compelling it leaves you wanting to read the next chapter in the lives below stairs rather than peer at the reflections of any grand party in the mirrors of Netherfield.
Daily Express (UK)


A splendid page-turner.... The much-loved Pride and Prejudice is shaken up and given the grit that Jane Austen could never include—with great success.... Baker’s imaginative leaps are stunningly well done, both historically and emotionally.
Evening Standard (UK)


(Starred review.) 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.... 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.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) While the drama of husband-hunting takes place largely offstage..., the real drama unfolds when the enigmatic James Smith arrives as a footman and catches the eye of Sarah, the young housemaid with dreams of a world beyond Longbourn.... [D]ensely plotted and achingly romantic...exquisitely reimagined —Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont.
Library Journal


(Starred review.) [I]rresistible.... Baker comes at Jane Austen's most celebrated novel from below stairs, offering a working-class view of the Bennet family of Longbourn House.... Baker is at her best when touching on the minutiae of work, of interaction, of rural life.... 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



Discussion Questions
1. "He was such a frustrating mixture of helpfulness, courtesy and incivility that she could indeed form no clear notion of him" (p. 39). What lies at the heart of Sarah's confusion about James? Are her feelings based on misapprehensions of James's attitude toward her? Is James responsible for creating the false impressions and mixed signals Sarah finds so frustrating? If so, what does it reflect about his confusion and lack of experience? Are James's perceptions of Sarah as limited as her perceptions of him? Why or why not?

2. Despite the great difference between their stations in life, in what ways are both Sarah and Elizabeth defined by the social strictures of the time? Are their assumptions about what they can and cannot achieve dictated by society or do they reflect their individual personalities?

3. Why is Sarah attracted to Mr. Bingley's servant Ptolemy? What effect does his attention have on her and her sense of herself as a woman? Does their flirtation influence her behavior with James? In the end, what does James offer her that is lacking in her relationship with Ptolemy?

4. Discuss the significance of the discoveries Sarah makes when she secretly explores James's room (pp. 64-65). What does the scene reveal about Sarah's grasp of the emotional complexities behind James's carefully constructed façade? In what respects in this a turning point in the novel?

5. What similarities are there between the progression of the courtships of Sarah and James and of Elizabeth and Darcy? What part does pride play in the way Sarah initially responds to James? Is Elizabeth guilty of the same kind of misplaced pride in her rejection of Darcy's first marriage proposal?

6. Are James and Sarah more open and honest with themselves and with each other than Darcy and Elizabeth? Is Sarah able to act on her feelings and make decisions in a way that the Bennet girls cannot? How does this affect the way her relationship with James unfolds? Discuss, for example, Sarah's and James's lack of inhibitions about (and downright enjoyment of) sex.

7. Baker details the harsh daily life of Sarah and the other servants. In addition to the descriptions of the backbreaking work they perform-from hauling water on freezing mornings and emptying chamber pots to scrubbing dishes, laundering mud-spattered petticoats, and washing rags soaked with menstrual blood-how does she illustrate the more subtle yet no less humiliating aspects of being a servant? What particular interactions between the Bennets and various members of the staff bring out the true nature of the relationship between the classes?

8. Baker also draws a sweeping historical picture that is largely absent from Pride and Prejudice, including insights into economic and social realities that influence everything from the privileges enjoyed by the wealthy to institutions such as the military. Does the fact that Mr. Bingley's wealth comes from sugar and tobacco, industries dependent on the exploitation of slave labor, affect your understanding of the world the Bennets inhabitant? Discuss the difference between what the Militia represents in Pride and Prejudice and the way it is depicted in Longbourn.

9. Why do you think Baker includes the long section devoted to James's experiences during the Napoleonic Wars (pp. 246-59)? Were you taken aback by the brutality Baker describes? What do James's actions and their consequences show about the prejudices and injustices suffered by young men like James? What facets of his character come to light? How does his experience as a soldier enhance James's role as a romantic hero?

10. Baker continues her story a bit beyond the ending of Pride and Prejudice. Do you find her speculations about what happens to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, their daughter Mary, Mr. and Mrs. Hill, and Polly, satisfying (pp. 325-27)?

11. Polly and Sarah are both orphans, a common character in nineteenth-century novels, including such well-known works as Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Why is a child who has lost or been abandoned by her parents such a persistent and powerful figure? Are there similarities between Sarah and Brontë’s Jane Eyre?

12. Another motif Longbourn shares with several nineteenth-century novels (particularly works in the Gothic tradition) is the mysterious or hidden background of a significant character—James in this work, Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, the woman in the attic in Jane Eyre. What hints does Baker give about James’s origins when he first appears? How does the truth about him evolve and become clearer for both Sarah and the reader? Are the connections between James and members of the household believable? How do you think Jane Austen, whose Northanger Abbey is a famous parody of the Gothic novel, would react to this aspect of Longbourn?

13. Are there aspects of Longbourn that you were surprised to find in a literary novel set in the nineteenth century? In what ways does Longbourn reflect and embrace the sensibilities of the twenty-first century? Discuss, for example, Mr. Hill's secret life; the portrayal of Mr. Bingley's servant Ptolemy; the graphic descriptions of Sarah and James's sexual encounters; and Sarah's decision to leave Pemberley and set out on her own.

14. Does a reader's enjoyment of Longbourn depend on a familiarity with Pride and Prejudice? How does Baker assert an independent voice and vision while using the framework of Austen's novel?

15. Several books inspired by Pride and Prejudice have recently been published. How does Longbourn compare to other books you have read about the lives of the Bennets and the Darcys? Why do you think reworkings of Austen have become so popular?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

top of page (summary)

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2019