I am a big fan of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, so I was excited when I found out about Longbourn, written by Jo Baker. Pride and Prejudice fanfiction, for lack of a better term, is nothing new. There are a few novels that I have enjoyed, and some that I did not enjoy.
Fans of Pride and Prejudice will recognize Longbourn as the Bennet family home. The novel takes place below stairs of that fine home, as the small household staff works to meet the needs of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and their five daughters. As the events of the novel unfold, the members of the staff are right there. Mrs. Hill the housekeeper strives to make Mr. Collins’ visit a pleasant one, and everyone is concerned about what will happen when he does not make a match with one of the five Bennet daughters. In a poignant moment, Mary is devastated when Mr. Collins chooses Charlotte Lucas, and locks herself in her room, playing melancholy songs on the pianoforte.
When I was in college, I majored in English. One of my favorite courses was a survey of 19th century British novels. I wrote a paper comparing Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. They are very different books, and I remember noting that Pride and Prejudice was a very idealistic look at the world, while Jane Eyre, with its cruelty to children and mad wife in the attic was a much more realistic view of the world. I found Longbourn so utterly fascinating because showed that the world of Pride and Prejudice could be just as rough as that of Jane Eyre.
There are some shocking secrets revealed. I was not particularly fazed by them; I was utterly fascinated. I can’t go into too much detail, lest I divulge a major spoiler but come on- we already knew that Wickham was a Thorough Scoundrel. He is not the only character to be given a scandalous treatment, but the revelations just seem to make sense.
Baker gives a particular emphasis on chamberpots and the airing of dirty laundry- literally. I was also fascinated by this. It might be disgusting, but it’s important to remember that there was no indoor plumbing during the Regency period, and those chamberpots and dirty petticoats didn’t wash themselves!
I liked Longbourn quite a bit. It kept just enough of Pride and Prejudice to hold my interest, and added enough original material to create something wholly new. I would definitely recommend Longbourn to others.
If you’d like to find out more, you can do so here: Longbourn