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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Back to the Bennets.

There's only so often you can re-read Pride and Prejudice. Or other Austen masterpieces. And there are only so many books like this one, that talk about Jane and her works. But I finally got to read Jo Baker's Longbourn (#18), which I've been meaning to do since it came out last year, and it was wonderful.

Longbourn is, of course, the Bennet home in Pride and Prejudice. And Longbourn is the "downstairs" view of that home, the story of the servants: Mrs. Hill, the redoubtable housekeeper, her withering husband, the bold and intelligent housemaid Sarah, and the very young housemaid Polly. And of course, the mysterious footman James, who enters and upends their lives. 

It's also fascinating to read about what goes into running a home like Longbourn, a relatively small domicile (and there's a visit to Pemberly, Mr. Darcy's estate, so we clearly see the difference). Just doing the washing of all the undergarments used in a household of six women was a nearly overwhelming task. Keeping the clothing clean and the food cooked was a massive job, and Baker clearly did massive amounts of research to get it all right. But the research doesn't show, the story and characters reign. 

If you know the story of Pride and Prejudice, it enriches and deepens the book, since you will understand, and appreciate, all the references to what is happening upstairs. But Longbourn is its own tale, and it's a beautifully written, thoroughly entertaining one. There are appearances by all the beloved Bennets, a brief moment or two of Mr. Darcy, and some longer scenes involving Mr. Wickham. But the story belongs, mainly, to Sarah, and it's a very good story indeed. 

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