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Longbourn Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 8, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (October 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385351232
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385351232
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.6 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (553 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,976 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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: the young housemaids, Sarah and Polly; the butler, Mr. Hill; and the mysterious new footman, James Smith, who bears a secret connection to Longbourn. At the heart of the novel is a budding romance between James and orphan-turned-housemaid Sarah, whose dutiful service belies a ferocious need for notice, an insistence that she fully be taken into account. When an expected turn of events separates the young lovers, Sarah must contend with James&'s complicated past and the never-ending demands of the Bennetts. Baker (The Mermaid&'s Child) offers deeper insight into Austen&'s minor characters, painting Mr. Collins in a more sympathetic light while making the fiendish Mr. Wickham even more sinister. The Militia, which only offered opportunities for flirtations in the original, here serves as a reminder of the horrors of the Napoleonic Wars. 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. A must-read for fans of Austen, this literary tribute also stands on its own as a captivating love story. First printing of 150,000. Agent: Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Associates. (Oct.)

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Elizabeth and Darcy take a backseat in this engrossing Austen homage, which focuses on the lives of the servants of Longbourn rather than the Bennet family. Baker’s (The Undertow, 2012) novel finds Sarah, the Bennets’ young, pretty housemaid, yearning for something more than washing soiled dresses and undergarments. The arrival of a handsome new footman, James Smith, creates quite a stir as he’s hired after a heated discussion between Mrs. Hill, the cook and head of the servants, and Mr. Bennet. Sarah isn’t sure what to make of the enigmatic new member of the household staff, but she’s soon distracted by the Bingleys’ charismatic footman, Ptolemy, who takes an interest in Sarah and regales her with his dreams of opening up a tobacco shop. Baker vividly evokes the lives of the lower classes in nineteenth-century England, from trips in the rain to distant shops to the struggles of an infantryman in the Napoleonic Wars. She takes a few liberties with Austen’s characters—Wickham’s behavior takes on a more sinister aspect here—but mostly Austen’s novel serves as a backdrop for the compelling stories of the characters who keep the Bennet household running. --Kristine Huntley

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

173 of 188 people found the following review helpful By Brendan Moody TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the market is oversaturated with Jane Austen pastiches. Toss some zombies or a murder mystery into Austen's elegant accounts of the travails of the landed gentry, and you've got something that lots of people will buy, out of embarrassed curiosity if nothing else. I imagine the marketing of Jo Baker's LONGBOURN will target that audience, but those expecting a lighthearted parody or a return to beloved characters will be disappointed. This is less a companion to PRIDE AND PREJUDICE than a distant cousin, one that interacts with its relative rarely and in unrevealing ways. Fortunately, the story it tells is interesting enough in its own right to make a rewarding experience, albeit one that won't surprise readers who have more than a superficial knowledge of the period.

Where PRIDE AND PREJUDICE left the Bennet servants as faceless ciphers, in LONGBOURN they are the central characters. There are Mr and Mrs Hill, butler and cook; teenage maid Polly; and the heroine, Sarah. To this small, thinly-stretched team is added James Smith, the new footman. At first Sarah is suspicious of James, whose arrival in the household was the subject of a mysterious argument between Mrs Hill and Mr Bennet. As suspicion hardens into dislike, Sarah finds herself drawn toward the charming footman at neighboring Netherfield, who is also the first black man Sarah has ever seen. As she learns more about these two strange and fascinating arrivals, Sarah takes steps that will change her life forever.

The true subject of LONGBOURN is not, however, Sarah's romantic life, which mirrors Elizabeth's from PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and is equally predictable.
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64 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Erin on August 22, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
At work one morning I got very excited listening to an interview on Australian ABC radio: Jo Baker was being interviewed about her new novel Longbourn. The telling of Pride and Prejudice through the servants eyes. I got very excited and was jumping in my seat (thank goodness it was a quiet day and there was no one there to witness me). I thought to myself: I have to get this book NOW!!!

Pride and Prejudice has always been a favourite story of mine. And I often wonder, daydream and imagine what life was like for Lizzy and Darcy. But I had also wondered what life would have been like for the servants of that household.
I can't imagine dealing with Mrs Bennett on a daily basis, both publicly and intimately (shudder at the thought) being a simple, easy task to undertake.

I was sucked-into Jo Baker's story within the first minute of starting the book. Immediately I liked and cared for the servants and I felt for them as they got along and completed their daily tasks(that turn my stomach and make me thankful that I live in this century!).

I found myself crossing my fingers and holding my breath that servant and gentry alike got to live Happily Ever After.

Jo Baker showed respect and attention to detail in incorporating her voice and imagination into the back-story of Jane Austen's masterpiece.

I have not read any other works by Jo Baker yet, but I intend to now asap.
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76 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Eric M. Jones on August 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I've read a number of Pride & Prejudice derivatives. I have praised Pamela Aiden's 'Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman' and Jan Hahn's 'An Arranged Marriage'. 'Longbourn' is my new pick of the litter. Let me quote briefly from Jo Baker's Author's Note at the end of the Kindle edition. "The main characters in Longbourn are ghostly presences in Pride and Prejudic. They exist to serve the family and the story." In 'Longbourn', the main characters of Pride and Prejudice may not be ghostly, but most are bit players. Powerful bit players, too be sure; but not central to the story. The downstairs story and characters Baker has created certainly held my attention and made me care about them. This is not Upstairs/Downstairs, Gosford Park, or Downton Abbey. A hundred years before the setting of those stories, life is grittier. The Longbourn estate is a small one and the household staff only numbers only five. The work is hard; and the days are very long. Baker has done her homework. Bravo!
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Pam K on November 26, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
First, let me confess my own prejudice: I'm opposed to the current tidal wave of books that rejigger beloved texts.

From "March" (based on "Little Women" from the POV of the father) to "The Wide Sargasso Sea" (based on "Jane Eyre" from the POV of the mad wife), I'm totally over it. Why? Because I find the authors lazy. They reap benefits they haven't earned, piggybacking on emotions and effects the original author had to sweat to produce. Also, they insert modern attitudes that distort the intentions of the original work. And publishers encourage it because, as with producing the sequel to a Hollywood blockbuster, they can hitch a ride with a proven winner. (BTW, I don't have the same opinion about fan fiction, which to me is based on love, not commerce.)

So you may wonder why, feeling this way, I read "Longbourn." Well, Jane Austen's six books can only be re-read so often. And to its credit, "Longbourn" begins auspiciously. Jo Baker's descriptive powers are exceptional. The reader feels the stiff chapped hands, the dreary cold dawns, the endless, backbreaking drudgery endured by our protagonist Sarah, and by Mrs. Hill and little Polly. There is careful, fascinating detail here about domestic life in the early 19th century. To me, it's the strongest element of the book, and the first third shines because of it.

But for me, the plotting falls apart. Two equally unlikely love interests appear for Sarah, one an ex-slave, the other a mysterious stable boy. Sarah falls predictably in love with one of them, and then loses him due to the evil machinations of the wicked Wickham. The book veers into heart-rending depictions of war in Spain (again, very well-written, yet strangely out of place in this narrative.
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