Author: Jo Baker
Published: 2013 by Doubleday
Goodreads Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
My Rating: 3 / 5 stars
In this irresistibly imagined below stairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take centre 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
This book began well. I found it quite easy to get into the story and love the characters.
Baker intertwined enough of the original Pride and Prejudice for the reader to remember that they were, in fact reading about the servants below the stairs of the Bennet household. She included the scenes of Jane being invited to go and visit the Bingleys’ and Mrs. Bennet only allowing her to go on horseback so that she was invited to stay longer, however she became ill and Elizabeth had to go to her aid. Baker also included the visit from Mr. Collins, and his attempts of winning over Elizabeth’s affection. We re-lived Jane’s heartbreak as she read the letter informing her that Mr. Bingley had left, and saw her leave with her aunt and uncle for London. We experienced the worry and shame of Lydia eloping with the insufferable Mr. Wickham and returning married.
As well as the scenes from the original, Baker added in a number of her own scenes between members of the family and the servants. As most of these worked to her advantage, and allowed the story to flow, some of them, I believe, were detrimental to her story. The main issue I had was with the manservant who came on staff, James Smith. While he, as a character was interesting to follow, as he brought out the curiosity in me and I wanted to know what he was hiding, there were parts of his history that I did not enjoy finding out about.
Now, I don’t usually include spoilers in my reviews, so if you plan on reading this book, then turn away now. But I have to include this, as it made me quite angry..
Towards the end, when we are learning more about James, it is brought to light that he is the son of Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper, which he is unaware of. His father, on the other hand is said to be one other than Mr. Bennet himself. Now this is what made me angry. I understand that in order to make her story flow, Baker had to make up some details from scratch, and all but this one worked. Having someone try and tell me, a huge P&P fan, that Mr. Bennet had an affair with the housekeeper is ridiculous! Baker then went on to tell the reader about James’ story of how he ended up at Longbourne, which was much needed to kill the curiosity, however it went on for quite a long time (3-4 really long chapters) and I was finding myself wanting to be back into the other story and find out what was happening with the other servants.
Baker continued well past the end of P&P and dove into married life of Elizabeth Darcy, who took one of the housemaids – Sarah – with her to Pemberly. This did not continue for too long, which was good as, I wanted to use my own imagination as to what life was like for Elizabeth being married to the handsome Mr. Darcy.
All in all, this was a decent read, however, I do not think I will be picking it up for a second time.
Thank you for stopping by, and Happy reading 🙂