I’m putting my cards on the table here; I’m a Jane Austen fan. My three favourite books of her are – in order – Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice and Emma.
Because I love her characters so much I’ve read a few Pride and Prejudice spin-offs, but most of them have left me rather underwhelmed.
Maybe that’s because most writers have tried to re-imagine Jane Austen’s beloved characters whereas in Jo Baker’s book Longbourn, she observes them. They impact the story only as their actions affect her main characters – the servants.
When I was studying Pride and Prejudice at university, my tutor complained that although Jane Austen was writing during the Napoleonic wars, she never discussed the conflict or its impact on society.
Then, as now, I found that comment very unfair. Austen frequently talks about the presence of the militia and she was writing to an audience who was well aware what was going on in Europe.
Unless one is personally involved in a conflict, war remains an abstract concept. Following the end of English Civil War in the mid-17th century until the first air-raids during World War One, England did not experience war first hand on its soil.
My tutor also complained that we only got glimpses of the servants in her books. But Jane Austen was not writing about the lives of the servants. For me the fact that she doesn’t mention them reveals a huge amount about Jane’s class and society – and my tutor’s prejudices. (‘scuse the pun.)
All his reservations are addressed in Jo Baker’s Longbourn. Told from the servants’ POV, this is a delightfully fresh approach to a very familiar story allowing us to see the Bennet family, and others, in a completely new light.
I loved this story and particularly loved Jo Baker’s voice. I look forward to reading more by this excellent writer.
Thanks for this recommendation! I’m going to pass it on to the members of my book group here in Bearsden (Scotland), as they’re not really keen on modern authors directly “re-using” well-known characters, but this book definitely sounds like something they will enjoy!
I hope they enjoy it. Let me know what they think.