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'Longbourn,' an Austen homage, wins rave reviews

'Longbourn' by Jo Baker tells the story of 'Pride and Prejudice' from the Bennet servants' point of view.

By Staff Writer / October 29, 2013

'Longbourn' is by Jo Baker.

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Whether it’s multiple movie adaptations or new works that imagine what happened to Elizabeth Bennet and her Mr. Darcy, it seems readers can never get enough of Jane Austen’s classic novel “Pride and Prejudice.”

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And a new book based on “Pride” has arrived, with “Longbourn,” which was released Oct. 8, looking at the well-known story from the point of view of the Bennet family’s servants. (Longbourn is the name of the Bennets’ home.)

One of the main characters is Sarah, a scullery maid who at one point provides a tart commentary on the famous scene where Elizabeth arrives at a neighbor’s house with her petticoats covered in mud. “If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them,” Baker writes.

The book’s tagline: "'Pride and Prejudice’ was only half the story.”

So what are reviewers saying? The Monitor selected the book for our list of the 10 best October releases.

New York Times reviewer Diane Johnson called the book “delightfully audacious” and said that “Longbourn” is “original and charming, even gripping, in its own right.”

Meanwhile, USA Today writer Carmela Ciuraru gave the book four stars out of four.

“It isn't necessary to have read 'Pride and Prejudice' to savor the rich drama of 'Longbourn,' which stands on its own as a fine work of fiction, exposing the troubling and often painful aspects of the class divide in Regency England,” Ciuraru writes.

Ciuraru notes that the book is “much more than a frothy, 'Downtown Abbey'-like twist on Austen. This novel is moving, filled with suspense, and impressive for the sympathy with which it explores the drudgery of the servants' lives, as well as their heartaches. 

Guardian writer Hannah Rosefield was similarly impressed, predicting that “Longbourn” will “please Austen fans and novices alike.”

“Baker favours excess over subtlety in her descriptions as well as her plotting, and sometimes 'Longbourn' feels oversaturated,” Rosefield notes. “Yet there are lovely moments, where she inhabits the mind of a girl whose entire experience is domestic.”

Telegraph reporter Holly Kyte discussed how difficult an Austen homage is to do successfully. “What a relief, then, that Jo Baker’s confidence is justified,” Kyte writes. “To twist something so familiar into something quite fresh is impressive. Notwithstanding the odd cheekily lifted phrase, Baker takes ownership of this world without mimicking Austen’s style, asserting instead her own distinctive, authentic voice.”

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