Longbourn is the story of the servants who work for the Bennet family of Pride and Prejudice, including the housekeeper, Mrs. Hill; her husband, Mr. Hill; the child servant, Polly; the mysterious footman, James; and our heroine, the maid Sarah. Sarah is a wonderful character: innocent, intelligent, kind, a hard worker who longs for something more than servitude. Pride and Prejudice’s story is a vague shadow against the engaging plot of Longbourn. Sarah’s double love interests (James the footman and Bingley’s footman Ptolemy) mirror, very slightly, the double love interests of Elizabeth Bennet (Darcy and Wickham). The near tragedy that strikes Lydia works as a foil to the devastating events of James’ life.
A reader might admire Elizabeth for ignoring the mud and trudging the three miles to be with her sister, but the maid who must clean her petticoats does not. The servants are glad that Jane falls ill elsewhere, for they won’t have to clean up after her. When Sarah gets sick, her fellow servants do not have the time to take care of her, and the Bennets do not have the inclination even to worry about her. Longbourn gives us a glimpse, with marvelous historical detail, of what life was like in Regency England for the majority of the people who lived then.
A fan of Pride and Prejudice, I loved Longbourn. Seeing the evilness of Wickham with more clarity, learning about Mr. Bennet’s secret life, and, of course, getting to know the family servants has given my favorite Austen story a brand new depth. Longbourn could have been dark and bitter, profiling, as it does, the difficult lives of the lower classes, but Baker makes clear that love and hope exist; that dreams, if kept practical, can come true. Highly recommended.