Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Book Review: "Longbourn: A Novel," by Jo Baker
When reading Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, did you ever think about the servants who lived in the Bennets’ home? No? Well, that wouldn’t have surprised the servants either because they felt largely invisible, as we learn in the new novel, Longbourn, by Jo Baker. Even in modest households like that of the Bennets, servants toiled behind the scenes from sunrise to sunset, and often beyond, cooking the food, doing the laundry, emptying chamberpots, mending clothes, running errands, caring for the horses, and so much more. And yet, as we learn through the eyes of Sarah, the housemaid, they had dreams and yearnings for love just like anyone else.
And there were often secrets… illegitimate babies, unknown pasts, inappropriate relationships. All of these issues come to light in Longbourn when a mysterious young man is suddenly hired as the footman. Who is he? Why was he hired? And why do they know so little of his past? Sarah is determined to find out his secrets while also yearning for recognition for herself.
Other than during episodes of Downton Abbey, I never really considered the difficult lives led by the servants during Jane Austen’s time. It wasn’t so much the work (although that was even worse than I thought), but the societal limitations on their lives. They weren’t free to travel, set their own schedules, improve their station in life. It was almost as if they were imprisoned; they must have felt so hopeless at times. I could really sympathize with Sarah’s yearnings to have pretty things, to see the world, to have her opinions sought. And yet, despite the divisions between the family and the servants, their lives were intertwined in ways that I could not have imagined.
Longbourn is a hauntingly beautiful story about class divisions and love, about the hope that we all have to find meaning and purpose in our lives, and to matter to someone. Regardless of our position or wealth, we all have these universal longings. Sarah’s story is one that everyone can relate to.
Disclosure: I received an Advance Reader’s Edition through the Amazon Vine program. All opinions are 100% my own. This post contains my Amazon affiliate link.