I Want to Go to Brighton!
I love Jane Austen’s novels. When I want to really procrastinate on my lesson planning, I’ll watch all 6 hours of the PBS version of Pride and Prejudice with young Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. My cousin and I share memorable quotes such as “Are we to be murdered in our beds?!” in a cockney accent. I can’t completely explain it, but I find her novels lovely, even if most of the 6 she penned have a similar narrative arc where the man we thought of as a brute is actually benevolent. Oh, and he also has a large fortune! How delightful!
While watching and reading Austen’s works, I have wondered about the people behind the house–the servants, housemaids, cooks, etc. I’m ashamed to say I sometimes get lost in the story and forget about how there is an army of people allowing my main characters to just sit down and eat everyday. Fortunately, Jo Baker has recently published the novel Longbourn, a new story of the Bennet family from Pride and Prejudice, but from the lens of the help.
If you’ve actually taken the time to read some of my creative writing, I have expressed my awkwardness about having live-in help when I visit my family in India. Longbourn starts with an epigraph: “What praise is more valuable than the praise of an intelligent servant?” That hooked me. How would the Bennet family fare when assessed from the eyes of the hired help?
Sarah is a young woman whose work starts before dawn and doesn’t finish until all of the shill Bennet girls have gone to bed. She empties disgusting bed pans and dreams of other places to be and other lives to live.
The narrative provides hints of the background story which is coming from Austen’s novel, but it isn’t the driving force of the novel. And it’s fascinating to hear of the daily tasks the servants had to accomplish everyday just so that their masters were bathed and fed. The perspective does not show the Bennet family in the most positive light–even Jane has flaws in that she’s perfect and not meant to deal with problems.
The narrative style felt much like how Austen’s own novels were, which I appreciated a lot. However, there were some moments where things were said that felt like a jolt to me and took me out the story. There weren’t many moments like that, so I still really enjoyed the book.
If you’re an Austen fan or if you just want something from 19th century England, check it out!