One thing to note: I am not a Jane Austen fanatic. I have not read all of her novels. I do not dress up in Regency costume. I visited the Roman Baths in Bath, England, but skipped the Jane Austen Centre. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed reading Pride and Prejudice even though my high school English teacher (on whom I had a mild crush) loathed it. Mr. Conner’s admission was a bold one to make at an all-girls school. Frankly, Mr. Conner’s statement is a bold one to make anywhere because everyone and her twin sister seem to adore Jane Austen. Here’s a book, though, that fans and non-fans alike can enjoy: Longbourn by Jo Baker.
Longbourn, to refresh the memories of those for whom high school was a long time ago, is the name of the Bennet home. While the Bennets, the Bingleys, Mr. Darcy and various other characters well-known to P&P readers show up in the wings, the servants Sarah, Polly, James, Mr. Hill and Mrs. Hill take center stage. In an author’s note at the end of Longbourn, Ms. Baker calls the servants in P&P “ghostly presences.” In Longbourn, she “reaches back into these characters’ pasts and out beyond Pride and Prejudice’s happy ending.”
She has done an amazing job of it. I was totally invested in Sarah’s heartache, James’s plight, and the sheer slog of keeping five young ladies fed, in clean clothing and on time for all of their social engagements. I still wanted to slap Kitty and Lydia and strangle various other characters who had irritated me in P&P, but I didn’t have to dwell on them much before I could move along to a more compelling character and story. Jane Austen is dead. Long live Jo Baker!