Like a large number of people I fell in love with the 1995 BBC adaption of Pride and Prejudice and Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy but one thing I had really never considered was the servants who run the households in which the main action takes place. The recent success of Downton Abbey has brought the lives of servants in grand houses into the public consciousness and Longbourn brings these mere shadows of Jane Austin’s original work to life.
I think its very brave of Jo Baker to tackle the rewriting of such as well known classical novel without having the established kudos of P.D James who wrote a sequel to it which I reviewed last year. However, Baker has succeeded in creating rounded characters with their own nuances and back stories that enhance the telling of the original. She also manages to add depth to Mr Bennett, whose character always seemed rather superfluous and subsidiary. I don’t want to give away the plot but it is certainly an engrossing tale and one which the modern reader can more readily relate to than perhaps the aristocratic leads of Jane Austin’s focus.
One issue with the book is that it requires the reader to have either read Pride and Prejudice or be familiar with the plot through one of the tv or film adaptions to fully understand what is, in this case, the back story. Overall, it is stunning debut which gives a real insight into the challenges of early 19th century domestic service.