I’ve read Pride & Prejudice a handful of times, and am, in general, a big fan of Jane Austen (my personal favorite is Persuasion). And yes, I’ve fallen into the trap of reading prequels and sequels and spinoffs of varied quality. So I wasn’t in a huge hurry to read Longbourn. But I saw it at the library, and then remembered a CBR review from last year written by popcultureboy that convinced me to read it.
And I’m so glad I did.
Easily the best of the Austen books not written by Jane Austen, Longbourn is the story of what happened behind the scenes during Pride and Prejudice. What went on in the kitchen? Who cleaned up all of those dishes? Who got the dresses ready for the ball at Netherfield? And who washed all of the mud out of Elizabeth Bennett’s petticoats? The downstairs staff at Longbourn.
I loved reading the story that we all know from the perspective of Sarah, the housemaid and Mrs.Hill, Mr. Bennett’s long-suffering housekeeper. It was fun seeing what outsiders thought of Elizabeth’s forward thinking, or how they managed Lydia’s outrageousness, or Mrs. Bennett’s hysteria (answer: lots and lots of laudanum). The details were sometimes a bit much (no thanks, I don’t really need to know what’s inside Mr. Collins’ chamberpot), but seemed spot-on. I never tired of reading about the details of the day, of how much work it took to keep a house like Longbourn running as smoothly as possible. And I enjoyed the fact that the five Bennett girls lived in another world entirely, and clearly had no idea about any of it. Sometimes, honestly, I wanted to smack some of those Bennetts across the face because of their ignorance. SHOE ROSES DO NOT MAGICALLY APPEAR, LADIES!
My favorite bit of the book: the absolute villian that Mr. Wickham was in the eyes of the household staff. He really came off as a terrible, terrible man.
I also enjoyed the progression of the love story here. A housemaid and a footman with a secret, falling slowly and quietly in love. My only wish is that there had been a bit less of the story told in flashback — I wanted more of the story in present day. But that’s really a minor quibble.