April 23, 2021

Longbourn: Yet Another Jane Austen take-off

During a Christmas Eve party, I innocently asked my brother-in-law if he had read any Jane Austen, he being a well-read fellow. My husband dismissively interjected, “Jane Austen – that’s just chick lit.” There ensued an argument about whether Austen is really great literature since only women read her. And no, neither my husband or his brother had ever read any work of Jane Austen. I have yet to meet a man who admits to having read any of her books.

Be that as it may, Jane Austen continues to inspire authors, bloggers and screenwriters to riff on her works, Pride and Prejudice in particular.

Longbourn, a 2013 novel by Jo Baker takes the setting of Pride and Prejudice and tells the story of Mrs. Hill, the Bennett housekeeper, James Smith, a new footman, and in particular Sarah, a maid in the Bennett household. Aside from the wicked Wickham who features prominently in this version, the Bennetts, Darcys and Bingleys are only tangential characters in this telling of the tale.

Baker goes into detail about life in the 19th century as the staff endlessly empties chamber pots, scrubs mud-stained long skirts, drives them to and fro in horse drawn conveyances and provides a constant stream of food for these upper class homes. Even the most sympathetic of gentlemen and gentlewomen in this world make distinctions between those who are served and those that do the serving.

Lovers of period fiction could read this as a stand-alone work, but fans of Austen would especially appreciate this “other take” on Pride and Prejudice. Open-minded males are encouraged to sample both the original Austen book and this inventive “downstairs” version. Guys, do not criticize Jane Austen unless you have actually read her work! Watching the movie Clueless does not count.


  1. Thanks for this very intelligent review! I always learn worthwhile things from your blog.

    • Elizabeth Doyle says

      Thanks for the shout-out. Hope you and Jay are well. Keep me posted on both of your creative endeavors. New songs or books from the Bales’ household? Basie’s career? All the best in 2016. Elizabeth D.

  2. Well, Elizabeth, I’m a guy who DID read “Pride and Prejudice.” At least I tried – I couldn’t finish it. I was actually enjoying it tremendously when I regretfully put it down. You won’t believe what defeated me – it sounds so mundane. During all the long dialogue exchanges in the book, Jane Austen never once put in attributions to help the reader identify the speaker. I’d get halfway through these long exchanges and have no idea which of the two characters in the scene said a particular line. I wanted to know, so I’d go back to the beginning and count: she said; he said; she said; etc. After a few times doing this, I just gave up.

    That’s right. Jane Austen doesn’t do it for me not because it’s chick lit but because she didn’t have a decent editor. Check it out for yourself and see if I’m not right.

    • Elizabeth Doyle says

      Thank you for giving me your perspective. When next I re-read any Austen, I will look for the lack of dialogue attributions. Then again, as a French major, I had to slog through avant-garde novels with no discernible plots and almost no punctuation. What’s a little thing like not knowing who is speaking after that!

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