Carefully following the well-read details of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Jo Baker supplies drama for the Bennet’s downstairs household staff in Longbourn. As the lives of Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper, and her crew furiously scuttle about to make the lives of those familiar characters more comfortable, you are privy to the inner workings of the house, from laundry to chamber pots, and treated to their opinions about the famous Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and their brood.
Darcy, Wickham, Mr.Collins are all there, but as background figures. The famous lines and plot twists serve as catalysts for the mirrored lives of the service staff, especially with the romance of James, the new footman with a mysterious past, and Sarah, the housemaid. Sarah suffers her own complicated relationship with James, with the same fervor as Elizabeth with Darcy. Wickham is the dastardly villain, adding James and Sarah to his list of victims. Of course, all ends well, and everyone lives happily ever after, but not before a series of embellishments. Baker adds more delicious mystery with the connection of Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper, to Mr. Bennet, and inserts an historic note with James’ participation in the Napoleonic war.
Although I’ve avoided the many adaptations of this story from zombies to Lizzie Bennet diaries, I lingered over this book, not wanting the story to end. Baker takes some poetic license with Austen’s book (a stillborn male heir), but mostly sticks to the script, using her creative imagination to complete the “downstairs” story that Austen only refers to in passing. If you are an Austen fan, revisiting this world will be a treat.
Another book by Jo Baker: The Undertow