Longbourn is advertised as the book that shows the servants’ view, the behind the scenes activities, of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I am a big Jane Austen fan and have been reading a lot of Pride and Prejudice variations lately, so my husband got it for me for Christmas.
The main character is Sarah, the housemaid at Longbourn. The book opens at almost the same time as the Austen novel, a day or two before the village assembly. It follows Sarah on her daily chores, wash day activities, gaining new servants, losing servants, and the impact of visitors and the influx of social activities of the family have on the servants. You learn about Mr. and Mrs. Hill (the butler and housekeeper) and the little scullery maid, Polly. Their current situations and backstories are woven in with the storyline. There are two love interests for Sarah and you get a pretty good idea of what the relationship development and requirements looked like for the serving class at the time. You learn a lot about customs and habits of the time, particularly for the servants – types of food, common facilities and duties, expected behaviors, work loads and schedules, and what interactions with their masters and families are like.
The story developed well. There was enough change in what was going on and the relationships between the characters to keep things interesting. At first I found Sarah to be a little stuck and whiny but after a while that fades. The only thing that disappointed me about it was how little the actual characters from Pride and Prejudice were included and the way they were portrayed. Granted, the book was intended to focus on the serving class, but if you had not read Pride and Prejudice, you’d have no idea who the characters were or what was going on with the family. The book assumes you have knowledge of Pride and Prejudice and gives the impression that the servants know all the players and who is matching with whom, what everyone is doing and how the relationships are developing without actually stating what is going on. Also, the Bennett girls, particularly Elizabeth, are portrayed as being somewhat affectionate to the servants – until they need something or get distracted. This is one of the only variations where Elizabeth and Darcy are not very conscientious about their servants and their servants well-being, particularly Darcy.
Overall, it is a good book. I may even read it again. However, if you are looking for a heavy Pride and Prejudice influence/cross-over, this is not the book for you. If you’re interested in historical fiction/slight romance, the lives of servants in the early 1900s, or just an interesting read, then you’d like this book.