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I’ve read a lot of Austen spins-offs and vowed never again many times, but I’m glad I kept at it, because this was probably the most rewarding of them, with maybe the exception of Bridget Jones.
Who knew that after all the hidden diaries, explicit retellings, male points of view and modern adaptations, it would be the story of Longbourn’s servants that would push all the right buttons?
Several readers compared it to Downton Abbey and Upstairs/Downstairs, but I don’t think they compare in realism. In Longbourn, it’s almost as if Baker was responding to all those criticisms about how Austen is only concern with the superficial and the lighthearted, what Charlotte Brontë described as “a commonplace face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flower”. No poverty, no war, no messiness.
Austen avoided the less than pleasant side of day-to-day life? Baker gives us a hyper-realistic description of what the weekly washing day would look like for Longbourn’s maids. The cold sores, menstrual napkins and sweat stains. There’s also childbirth, dirty diapers and a Mrs Bennet just a little too dependent on laudanum.
Baker also imagines Bingley’s fortune comes from the sugar trade and there are vivid descriptions of the slavery and human traffic associated with it.
Austen never tackles the darker side of war? Baker follows the Bennett’s footman through the Napoleonic War in Portugal and Spain. There’s starvation, mutilation, lashings and desertion.
We even get a glimpse at Elizabeth’s life at Pemberley after her happy-ending, where she’s “being what she was required to be.”
Described like this it sounds like it’s a dark and heavy book, but it really isn’t. It’s definitely a candid look at life in the Regency Era, but it’s also a love story and about female friendship, dreams, ambitions and making your own way.
Highly recommended to all Austen fans.
Other thoughts: Eve’s Alexandria, That’s What She Reads, bookshelves of doom, Vulpes Libris, a book a week, Literate Housewife, Leeswammes’s Blog, Beth Fish Reads, Quirky Bookworm, an adventure in reading, Book Girl of Mur-y-Castle, RA for All, Lizzy’s Literary Life, Smart Bitches Trashy Books, Dear Author (yours?)
There is something so amiable in the prejudices of a young mind,
that one is sorry to see them give way to the reception of more general opinions.
Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
There’s a been a lot of buzz around Austen this year with the 200th anniversary of Sense and Sensibility‘s publication. I know other bloggers will be (re)reading the book to celebrate the occasion, but why not make an event of it? A few of us were discussing this on Twitter – Ana, Iris, Lyndsey and Yvann (our kind coordinator) – and Advent with Austen was born.
The idea is: anything goes, as long as it’s Austen related! The binge will start on the first Sunday of Advent – 27 Nov – and end on Christmas Eve. During this time, to participate you just need to decide on your level of
obsession commitment (number of books, movies) and blog about it. You can also just post about your experiences, like Austen-tourism, first readings or pets named after her characters. For more information and registration, just go over to Reading, fueled by tea.
More details on the Celebration will be posted shortly, but parallel events will include a read-along of Sense & Sensibility starting on 4 December and very appropriately ending on Austen’s birthday, and (so looking forward to this one!) joint viewings of Austen movies, with live chats on Twitter.
So sign up and, as Lady Catherine so well put it, have your share in the conversation!