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Longbourn

Written by Jo Baker

Longbourn
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Category: Fiction - Literary; Fiction - Romance - Regency; Fiction - Classics
Imprint: Knopf
Format: Hardcover
Pub Date: October 2013
Price: $25.95
Can. Price: $
ISBN: 978-0-385-35123-2 (0-385-35123-2)
Pages: 352
Also available as an unabridged audio CD, unabridged audiobook download, eBook, trade paperback and in large print trade paperback.



 
Pride and Prejudice was only half the story •

If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.

In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended.

Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Jane Austen’s classic—into the often overlooked domain of the stern housekeeper and the starry-eyed kitchen maid, into the gritty daily particulars faced by the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars—and, in doing so, creates a vivid, fascinating, fully realized world that is wholly her own.

“Perhaps the most distinguished and powerful example of this newly revived genre [literature of the servants] is Jo Baker’s recent novel, Longbourn. . . . Pride and Prejudice experts can take pleasure in Baker’s fidelity to the details of the Austen novel. But the book’s greatest strength lies in its precise, unsparing descriptions of the physical squalor and destitution of nineteenth-century downstairs life. . . . Adaptations of Pride and Prejudice are not new, of course. But Longbourn offers an especially appealing, and timely, reworking of the classic. . . . Much as Jean Rhys’s reimagining of Jane Eyre through a postcolonial perspective became popular in the late nineteen-sixties, when Wide Sargasso Sea was published, so is Baker’s class-conscious reconsideration of Pride and Prejudice representative of our own time. Theirs is not a restrictive view of the past but an inclusive one, similar to Kazuo Ishiguro’s in his nuanced depiction of Stevens, the aging butler-narrator of The Remains of the Day.” —Ruth Margalit, NewYorker.com
 
“Happily, Jo Baker’s Longbourn is no mere riff but a fully imagined rejoinder to Price and Prejudice. . . . I think Austen would have appreciated Baker’s bracing rewrite from the underdog’s point of view. And I know she would have loved the well-deserved happy ending.” —Wendy Smith, Newsday
 
Longbourn is the best new addition to the Austenverse . . . Goodness gracious did I love Longbourn. . . . Jo Baker did Jane Austen’s ghost proud. . . . The downstairs characters are so wonderfully drawn and their drama is so delicious that I didn’t even mind skipping all the balls and dinners and walks around the parlor room . . . so much so that when I think about the canon text, I find myself missing these new characters. . . . Very smart and deeply human.” —Kit Steinkellner, Book Riot
 
“Fascinating. . . . Longbourn takes a smart idea and turns it into a real treat.” —Angie Drobnic Holan, Tampa Bay Times
 
“Don’t call it fanfic. . . . Longbourn is not a cute Upstairs, Downstairs kind of thing: Now it is the Bennets who are largely invisible while the servants have complicated, messy, interesting lives that are every bit as compelling as the Bennet girls’ quest for husbands.” —Lynn Neary, NPR “Weekend Edition”
 
“Intelligent and elegantly written. . . . The emotional imbalance between upstairs and downstairs is affecting. . . . Although the visiting militia in Pride and Prejudice exists purely to tantalize the foolish younger Bennet daughters, Baker reminds us that they were veterans of ugly battles in the era of Napoleon [and] Longbourn reveals these messy backdrops while still, in fitting tribute, inventing a touching love story of its own.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
 
“A clever twist on a popular classic. . . . Paint[s] an unvarnished and fascinating picture.” —Beverly Meyer, Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star
 
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that sequels and prequels seldom do justice to the sources of their inspiration. There are, happily, exceptions to this rule. Longbourn is a triumph. . . . It takes great skill for a writer to poach on such familiar territory, but Jo Baker succeeds brilliantly.” —Amy Goodfellow Wagner, Examiner.com

“A delightful re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice from the servants’ perspective. . . . The achievement of Baker’s reworking is that Sarah is no mere foil for Elizabeth Bennet; her notions of individual agency and the pursuit of happiness push more forcefully against the class and social strictures of her time than any character in Austen’s novel. The result is a heroine whom it’ s impossible not to root for.” —The New Yorker

“You could fill a bookcase with prequels, sequels, and other reworkings of Jane Austen’s novels. None of them would be anywhere near as good as Austen’s work, of course, and some of them would be very poor indeed. This is not the case with Longbourn. . . . Jo Baker’s thoroughly researched description of the servants’ toil expands the tiny piece of ivory that Jane Austen worked on. . . . Engaging and rewarding.” —Claire Hopley, Washington Times

“Masterful. . . . From the same stream that fed Austen’s literary imagination, Baker has drawn forth something entirely new and fresh. Nothing about Longbourn feels derivative. . . . Many readers will turn the last page of Longbourn and agree that it was not at all as anticipated, but far, far better.” —Gigi Lehman, Miami Herald

“There have been numerous novels inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but Jo Baker’s depiction of what happens below stairs with the servants is the most intriguing yet. . . . Longbourn is told with glee and great wit, and will delight die-hard Austen fans with its irreverent depictions.” —Lauren Elkin, The Daily Beast

“Beautifully realized. . . . [The characters below stairs] are every bit as absorbing as Lizzy, Wickham, and Darcy.” —Mark McGinness, The National

“Jo Baker takes the original comedy of manners to the servants’ quarters where the same level of drama can be found.” —Meganne Fabrega, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Beloved books like Pride and Prejudice or Gone With the Wind, or books left unfinished like The Mystery of Edwin Drood, have always prompted efforts to imagine a continuing life for their characters. Alas, with few exceptions, these efforts rarely satisfy. It should be said at once that Jo Baker’ s Longbourn is an exception. . . . Longbourn is delightfully audacious; after all, Jane Austen is a very tough act to follow. . . . If Charlotte Brontë had taken up the challenge of a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, she might very well have hit upon the sort of broader, more sympathetic point of view Jo Baker has derived from the servants’ quarters. Baker shares some of Brontë’s qualities—a power of description, a feeling for the natural world, a regard for emotional turbulence—and she shows a comfort with the past that allows her to imagine it in a vivid way. . . . She has fashioned an absorbing and moving story about the servants at Longbourn. . . . A work that’s both original and charming, even gripping, in its own right.” —Diane Johnson, The New York Times Book Review

“Engrossing. . . . Baker vividly evokes the lives of the lower classes in nineteenth-century England. . . . Mostly Austen’ s novel serves as a backdrop for the compelling stories of the characters who keep the Bennet household running.” —Kristine Huntley, Booklist (starred)

“Achingly romantic. . . . This exquisitely reimagined Pride and Prejudice will appeal to Austen devotees and to anyone who finds the goings-on below the stairs to be at least as compelling as the ones above. Highly recommended.” —Barbara Love, Library Journal (starred, boxed)

“A must-read for fans of Austen, this literary tribute also stands on its own as a captivating love story. . . . Baker takes many surprising risks in developing the relationships between the servants and the Bennets, but the end result steers clear of gimmick and flourishes as a respectful and moving retelling.” —Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed)


“A triumph: a splendid tribute to Austen’s original but, more importantly, a joy in its own right, a novel that contrives both to provoke the intellect and, ultimately, to stop the heart. . . . Like Austen, Baker has written an intoxicating love story but, also like Austen, the pleasure of her novel lies in its wit and fierce intelligence. . . . Baker not only creates a richly imagined story of her own but recasts Austen’s novel in a startlingly fresh light. . . . Inspired.” —The Guardian

“Irresistible. . . . Sequels and prequels rarely add to the original, but Baker’s simple yet inspired reimagining does. It has best-seller stamped all over it.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)

Longbourn is a really special book, and not only because its author writes like an angel. Its real achievement is to circumnavigate the world of Austen knock-offs and return, like Francis Drake, with a hold full of treasure—a life of its own beyond its parent, Pride and Prejudice. . . . There are some wildly sad and romantic moments; I was sobbing by the end. . . . A beautiful book.” —Daily Mail (UK)

“Inspired. . . . This is a genuinely fresh perspective on the tale of the Bennet household. . . . A lot of fun.” —Sunday Times (UK)

“A splendid page-turner. . . . The much-loved Pride and Prejudice is shaken up and given the grit that Jane Austen could never include—with great success. . . . Baker’s imaginative leaps are stunningly well done, both historically and emotionally.” —Evening Standard (UK)

“A must-read for fans of Austen, this literary tribute also stands on its own as a captivating love story. . . . Baker takes many surprising risks in developing the relationships between the servants and the Bennets, but the end result steers clear of gimmick and flourishes as a respectful and moving retelling.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)

“Captivating. . . . A brilliantly imagined and lovingly told story about the wide world beyond the margins and outside the parlors of Pride and Prejudice.” —Maggie Shipstead, author of Seating Arrangements

“Impressive. . . . Baker takes ownership of this world without mimicking Austen’s style, asserting instead her own distinctive, authentic voice. Longbourn is not just nicely packaged fan fiction, or an Austenian Downton Abbey; it’s an engrossing tale we neither know nor expect.” —Daily Telegraph (UK)

“Achingly romantic. . . . This exquisitely reimagined Pride and Prejudice will appeal to Austen devotees and to anyone who finds the goings-on below the stairs to be at least as compelling as the ones above. Highly recommended.” —Library Journal (starred)

“If Longbourn is received as a delicious concoction of Pride and Prejudice meets Downton Abbey, then, for commercial reasons, no one will feel sorry for Jo Baker, but for artistic ones, she will have been treated unfairly. Baker is a real and very fine writer, and Longbourn stands on its own as an engrossing, intelligent historical novel. At the same time, its resonances with Pride and Prejudice go much farther than its brilliantly plausible presentation of downstairs life: critics have long striven to prove that the great issues of Austen's time—slavery, war, enclosures—impinged on her work; Baker shows us the fermentation below the froth.” —James Collins, author of Beginner’s Greek

“This clever glimpse of Austen’s universe through a window clouded by washday steam is so compelling it leaves you wanting to read the next chapter in the lives below stairs rather than peer at the reflections of any grand party in the mirrors of Netherfield.” —Daily Express (UK)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 
Jo Baker was born in Lancashire, England, and educated at Oxford University and Queen’s University Belfast. She is the author of The Undertow and of three earlier novels published in the United Kingdom: Offcomer, The Mermaid’s Child, and The Telling. She lives in Lancaster.





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