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Many authors have attempted to write about the world of Jane Austen's fiction including most recently P.D James whose Death Comes to Pemberley left me a bit cold. With Longbourn however debut author Jo Baker takes an entirely new approach telling the story of the Bennett Household from a vantage point we have never seen before; that of the servants.
The story is told through the eyes of Sarah one of the housemaids who doesn't view Jane and Lizzie through the same rosy tones as we might having met so many film and television versions of them. They are rather different creatures to Sarah who has the washing of their muddy petticoats and soiled linen.
Longbourn shows us the harsh realities of a servant's life Sarah suffers blisters and chilblains and is sent out in the rain to fetch shoe roses. She is constantly carrying bedpans and hanging out washing. She does however find some time for romance flirting with Mr Bingley's footman a former slave who reveals that the Bingley fortune is founded on sugar and therefore on slavery. We also discover the cruelty of military life through the back story of Mr Smith.
I adored this book. I found it unputdownable and can't recommend it highly enough. Presenting the world of Austen's characters in an entirely new light is no mean feat but Jo Baker has the skill and imagination to do exactly that. Longbourn is available now in hardback and trade paperback from Doubleday.