Books | Longbourn – Austen would be proud, if not a little outdone

Joe Baker’s recently published Longbourn is a modern day rewriting of Pride and Prejudice from the perspective of the servants: quite right for a period currently besotted with the likes of the Crawleys.

Baker’s novel can be considered to be an extension of the Downton Abbey Initiative, and that of its predecessors, in so far as it gives only the servants’ account of events and provides a far more honest reflection of 18th century life. Indeed, Baker does not shy away from bleak realities, fettering her novel with references to genital juices of all varieties. It is refreshing to see the characteristics of Austen’s fictional family unity in a new light.

The alternative perspective allows for a re-examination of the ladies’ generosity, namely Elizabeth’s and allows Baker to construct a rather sordid past for the bumbling Mr. Bennett. Baker thus removes the veil imposed by Austen, which played on ‘appearances’ and casually left out the harsher realities of the epoch. Most notably, Baker brings in the horrors of the Napoleonic wars and the wider world outside of Longbourn. This lends a much more encompassing and enriching aspect to Austen’s work, but, like Pride and Prejudice, love and romance remain the backbone of Baker’s story.

This is a strong work of fiction that uses the bare minimum of Pride and Prejudice to reproduce something which is at once harmonious with the original, and breathtakingly transfigured. This is an adaptation which would leave even Austen proud, if not a little outdone.

Polly Galis

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