It’s about time someone took a fresh look at the whole Darcy and Pemberley set up. He, his grand house and the Bennett sisters all appear as secondary characters in Longbourn, Jo Baker’s brilliant dissection of Pride and Prejudice from the point of the view of the servants, and we form a subtly different impression of them, different in particular from the fawning portrayals of film and television adaptations. Baker’s take on the story reminds that those of us who long for Darcy and lust after Pemberley would, at that time, probably be too far out in the fields or too deep below stairs to ever come to the great man’s notice.
Longbourn is a fully realised idea and a satisfying read – a compelling story in itself with an intriguing romance at it centre and brilliantly detailed on the domestic practicalities of the day. Those who have read her previous novel The Telling will recognise that Baker has been limbering up for this feat for some time. That novel too tells of a thoughtful, literate young woman who is a slave to domestic labour, albeit in the service of her own impoverished family, and whose life is dramatically altered by an older, worldly stranger who comes into an otherwise closed environment and recognises the girl’s burning intelligence. The clever girl’s fantasy.
The film rights to Longbourn have already been snapped up and next year we shall have a new Elizabeth and Darcy to admire. This time though there will a new character – the one who washed their clothes, prepared their food and emptied their chamber pots. She was always there, we just didn’t give her much thought.