Recommended Read, Review

Review: Longbourn by Jo Baker (2013)

Heat Factor: Closed door

Character Chemistry: When he kisses you, you know

Plot: Pride and Prejudice, from the servants’ perspective

Overall: This is a great read

Miss Bates highlighted this in her 2022 wrap-up

as one of the best books she read last year, and if nothing else, I trust Miss Bates’ recommendations. Reader, I was not disappointed: this is a deeply compelling read, which might come as a shock, given that it’s mostly about people doing other people’s laundry.

For loyal readers of our blog (by which I mean, genre romance readers), here are the things you need to know about this story. First, yes, it is a Pride and Prejudice retelling, and Elizabeth and Darcy and all the rest do make an appearance, but they aren’t the center of the story. It’s a retelling in that everything that happens in P&P happens here—but when the Bennets host a dinner party, we’re worried about making sure there’s enough pie and that the new footman knows how to properly pour the wine. As with many modern P&P retellings, Baker makes Wickham extra gross in his sexual predation, but his interactions with James are perfectly in tune with Austen’s characterization as a man who is lazy, selfish, and vindictive.

Second, there is a love story here, between Sarah the maid and James the footman. I would not call it the central focus of most of the book; there’s a lot of daily drudgery and a good dose of philosophizing about work. However, the romance does drive the plot in important ways, particularly Sarah’s reaction to James’ presence—and his later absence.

But really, I want to talk about the ending. Here’s the spoilers break.

Ok, so, the backstory is that James is a deserter from the military (Part 3 of the book is a whole lotta flashback to the Iberian Peninsula, and let me tell you, it is grim), and Wickham threatens to report him to Mr. Bennet and/or Colonel Foster, so James does a runner. Sarah has a big sad, and keeps thinking about him and worrying about him and wondering why he doesn’t write, etc. Cut to many months later, Lizzie marries Darcy and brings Sarah to Pemberly with her. And then, through an extraordinary coincidence, Sarah learns that James is working on a road crew somewhere sort of nearby, so she gives notice and sets off to wander around the countryside on foot until she finds him. What??!??? (Yes, she does find him and they live happily ever after in itinerant poverty.)

When I think about Sarah’s actions with my logic hat on, I am baffled about why anyone would do something so dumb and dramatic.

But if I think about this ending with my romance hat on…well, there’s nothing like upending your entire life for love when making a grand gesture.

From that perspective, this book ends with the grandest grand gesture I’ve ever read.

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop

Looking for something similar?

Other Pride and Prejudice retellings (plus the other books by Jane Austen)


Closed door romances

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