Source: Public Library
Audio, 13.5 hrs.
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Longbourn by Jo Baker, narrated by Emma Fielding, is a look at the servants behind the scenes of Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. Sarah is an orphaned, hard-working housemaid in the Bennet household at Longbourn, but even as she keeps within the confines of her role, she begins to wish for something more. Baker clearly delineates the roles of the household servants, and depicts the realities of that life with a frankness that cannot be ignored. While readers may be cheering Sarah on in her dreams of something more, they also realize that dreaming for too much can become a devastating blow when it does not come to pass. With the arrival of a new footman, Sarah finds herself torn between her feelings for him and that of Ptolemy Bingley, a mulatto servant of the Bingley family. What readers will find here is that the servants interactions with the main characters of Austen’s work reinforce their flaws for the most part, which is to be expected when writing from the perspective of those in the lower class.
Fielding is a great narrator and does really well with the prose that closely mirrors that of Austen, ensuring that readers get wrapped up in the story. The only drawback in this story is Ptolemy because he is a character who is under-developed and whose back story becomes a mere catalyst for Sarah’s evolution beyond her current status in the household. It is almost as if he could have been someone that was talked about among the servants, rather than actually met by Sarah, as she’s only superficially tempted by him and what he represents tangentially.
It is almost as if the naive housemaid believes Ptolemy represents a greater freedom than he actually does, especially given that he was a former slave on a plantation owned by the Bingleys. To another point, would the Bingleys actually have been plantation owners? Perhaps not, given that most newly rich families earned their money in business dealings, not that plantation ownership could not be a business dealing. This part of the story is not fully fleshed out, leaving readers with a very superficial view of his life and current situation.
Austen’s main story is not disrupted by Baker’s novel in any major way, with the girls being married off and some more favorably than others. What’s strong here is the steady hand of Mrs. Hill and her ability to not only see past her own misfortunes but to also offer hope within her sage advice to Sarah. Longbourn by Jo Baker, narrated by Emma Fielding, is engaging and captivating, while never putting window dressing on the lives of servants.
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