I’ve wanted to read Longbourn, the clever and original new novel from Jo Baker, all year. Last week, I finally got my hands on it and it proved to be one of the first novels I’ve read in awhile that I absolutely devoured. As in, staying up too late night after night even though I know I’ll wake up bleary-eyed the next morning.
Set in eighteenth-century England, Longbourn follows the ‘downstairs lives’ of the servants scarcely mentioned in Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice. Austenites will find the novel especially delightful, but even if you’ve never read Pride and Prejudice, readers with a taste for evocative language and a setting which feels real enough to live in, will want to curl up with this cosy read.
Like millions of readers, I was enchanted by Pride and Prejudice; by the love story of Elizabeth Bennet and her Mr. Darcy; appalled at the self-importance of Mr. Collins and humored by the high-strung antics of Mrs. Bennet. Longbourn not only heightened this interest, but offered a deeply satisfying and engrossing perspective on P&P’s other world through the observations and experiences of the servants.
Baker’s careful and considered details brought regency England to life while her realistically-drawn characters offered fascinating insights into what life was like for most people. This is not the England of ball gowns and pump rooms, but one in which day to day living is only wrought by cracked hands, sore backs and hour after hour of exhausting labor.
Above all, you’ll become deeply concerned for Sarah, a young servant discovering what it means to find happiness and fulfillment in a class-constrained world. You’ll cheer on her budding romance with James and effortlessly turn the pages for hints, clues and lush details about the characters’ past and present lives which are anything but simple.
If you enjoyed Crusoe’s Daughter, you’ll definitely enjoy Longbourn.
Because I’m a nerd and consider lying in bed with a good book all day to the most perfect use of time, this next gift idea is my favorite. It’s also, I think, one of the most meaningful. As a student again, I can’t really afford buying newly published novels and because everyone loves Donna Tartt and Elizabeth Gilbert, finding their new novels at a library results in a year long wait list.
Sharing a novel that has impacted me with a good friend is saying “Slow down. Relax. Get lost for awhile.” Moreover, how exquisite are these Penguin clothbound classics? These are the novels I would wrap up for dear friends (and sisters):
Jane Eyre for the individual returning to school to be a teacher (*coughAshleighcough*)
Dracula for the thrill-seeker in your life or for your cousin still hooked on Twilight
Pride and Prejudice for the hopeless romantic seeking out their own Mr. Darcy
The Woman in White for the person in your life who loves a shockingly satisfying mystery
Tess of the d’Urbervilles for your friend who loves Romeo and Juliet and other tragic love affairs
If you’re the contemporary sort, this year’s New York Time’s Notable Book Review is sure to leave you with abundant options. Enjoy!
**Find Gift #1 here and Gift #2 here
Sorry for not writing yesterday, everyone! It was the first sick day I took in a long time–not to mention the sickest I’ve felt in quite awhile. I’m so thankful to be feeling better today and wanted to share you with a little news about the Jane Austen Society of North America. Did you know that the annual conference is being held here in Minneapolis this year? Unfortunately, neither did I! Until yesterday. If you like, you can listen to an interesting conversation about Jane Austen here.
I’ve read all of Jane Austen’s novels, but it really wasn’t until this past year that I started fully appreciating her work. During my year in Bristol, I was a mere ten minute train ride from Bath–the place to see and be seen during Austen’s time–and exploring this city made me appreciate Jane even more.
Inside the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England
Austen actually hated Bath and the social status it stood for. While I used to find her work somehow stiff or too pretty, her work is truly a brilliant commentary on the social system of eighteenth century England. Not only that, but has anyone else ever created such unforgettable characters as Mr. Collins, Mrs. Bennett and Lady Bertram, to name a few?
Outside of The Pump Room, mentioned several times in Mansfield Park
My favorite Austen novel is Sense and Sensibility and the 1995 film adaption with Hugh Grant and Kate Winslet is the only movie I can watch again and again.
Do you like Jane Austen? Why do you think so many people do? Is it because we’re all just hoping for our Mr. Darcy?