This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Reviewed by Kate Appleton
“If Elizabeth Bennet had to do the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah thought, she would be more careful not to trudge through muddy fields.” Well quite, and it is from here I embarked on yet another reading of a rehashed version of Jane Austen’s most celebrated works, Pride & Prejudice, or so I thought.
In this latest retelling Jo Baker takes us downstairs to the servants’ quarters specifically those who work for the Bennet family. It is below stairs that we meet our central female character, Sarah, an attractive young woman, similar in age to the Lizzy Bennet but quite clearly leading a very different life. As well as Sarah we discover the housekeeper, Mrs Hill and her husband, Mr Hill, the butler, both battling with dark and sinister secrets and twelve-year-old Polly, the kitchen maid. It is into their busy yet routine lives that James Smith, a smoulderingly mysterious new footman arrives, who finds himself falling head over heels for Sarah. However, Sarah, being slightly typical in female traits finds herself frustrated with James’ lack of honesty concerning his past and switches her attentions to Mulatto manservant, Ptolemy, who works for the Bingleys at Netherfield Park.
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I was delighted to discover that Barker had managed to refrain from producing another fluff piece and instead of writing about idle gossip Longbourn instead creates a stylishly written documentary of the servants’ lives. She deals unashamedly with the brutality and scandal, the slave trade and war and unmasks the ugly truths lurking beneath the opulent elegance of Georgian England. The only annoyance I did have with this was that the Bennet family, as a result, came across as pampered and living in semi-luxury which is quite evidently not the case in Austen’s original. I can understand why Baker would want to use the basis of Pride & Prejudice for her story, it’s well-established (that really goes without saying) and the most ardent Austen fans would feel the need to give it a glance, however, I do feel it would have been braver if Barker had created something completely original.
Overall this was a really enjoyable story and one that was a lot more entertaining than the majority of the Pride and Prejudice sequels, prequels and retellings that the reading world has been subjected too – however, from now on, I think it’s time we put those poor Bennets to bed.
Jo Baker’s Website