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16 October 2013 @ 03:36 pm
meh.  
Longbourn, by Jo Baker:

http://www.randomhouse.com/book/231492/longbourn-by-jo-baker#aboutthebook

Here's the website copy:

Pride and Prejudice was only half the story

If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.

In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended.

Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Jane Austen’s classic — into the often overlooked domain of the stern housekeeper and the starry-eyed kitchen maid, into the gritty daily particulars faced by the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars — and, in doing so, creates a vivid, fascinating, fully realized world that is wholly her own.



I've often wondered why, Austen fangirl that I am, I am so spectacularly uninterested in spin-offs and continuations of Austen's novels. I'm not against them, I don't think they're a desecration or anything; I've just never had the slightest desire to read one. (The whole "just add zombies" thing I am against. Really, really against.) Even "inspired by" fiction doesn't interest me all that much: I only read Bridget Jones because I had some idea that I was going to write a paper about intertextuality for an Austen class I took in college...but then I didn't like the novel enough to spend any more time thinking about it. (Oddly, I quite like the film. I blame Colin Firth.)

Anyway, the point is that I would be far more interested in this novel if it were simply about the lives of Regency servants, without the P&P tie-in. Something about the way that first proper line of copy - the bit about the petticoats - only has meaning because Elizabeth's muddy petticoats are so famous, and not as a sentence in its own right, rubs me the wrong way, a little: surely the stories of servants can be worth telling as more than ancillaries to the already completed narrative of Austen's novel? And if so - if those stories are genuinely separate from the upstairs events, not just a different lens through which to view them - then what is the point of the connection, except to get Austen fans to pick up the book?

This sort of thing doesn't bother me when it comes to fanfic, which seems terribly inconsistent of me. But there we are.

I suppose you could use such a book to take Austen to task for not writing about servants in the first place - and maybe that's what is setting my teeth on edge just that tiny amount: because so many people, from Charlotte Bronte to Joe Wright to all of those people who claim that Austen isn't an "important" novelist because she didn't write about the Napoleonic Wars, are already so quick to declare that there is something missing from Austen's style or from her works, that her carefully made decisions about what kinds of stories she wanted to tell are lacking and wrong. Maybe I'm just getting my ire at those people all over this author's book idea and web copy.
 
 
 
La Reine Noire: Austen - Venting Spleenlareinenoire on October 16th, 2013 08:40 pm (UTC)
I suppose you could use such a book to take Austen to task for not writing about servants in the first place - and maybe that's what is setting my teeth on edge just that tiny amount: because so many people, from Charlotte Bronte to Joe Wright to all of those people who claim that Austen isn't an "important" novelist because she didn't write about the Napoleonic Wars, are already so quick to declare that there is something missing from Austen's style or from her works, that her carefully made decisions about what kinds of stories she wanted to tell are lacking and wrong.

I have often explained my feelings about the Wright film (and I probably have to you before), which boil down to "This is a gorgeous film! I just wish it weren't pretending to be Pride and Prejudice."

And I'd totally read a novel about Regency servants.

Edited at 2013-10-16 08:40 pm (UTC)
tempestsarekind: peddlers of bombasttempestsarekind on October 17th, 2013 01:53 pm (UTC)
Yes! It's gorgeous to look at, but the way it just keeps *failing* to be Pride and Prejudice makes me grind my teeth too much to really appreciate it.

I think a novel about Regency servants would be really interesting! Especially if it weren't a murder mystery. :) (Maybe this doesn't happen so much with Regency-set stuff, but whenever I find a novel set in early modern England with an unusual character that I might like to read about - like a midwife, or a seamstress - the novel turns out to be either a murder mystery or a political thriller in which someone is trying to kill the reigning monarch.)
Neaneadods on October 17th, 2013 12:16 am (UTC)
I've often wondered why, Austen fangirl that I am, I am so spectacularly uninterested in spin-offs and continuations of Austen's novels

Oh, I can articulate my disinterest easily: because these other authors are Not Austen. They are riding the petticoat tails of someone much more witty, incisive, and penetrating and hoping that it gives lustre to the fanfic that they expect the world to pay them for producing.

Furthermore, lacking Austen's grasp of the incisive small things, they tend to go for blatant sensationalism, which is a complete mismatch. Before I swore off such things forever, I read a thing about Darcy that had him battling a self-described witch *in the middle of P&P* and picking back up exactly where he was supposed to in the novel with no changes to the rest of the plot. WTF?
tempestsarekind: elizabeth bennet is amusedtempestsarekind on October 17th, 2013 01:57 pm (UTC)
...Wow. That sounds terrible.

But yes, I think you're right. A lot of people don't really have a good grasp on what makes Austen work, and they try to fill the gaps with all the wrong things! I can understand loving the characters so much that you want to see what happens to them next, but "sensationalist" is not Austen's modus operandi.