I thought I should read this book as it has been much discussed – and I do like Pride and Prejudice. This novel is written from the servants point of view.
Here is the blurb …
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 below stairs 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.
First, I thought there weren’t enough servants. Only three and then a fourth when the ‘mysterious footman’ arrives. They seem to be very poorly dressed as well – I am sure there would have been some kind of uniform? What is clear is how much work is involved in keeping house prior to the industrial revolution; emptying chamber pots, fetching water, heating water, lighting fires, cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, ironing clothes. etc.
This is a very political novel – Ptolemy Bingley is dark skinned and comes from the Bingley’s sugar plantation (we suspect he is Mr Bingley Senior’s natural child), Sarah’s (the housemaid) parents died when she was a child and she was rescued from the workhouse by Mrs Hill and we read about how the army treats its more humble soldiers.
I am not the target audience for this novel – not being into gritty realism – I would have preferred a jollier downstairs (and certainly a better dressed and cleaner one) and a bit more interaction with the upstairs. I appreciate that servants lives in this time could be dreadful – full of drudgery, dirt, neglect and despair, but I prefer my reading to be lighter and brighter.
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