There's an ever growing pile of books I want to read…
You might remember that last week I posted a video review of Longbourn by Jo Baker.
You don’t remember?
That’s okay. Life is pretty busy. You can’t be expected to remember everything you encounter. You can watch it here.
Seen it? Okay, great, because my blog is about to be taken over by Jo Baker. That’s right, The To-Read Pile is the first stop on Jo Baker’s official blog tour!
Look there’s this cool tour poster and everything:
It’s (almost) like my blog is a cool venue. There are some really great other blogs on this tour too! I’d definitely recommend checking them out. There are links you can follow at the bottom of this post. At the moment, they take you to the front page of each blog and I’ll edit them during the week to take you to their Longbourn blog tour posts.
Jo Baker has written a really interesting piece for me about the historical context of Longbourn and how it connects to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I thought it was really interesting and I hope you will too!
Over to Jo:
Where they cross over, Longbourn is mapped directly, day for day, against Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice. When a meal is eaten in Pride and Prejudice, it’s cooked and served in Longbourn.
Longbourn reaches out a little in both directions too – into some of my characters’ pasts, and into their, and some of Austen’s characters’, futures.
There is, underlying my novel, the conceit that the world of Pride and Prejudice exists within the real Georgian England, so that the pressures of history and politics come into play upon my characters. In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia mentions that a private in the Militia had been flogged; to her, this is a trifling bit of gossip, but Longbourn explores the reality of that experience, the brutality of the world beyond the drawing-room door.
Austen’s novel is set at the same time as Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley, a novel that deals with the Luddite riots: at the time, the country really seemed to be on the edge of revolution – the government certainly expected it. Technological change, poor harvests, the cost of an endless foreign war, lack of a political voice: ordinary working people were suffering, and they were angry, and they were getting organized. There were more soldiers posted to the North and Midlands of England to crush the protests, than there were soldiers off fighting Napoleon on the continent. Whatever the Bennet girls’ romantic interests might have been in them, this was what Militia regiments were for: they existed to enforce the status quo.
Longbourn draws its main characters, and what names it can, from Pride and Prejudice – Sarah and Mrs Hill are named; the butler, a second housemaid and the footman are all mentioned in those terms. The role of a cook is also mentioned: in a small household, this would often be amalgamated into the housekeeper’s duties, so I have left the cooking up to Mrs Hill. I have given names to those unnamed (Polly, Mr Hill and James), and married Mrs Hill off to the butler: such an arrangement below stairs was not unusual.
My main characters – Sarah, James, Polly, Mr and Mrs Hill – are ghostly presences in Austen’s text. They deliver letters, their names are mostly irrelevant, they run errands when nobody else wants to step out of doors – they are the ‘proxy’ by which the shoe roses for Netherfield Ball are fetched in the pouring rain. But they are – at least in my head – people too.
One further thing – In Pride and Prejudice the footman is mentioned once, (page 31 of volume 1, in my Everyman edition). After that, he is never spoken of again…
If that didn’t make you want to read Longbourn, I don’t think anything will!
Follow Jo’s Blog Tour and find out more about the book. Here’s where she’ll be for the rest of the week:
Tuesday: The Book Jotter
Wednesday: What Shall I Read?
Thursday: Pam Reader
Friday: Northern Editorial