Published: October 8, 2013
Number of pages: 332
Publisher: Random House Canada
Genre: Victorian mystery, romance, historical fiction
Rating: older adults
Verdict: 4 hoots out of 5
Beyond Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is the untold story of the servants in the Bennet household. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid spends her time laundering clothes and polishing floors, and helping Mrs. Hill with the cooking and cleaning inside the kitchen. But a new footman arrives and our story begins that takes place inside the servant’s quarters to a hidden world that is rarely seen in the classic.
I’ve read Pride and Prejudice and it’s one of my favorite Austen novels, so I was curious to read Jo Baker’s new book that is based on the classic but told in the servant’s point of view. After reading it I was impressed with the story and how the author told it in a different angle. It’s like Downton Abbey meets Pride and Prejudice. Rarely in Jane Austen’s novel, do we see or hear mention of the servants in the Bennet household. I really enjoyed the characters and how their stories were told.
Sarah, the maid wonders if there are better opportunities as she’s tired of performing mundane work everyday. As a girl she is opinionated, impatient, and a romantic as she dreams of falling in love and hopes a man will take her away from servant hood. To Mrs. Hill, Sarah is like the daughter she never had, which seems appropriate as she took her into Longbourn to help serve the Bennet family. And then there’s Polly, a young servant whose innocence and childish behavior can be irritating to the adults, but is like a sister to Sarah.
Everything is in order at the Bennet household and nothing or no one has ever disturbed the delicate balance among the servants. When the new footman arrives however, Sarah’s world is turned upside down. A love-hate relationship begins that is almost parallel to Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy but without the snobbery. The footman, James Smith, is a mystery as he has secrets he purposefully hides from everyone. But as his background story progresses, we learn more about his past life and a shocking side story of Mr. Bennet.
We hear references from Pride and Prejudice but people who have not read the classic can still easily follow Baker’s story as we’re taken on a tour of the servant’s realm, with insights to their personal lives. Although I still encourage those who have not read Pride and Prejudice to go and read it as it is one of Jane Austen’s classic and a favorite in English literature.
I also love the writing style as Jo Baker is descriptive and provides details about life downstairs in the Bennet household. The story was well written that it was easy to imagine the world of servants at the Longbourn estate. But only when we get into James’s history did the story become interesting, as a lot of times I felt like the author was dragging on some parts that didn’t add to the plot.