The secret lives of the Longbourn servants

Most readers are familiar with Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. This is the story of the other half of the household at Longbourn, the servants.

Longbourn: Pride and Prejudice: The Servant’s Story

By Jo Baker

$30 Random House Canada

Most readers are familiar with Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. This is the story of the other half of the household at Longbourn, the servants.

The life lived in the Bennet household with its five daughters and an anxious mother includes a round of parties and new dresses and the pleasure of being seen at the right places, in the presence of eligible men.

After all, how is a mother to find suitable husbands for five daughters?

Readers of Pride and Prejudice are familiar with the anxiety displayed by Mrs. Bennet. Mr. Bennet, on the other hand, escapes to his library and generally leaves the fussing to his wife.

The people below stairs whose hard labour makes the household run efficiently are often taken for granted.

Old Mr. Hill is general factotum and he drives the carriage on outings.

Mrs. Hill is the cook and overall housekeeper. It is she who prepares the meals, supervises the laundry and trains the young women under her, in housekeeping.

That all sounds pretty easy.

In fact, young Sarah is up at 4:30 a.m. on laundry days, drawing the water to heat, then scrubbing and soaking and scrubbing some more so that the ladies upstairs have white under-things.

The young ladies’ long skirts, which had been dragged through the mud on a fresh-air walk, must be boiled so that no greyness survives.

That is to say nothing of the chambers pots taken out and baths drawn and the fires laid and meals served.

Sarah works very hard and painful chilblains plague her.

Although the young ladies are gracious to Sarah, perhaps they forget that they have no secrets from their personal maid, and she doesn’t have a high opinion of them.

Polly is a young under maid who also works very hard.

There are secrets in the lives below stairs and this author ferrets them out.

While eligible men are the only topic above stairs, below, there are no men servants, apart from Mr. Hill. The Napoleonic War has taken every male of the servant class.

Young men with means are also soldiers but their uniforms and often their ranks are purchased. These are the young men who dress up a party.

But now Mr. Bennet has hired a young man, named James Smith.

The girls and their mother are thrilled, since being driven about by a young man will advance their cause immeasurably; and below stairs they are thrilled that help is on the way.

James turns out to be a capable and willing worker, and interesting to Sarah.

But where did he come from?

James’s history changes everything about the place. The secrets are long buried and are far reaching.

Longbourn has always been a sleepy little place, where lives are lived out in peace. Now soldiers, and house guests of all types, will change the lives of everyone.

This is a highly entertaining book.

Peggy Freeman is a local freelance books reviewer.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Glen Carritt is organizing a United We Roll Canada convoy that will travel to British Columbia in June. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Former Innisfail town councillor breached code of conduct many times, says review

Consultants say 29 of 36 alleged breaches by Glen Carritt had merit

Members of the Red Deer RCMP downtown patrol monitor for drug activity and property crimes. (Advocate file photo).
Two peace officers are training to join Red Deer’s downtown police patrol unit

This “integrated” unit will be the first in Alberta

Students and staff at Gateway Christian School wore pink Wednesday in support of Pink Shirt Day, a worldwide anti-bullying initiative that was started in 2007. (Photo courtesy of Red Deer Public Schools)
Students, central Alberta community celebrate Pink Shirt Day

Mayor of Sylvan Lake Sean McIntyre supports anti-bullying cause

City of Red Deer has nearly doubled its active COVID-19 case count since Feb. 10 and has 75.6 per cent of the Central zone’s active cases. (File photo)
Another new high: Red Deer hits 574 active COVID-19 cases

Province reports 13 new COVID-19 deaths, 430 new cases

A homeless shelter was promised Red Deer to help the city deal with downtown issues. The city and province finally released a signed agreement on what the facility will offer, a year after a $7 million commitment was made for the project by the province. (Advocate file photo).
City and province take next step in bringing a 24/7 shelter to Red Deer

It will include a detox and counselling services

Meteor spotted over Edmonton, Alta., on Feb. 22, 2021 by several, who took to social media to share their surveillance camera captures. (@KixxAxe/Twitter)
VIDEO: Fireball meteor streaks across sky, spotted by early-morning risers in Alberta, B.C.

Videos of the quick streak of light flashing across the sky before 6:30 a.m. MST

European Union Ambassador to Venezuela Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa meets with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza at his office in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. The meeting was called after the EU sanctioned an additional 19 Venezuelans for "undermining democracy and the rule of law" in Venezuela and the National Assembly declared the EU ambassador "persona non grata." (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Sanctions prompt Venezuela to expel head of EU delegation

Sanctions prompt Venezuela to expel head of EU delegation

Capitol Police Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman departs a ceremony memorializing U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, as an urn with his cremated remains lies in honor on a black-draped table at the center of the Capitol Rotunda, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
Chief: Capitol Police were warned of violence before riot

Chief: Capitol Police were warned of violence before riot

Relatives of inmates cry outside the Centro de Privación de Libertad Zona 8 prison where riots broke out in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. Deadly riots broke out in prisons in three cities across the country due to fights between rival gangs, according to police. (AP Photo/Angel Dejesus)
Gang clashes result in Ecuador’s deadliest prison riots ever

Gang clashes result in Ecuador’s deadliest prison riots ever

El Chapo’s wife goes from obscurity to celebrity to arrest

El Chapo’s wife goes from obscurity to celebrity to arrest

This combination photo shows notable cast members from the musical "Rent," from left, Taye Diggs, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp and Daphne Rubin-Vega. The New York Theater Workshop will celebrate the 25th anniversary of “Rent” with a gala on March 2 that will be available to stream through March 6. (AP Photo)
La Vie Boheme: ‘Rent’ musical celebrates 25th anniversary

La Vie Boheme: ‘Rent’ musical celebrates 25th anniversary

This cover image released by Knopf shows "Speak, Okinawa," a memoir by Elizabeth Miki Brina. (Knopf via AP)
Review: ‘Speak, Okinawa’ is a masterful memoir and more

Review: ‘Speak, Okinawa’ is a masterful memoir and more

FILE - Yara Shahidi arrives at the 51st NAACP Image Awards in Pasadena, Calif., on Feb. 22, 2020. Shahidi not only stars in the young adult dramedy “grown-ish,” but she also serves as an executive producer. The 21-year-old, who swaps out reading scripts for text books as a Harvard student, says she’s equally invested in what happens behind the camera. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)
Yara Shahidi doesn’t use her voice just to hear herself talk

Yara Shahidi doesn’t use her voice just to hear herself talk

This image released by CBS News shows the logo for the new "60 Minutes Plus" program. CBS News says it is launching a streaming version of "60 Minutes" on the new Paramount Plus service, starting next week, hoping to expose the durable brand to a younger and more diverse audience. (CBS News via AP)
‘60 Minutes’ will have streaming spinoff on Paramount+

‘60 Minutes’ will have streaming spinoff on Paramount+

Most Read