Every fan of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice knows the Bennet family was one of privilege-they spent their days receiving guests, reading books, taking long walks, writing letters and playing the pianoforte. But what was life like for their servants? Longbourn is written in a parallel time frame, but explores the lives of the 5 household servants, Mr. and Mrs. Hill, Sarah, Polly and the new footman, James, whose lives are as filled with secrets and intrigue as their master’s and mistresses’s.
Orphaned housemaid Sarah, the story’s protagonist, spends her days hauling water, scrubbing laundry in a lye solution that causes open sores on her hands, emptying chamber pots and generally taking care of the Bennet family. Will she find love and better her position or will she be stuck in a life of drudgery?
Longbourn provides a much grittier look at life during the British Regency era than Pride and Prejudice. Initially, I thought the main characters had horrible lives because they performed hard physical labor from before dawn until after the Bennets went to bed. This issue, however, is addressed when Mrs. Hill says to Sarah, “You have a home. You have work. You are safe and warm and fed. And you are spoilt…” After reading this passage, I realized that what creates a good life is relative and that working hard while receiving room, board and a small salary is better than being homeless and starving. Despite the characters’ hardships, Longbourn is worth reading.