As mentioned in my 2014 Reading Goals post, I'm trying to add more adult fiction into my diet. And, as I like to chronicle this stuff, here I am, chronicling it.
Right now, I'm (obviously) reading Jo Baker's Longbourn, which is Pride and Prejudice from the servants' perspective.
Feel free to read along! (If you end up posting about it, let me know in the comments and I'll link up.)
The life of a housemaid in Regency England—especially a housemaid in a somewhat impoverished household—is not an easy one. We've got Sarah (older) and Polly (younger); Sarah tends to take on extra work because she feels bad for Polly, who really is still a child (it's easy to see parallels between Polly and Lydia, actually); there is some amount of affection between Sarah and Mrs. Hill, though Mr. Hill seems (so far) to be rather useless.
It's laundry day at Longbourn. In a word, laundry day is AWFUL, and there is no romanticizing it. Baker organically integrates loads of interesting details about the process, while also creating a three-dimensional portrait of the personalities at play. I'm rather in love with this book already.
- First line: There could be no wearing of clothes without their laundering, just as surely as there could be no going without clothes, not in Hertfordshire anyway, and not in September.
- Less than two pages in, and I'm completely hooked: Baker does a fabulous job of contrasting Sarah's early morning ritual—already outside and pumping water for the laundry at 4:30 in the morning, in weather so cold she can see her breath—while her employers, the Bennets, are still snug in their beds. She dreams of living in a warm place populated with half-clothed men—like Jamaica or Antigua—because there would be "consequently very little in the way of laundry". Heh.
- In opening with a scene dealing with laundry, Baker is immediately reminding the reader that the Bennets—Lizzy and Jane included—are actual, real people, with actual, real bodily functions. Which sets a very different tone from the original. It's the first Austen fanfiction I've ever read that I'd describe as 'earthy'. Also! While I'd still call this fanfiction, it's already very clear that the focus really is going to be on Baker's own characters, not on Austen's.
- If Elizabeth had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them. Heh. Makes Lizzy's rambles slightly less romantic, eh?
- And speaking of the actual, real people thing: It had been that unfortunate time of the month, when all the women in the house had been more than usually short-tempered, clumsy and prone to tears, and then had bled. The napkins now soaked in a separate tub that smelt uneasily of the butcher's shop; they'd be boiled last, in the dregs of the copper, before it was emptied. There's an aspect of Bennet family life that hadn't occurred to me: all of the girls—and the maids—would probably be on the same cycle. Criminy.
- Souse = pickled brawn = head cheese. Groooooooooss. From Wikipedia: "The parts of the head used varies, but the brain, eyes, and ears are usually removed". USUALLY. There are brains in this one.
- Although the Bennets aren't portrayed particularly sympathetically—not nasty, just self-absorbed, entitled, clueless, and useless—in this chapter, there is a bit about Mr. Bennet loaning books to Sarah for evening reading. So that's something.
- While hanging laundry, Sarah spots a Mysterious Stranger from afar. As something disturbs the horses in the barn later on, I have No Doubt that said stranger will come into play very soon.
- Up and working by 4:30am, only headed to bed by 11pm. Ag.