Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Longbourn (Jo Baker)

I really loved this book and it's perspective. This is the story of the servants from Pride and Prejudice. I don't have much patience for people with money who are so concerned about things that really don't matter, especially the women who are so focused on looks and clothes and appearing to be proper and meet the approval of other fancy folk and the biggest goal of all: marriage. I have little patience for it all! I do, though, relate quite well to the feelings, work ethics and opinions of the servants!

The story is called Longbourn because that is the name of the house. The characters from Pride and Prejudice are background in this story. I would say that Mr. Bennett probably has the biggest role, while still remaining in the background. There are entertaining twists that add to the original story of Pride and Prejudice.

All of the story is not chronilogical. It is in the first two parts, but the third part rewinds and tells you the story behind James Smith. I was a little lost there when I read that, but it eventually is clear. You know really have to know Pride and Prejudice well to enjoy this book.

The servants are: 
Mrs. Hill - she basically runs the house
Mr. Hill - kind of an absent and seemily dotty old man. In the end we discover that theirs was a marriage of convenience as Mr. Hill was gay.
Polly - an orphan lucky enough to be spared the bleak fate that otherwise often awaited such girls (the streets, the poorhouse, a life of virtual slavery).
Sarah - a housemaid
James Smith - the footman who joins the "family" 

If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.
In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice,the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended. 

Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Jane Austen’s classic—into the often overlooked domain of the stern housekeeper and the starry-eyed kitchen maid, into the gritty daily particulars faced by the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars—and, in doing so, creates a vivid, fascinating, fully realized world that is wholly her own. 

Passages I want to remember:

There is great excitement about a new servant that has come to Longbourne:

Page 34 He looked at her now. She met his look, and raised her eyebrows. Then she spun away and strode off to help Polly lay the kitchen table. She had succeeded in drawing his attention at last. It gave her surprisingly little satisfaction.

P. 39 Sarah, reflecting on James: He was such an exciting mixture of helpfulness, courtesy and in civility that she could indeed form no clear notion of him. One thing, though, she was certain: he was lying. He as not what he pretended to be. He might have fooled everybody else at Longborurn, but he did not fool her. Not for one minute.

P. 45 But now there was this, the invitation to a Family Dinner, and Mrs. B. was already in a fluster about fish and soup, because a Family Dinner was of course more difficult to get right than a formal one. You had to impress, but at the same time you had to look like you were not trying to impress at all. It had to be excellent, and it also had to seem as though it was how they were all used to dining every day.

The girls who work at Longbourn watch the life their employers have. They work very hard and long for some of the pleasures they see.
P. 55 Sarah dropped her voice, whispered, "That's what I mean: somewhere you could just be, and not be obliged to do, somewhere where you could be alone, and nobody wants or expects anything of you, just for a while, at least."

Love the description of discovering a  gift of time: 
P. 36 Polly sat down at the table and rested her cheek on her folded arms. Sarah, still dozy herself, took up the hearth brush and was about to hunker down and sweep the fallen cinders, but then she stopped short. The hearth was clean, the range gleamed, the fire was bright and crackling with new wood. She glanced at the log basket. It was full.

Someone had been up early.

Water next. She leaned into the scullery to lift her yoke. Candlelight fell through the open doorway, and caught on the inner shelsls of the wide wooden pails. She crouched to touch: her fingers came away wet. Straightening, she brushed her hand down her apron, then crossed over to the water-tank and laid her hand on the lead. She could feel the cold weight of water pressing out against the metal skin. Someone had mended the fire, and then fetched the water; they had filled the tank right up to the brim.

A brownie. A helpful little lubber fiend. They'd never had one if them before....

..and then she take this little gift (from James Smith, by the way!) to enjoy the beauty of the morning

On the handicaps of being too well off:
P. 57  It was one of those handicaps that afflicted gentlefolk, that they could not open a door for themselves nor get in or out of a coach without someone to assist them.

On people who think they are indispensable:
p. 104

....Behind her, in her absence, the house was grinding along, its cogs turning and teeth linking, belts creaking, and there must come a moment - any moment now - when a cog would bite on nothing, and spin on air: some necessary act would go unperformed, some service would not be provided; the whole mechanism would crunch and splinter and shriek out in protest, and come to a juddering halt, because she was not here. All the time she was pulling further and further away, like a spindle twisting out upon a thread of flax. Pull far enough, twist and stretch it too thing, and the thread would snap.

(It doesn't. But she does get a slap upside the head for not being where she was supposed to be.)

....she was off with Ptomely! ...and even tried smoking! :)

Even though their life is hard, the servants seems mostly satisfied with it. Sarah seems to express the most discontent, although, Mrs. Hill does here and there:
p. 108 And yet, and yet, the feeling still could not quite be quelled: there was also the fact of her, herself. Would she, at some time, have the chance to care for his own things, her own comforts, her own needs, and not just for the other people's? Could she one day have what she wanted rather than rely on the glow of other people's happiness to keep her warm?

Later Mrs. Hill says:
p. 269 Life was, Mrs. Hill had come to understand, a trial by endurance, which everybody, eventually, failed.

It's interesting to see the different take by Sarah to things most people consider accepted. She is taking to a minister:
p. 112 "I work hard." she shifted on her feet. "I try to be good. I do as I am told."
"Well, you do your duty then, and that's just as it should be. Work is sanctified and sanctifying. Consider the Parable of the Vineyard."
She nodded, though uncertain. That story was about being as well rewarded for doing very little as you were doing a great deal: it always made Sarah feel dispirited, and hopeless.
"But what about Martha?" she asied. "From Marths' story don't we learn hat there must be pause, that there must be time to listen and be still, and to learn."
"Ah, yes -" His eyes narrowed at her.
"And what about the Lilies of the field, that neither toiled nor spun nor did anything very much at all?"
"Yes, yes, but - you must see that to work is your duty, and like all of us you will find satisfaction in doing your duty."
"But it doesnot make me satisfied -" Sarah wanted to stamp. "It makes me feel tired and sore, and though I work so hard, it seems I cannot even take a moment, even a moment's pleasure, but I am scolded and found to be in he wrong."
"Pleasure?" Mr. Collins moved towards her, eyes wide now. He smelt of bed, and hair-oil and bad teeth. "Have you committed some error, my child?"

He goes on to question her as to what she might have done that wasn't proper. She considers life recently and confesses that she spoke with the neighbour's footman - but he can't seem to find much fault with that.

It wasn't wrong and it wasn't really a pleasure, but it makes her realize that pleasure could be something she could seek. It changes her attitude towards her duty and makes her want more from life.

While delivering a message, she hitches a ride with Ptomely, the neighbor's footman. She has been told to ignore him, so clearly she is not following what she has been told, but she delights in her little rule breaking.
P. 120 She trudged up to the village street, huddled inot herself; it was like a poke of hot chestnuts to carry with her, the knowledge that she had done this. She had done what she had been forbidden to do, and she had got away with it unseen, and nobody at Longbourn would ever know! She was so wrapped up in gleeful contemplation of her misdeed, that she did not notice the figure on the high path through the fields, who stood in a sodden coat, watching her from beneath a dripping hat brim.
(It was James Smith!)

It is interesting how some of these people aren't even noticed by the people of Pride and Prejudice. James Smith is a character that Jo Baker created. In the story he goes away. Sarah longs to know where he went and asks. When she asks the Bennet girls they hardly know who she is talking about.
p. 280 Relaying trays to and from Mrs. Bennet, running into Meryton to leave or collect letters, brushing past the neighbours and the neighbours' servants in the street, all of them looking for a nugget, a crumb, some little thing to help sustain the lumbering gossip-golem that Lydia's actions had conjured into being, and all he time with the loss of James gnawing at her: this had all become quite normal.
"No one even mentions him at all now," she said, one day, to Mrs. Hill. "He may as well have never been here at all."
"This is certainly not true."
"But he was somebody. He was."
"Sarah, I know."
"But you don't do anything." Sarah pushed back her chair. "I'm going looking for him."

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