What are we to think of the announcement of Jo Baker's forthcoming book (and possibly film), Longbourn?
The announcement states: “Riffing off the Jane Austen tale, Longbourn will highlight the constant chaos swirling downstairs, the preparation for lavish balls, and the housekeeper’s real thoughts about the family patriarch. But it will also reveal the tragic consequences of the Napoleonic Wars and focus on a romance between a newly arrived footman and a housemaid, the novel’s main characters.”
On the one hand, this seems like a brilliant marketing idea: Pride & Prejudice meets Downton Abbey. How many readers and viewers can you entice with that? Take a look at the posts on this site. Do a Google search on either. They're everywhere (at least in my Internet world) and everyone is talking about them or writing like them or including them in their own world in some way.
On the other hand, I'm having a hard time imagining Longbourn belowstairs. While £2,000 a year was nothing to sneeze at when Pride & Prejudice was written, Mr. Bennet never struck me as the kind of guy to have a whole lot of servants. Indeed, in the book, the only servant we actually see is Hill, obviously the housekeeper. If I'm not mistaken, Mrs. Bennet mentions the cook, and they couldn't do without a maid or two. I'm guessing male servants, who were quite a bit more expensive, were reserved for the farm although I would buy a man of all work around the house. When Lizzy is about to leave Rosings, she assures Lady Catherine that her uncle will send a manservant. It seems to me that her father would send one if he had one.
I'm also not sure I can picture lavish balls being held at Longbourn. I don't think either Mrs. Bennet's nerves or Mr. Bennet's lack of interest could take it.
According to the press releases, our hero and heroine are to be a footman and housemaid. And while we're engaged in constant downstairs chaos, preparation for lavish balls and the tragic consequences of the Napoleonic Wars, I'm having a hard time imagining how we'll get much of the original players in Pride & Prejudice.
I'm not sure what to say. And I probably shouldn't say anything until I have read the book. But… I can't help it. Here's what I think: Pemberley would have been a better location. I'm sure they had plenty of servants belowstairs and most likely the wherewithal to throw a lavish ball or two. I think that Ms. Baker might have missed a good opportunity to give us Pemberley Upstairs/Downstairs as Elizabeth Darcy becomes mistress of the house. I think that could work.
All that being said, I'm actually looking forward to reading the book and will surely report back once I have done so.
What do you think? Does this idea work for you?
Myretta is a founder and current manager of The Republic of Pemberley, a pretty big Jane Austen web site. She is also a writer of Historical Romance. You can find her at her website, www.myrettarobens.com and on Twitter @Myretta.