Downton Abbey meets Pride and Prejudice (and a giveaway!)

Downton Abbey meets Pride and Prejudice (and a giveaway!)

Longbourn, by Jo Baker: Downton Abbey meets Pride and Prejudice

When I first heard of the latest Jane Austen-inspired fiction, I was skeptical. (See #5.)

But I’m a sucker for a good plot device, and when I realized Longbourn is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the servants’ perspective, I got curious. I love Downton Abbey. I love Pride and Prejudice. Longbourn sounded like a fun new mash-up of two old favorites.

Longbourn focuses on the downstairs happenings at the Bennets’ home, mainly through the eyes of the housemaid, Sarah. The upstairs action featured in Pride and Prejudice is only dimly in the background, although some events hold more sway over the servants’ lives than others.

Darcy and Bingley are barely mentioned, but we see a whole lot of Mr. Collins, because if he marries a Bennet daughter, the servants’ jobs are safe for another generation. We also see a lot of Mr. Wickham … and if you’ve read Longbourn, let’s talk about what Jo Baker did with him!

I appreciated the layers Longbourn brought to the world of Pride and Prejudice. I’m not an Austen purist, and not among the (many) readers Jo Baker offended by messing with the beloved characters of P&P. The book even holds the occasional brilliant line. (“If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.”) 

But Baker lost me with the central love story, which I found unbelievable and uncompelling. I’m perfectly willing to suspend my disbelief for a great story line, but this plot required too great a leap. A few lengthy wartime tangents also inspired a few yawns and disrupted the pacing.

You’ll love Longbourn or you’ll hate it. I didn’t like it at all–at least not for private reading. But if your book club has it slated for discussion, have no fear: Longbourn will make for an excellent discussion.

Have you read Longbourn or is it on your to-read list? No spoilers, please, but share your thoughts in comments. 

*****     *****     *****

cozy classics emma

When I first heard about Longbourn, I thought it might be fun to give away a copy here on MMD. But now that I’ve read it, I’ve lost my enthusiasm for that plan.

Instead of Longbourn, let’s give away a copy of the Cozy Classics edition of Emma that comes out this week. It’s still Jane Austen-derived, but a lot more crowd-pleasing. This series (which was featured in the 2013 Kid Lit guide) is completely delightful for young children and grown-up book nerds.

Cozy Classics present the classics through 12 child-friendly words and 12 needle-felted illustrations that manage–despite their brevity, and to my amazement–to capture the story in 24 pages. In addition to the four titles already available (including Pride and Prejudice), three new ones are coming out just in time for Christmas: Jane EyreOliver Twist, and Emma.


To enter, just leave a comment. 18 or older, U.S. only. Contest ends at midnight EST.

UPDATE: The giveaway has ended and the winner has been notified, but comments will remain open so we can keep discussing Longbourn.

(If you’ve never read Pride and Prejudice, grab a free Kindle copy love here.)

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  1. Laura says:

    I have loved Austen since a teen, but haven’t been pleased with any of the spin-offs that I have read so far. The last one was particularly horrible (Death at Pemberley, I think??) so I didn’t even finish it, though it was a Christmas gift from my husband. These Cozy Classics look adorable, though. =)

    • Jeannie says:

      I hated A Death at Pemberley as well — and the friend who’d recommended it loved it so much!

      I would be excessively diverted if I won the giveaway, but cannot enter since I live in Canada. Sigh. The more I see of the world, the more I am dissatisfied with it … well, not really … 😀

  2. I usually don’t love Austen spin-offs, but I did love Longbourn, mostly because I was rooting for Sarah the whole time. I liked Mrs. Hill, too, and I loved Baker’s writing (though the tangent with James’ travels got a bit old). And you do mean Wickham, right – instead of Willoughby? 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Of course I mean Wickham! My sleepy brain got the dastardly W’s confused. Fixing now.

      I’d love to have a good chat with you about Mrs. Hill (and Mr. Hill!) and Wickham and Sarah sometime. 🙂

  3. Emily says:

    How disappointing–I was hoping that you’d enjoyed Longbourn! I still have hopes that someone will write a brilliant book with the main plot line of P&P as the backdrop.

  4. Annie says:

    I’m thinking about suggesting Longbourn for my next book club meeting — sounds like it will make for good discussion!

    I love anything Austen that can also be shared with my two-year old daughter!

  5. Lauren Wood says:

    So excited about the Cozy Classics. I have a four year old daughter who is a voracious reader. And, one year old twin girls who will be!

  6. I am also pretty skeptical of JA spinoffs. The only series I enjoyed was Elizabeth Aston’s Mr. Darcy’s Daughters (etc.). But I just may have to check out Longbourne! I also know some baby girls that NEED some of the Cozy Classics (mine included).

  7. Janet Worthy says:

    My baby daughter is a 24 year-old High School English Teacher and totally obsessed with Pride and Prejudice and all things Jane Austen; I think both of these books would be a delightful addition to her personal library and much appreciated because all of her spare change is spent building her classroom library!

    • Jamie says:

      Janet –
      As the daughter of a teacher who also spent years devoting her personal funds to building a classroom library, can I recommend that your daughter check out if she hasn’t already? It’s a great way to trade books you aren’t using/ don’t need for books that you do, they offer special pricing deals on many new books, and they annually have an event where teachers can register their classrooms and members will donate book credits to help them add to their book collections. Just a thought!

  8. Rosemary M. says:

    My daughter loves her P&P boardbook! I’m getting her started early (she’s only 15 months old). She loves the page with all the sisters. Fingers crossed!

  9. Sarah says:

    I agree I didn’t like the central love story or war time. Basically, I should say up front. I recommend any book I read quickly – not necessarily because it’s brilliant but because anything that worms its way and makes me want to find out what happens I think is worth it 😉

  10. Jamie W says:

    I saw these cozy classics on your list and have it saved for later in my amazon cart. I think my daughter would love it.

  11. Anna says:

    I’m not a fan of fan-fiction or Downton Abbey so I doubt I’d like Longbourn. Although I do love to read non-fiction and memoirs about servants. I found this obscure memoir by Lady Astor’s ladies maid and it was fascinating, especially since I also had a biography of Lady Astor and her sisters. That kind of stuff so intrigues me because, if we’re honest, most of us would have been downstairs, not upstairs. Did you ever see Manor House on PBS back in the 90s where they actually had people live upstairs and downstairs in a manor house and filmed the experience for several months? It was awesome!

  12. Excited to check out the Cozy Classics!

    I liked/didn’t like Longbourn all at the same time. I thought the way she altered characters (making Mr Collins more pathetic/sympathetic and Wickham more lascivious/evil) was really fun. Made me wonder how I would seem if I had a servant!

    And I didn’t mind the Spanish tangent. But I’m a huge fan of Georgette Heyer’s THE SPANISH BRIDE, which includes at least 100 pages of straight-up battlefield narration, so this was familiar territory for me.

    But it made me a little sad to have the Bennets be so much less likeable. And the plot point re: the housekeeper seemed more than a little unlikely.

    • I’m with Jessica on this one – it was love/hate. Seeing the entire Bennet family in a different light was enthralling and really made me think about life as a woman in that era. But it was entirely to gritty for my liking (perhaps I’m a softie?).

      I finished the book thinking I needed to re-read P&P to reinstate my love of Elizabeth & Darcy. 😉

      • Anne says:

        I’m not a fan of the gritty, either. Maybe that had a lot to do with my dislike?

        Regardless, I think following Longbourn up with a P&P re-reading is a brilliant idea. 🙂

  13. Ariana says:

    Would love to win. And, embarrassed to admit that I’ve never read Pride and Prejudice. Going to download the free kindle version now.

  14. Sarah says:

    I would love to have this! I’m loving these Cozy Classic books…I only wish I had a little one around to buy them for! Maybe someday…but in the meantime, there’s no reason me and Libby can’t read them! 🙂

  15. Katie says:

    Those are too adorable!

    Hmm. I might still check Longbourn out at the library, but yeah. I haven’t found an Austen spin-off (as opposed to retelling) that I’ve liked yet.

  16. Andrea Cavanaugh says:

    I liked Longbourn (though I agree about the somewhat tedious war passages) because it seems such a cut above typical retellings. And I love those Cozy Classics!”

  17. Kristin says:

    My kids are too old for board books, but we checked out a few Cozy Classics from the library anyway! My 9-year-old daughter and I drooled over them together. 🙂

  18. Meghan says:

    I so sorry to hear about Longbourn because it has so much potential! I hope I like it more than you 🙂 I’ve never seen those Cozy Classics before. Got to get me one (or all of them)!

  19. Polly says:

    I actually really enjoyed Longbourn. I usually don’t like Austen spin-offs because it feels like they either get the characters wrong or the language, but I felt like it had a really different take on the story- and it was interesting because in P&P you end up feeling like the Bennets are poor compared to everyone around them. But looking from the servants perspective I realized they were more well-off than I’d imagined. Plus I love all the historical details about housekeeping in the Regency.

  20. Becky says:

    The Cozy Classics are wonderful- can’t believe they can sum up such complicated plots in cute board book language. I will read Austen spin offs with low expectations and if I go into it like that- I’m not as disappointed. I’ll have to try Longbourn.

  21. Brenna D says:

    Holy comments, batgirl!

    We are almost out of board books but I would keep ‘me for this series!
    And really, it’s not that we are almost out, Lu is only 2, I’m just not buying a lot these days 🙂

  22. KAS says:

    Found you from ANMJ of all places, my curiosity couldn’t resist your “Modern Mrs Darcy” link. I’ve enjoyed reading this blog and also Anne with an E. You are inspiring me to read more! This Cozy Classic looks like a great place to start 🙂 JK but the littles would love it!

    • Anne says:

      Welcome! Actually, I was really surprised to learn from September’s reader survey that Shana and I share a ton of readers! Any friend of hers is a friend of mine. 🙂

  23. Sharon says:

    I did NOT like this book at all. I would recommend it to anyone.
    I had high hopes but they were quickly dashed. So why oh why did I finish it?
    Because I paid $26.00, that’s why 🙂
    Oh and to say that I gave it a chance.

  24. Well, I had a different reaction entirely and I think LONGBOURN was probably the best adult novel I read this year (I write and review middle grade, and review YA). I thought her language so evocative, and loved the way she layered the details of hard work with Sarah’s coming of age. It felt, in a way, as though one were looking at a place you knew well from a new perspective, like going to your hometown as an adult and understanding more of the underpinnings of the history or social srucure. I also thought it stood very much on its own. I bought it as a treat for a six hour plane ride over Thanksgiving and ended up staying up half the night and reading it ahead of time!

    • Anne says:

      Oh, I love the way you described it as “like going to your hometown as an adult.”

      I didn’t think it was a great book, but I am wondering if I should bump up the star rating I gave it on Goodreads for the very reasons you mentioned: it was definitely readable (as in, I wanted to know what happened next) and it’s great conversation fodder.

  25. Jennifer says:

    I had not actually heard of _Longbourn_ until reading this post. I am planning on rereading _P&P_ over Christmas break in preparation for the Motherhood & Jane Austen Book Club discussion; this text may be interesting to read along side it. I’ve only been reading academic texts since August, so I am up for ANYTHING! Love the Cozy Classics. I would have been totally into something like this as a kid! Great giveaway.

  26. Jamie says:

    I am not a JA or DA fan, so Longbourn won’t be showing up on my already over-stuffed reading list, but I just had to tell you that I was in the quilt shop recently and discovered that the Mystery Quilt-Along this fall/winter is Downton Abbey inspired! They took four characters and made variations on the same quilt design for them, using fabrics and details that reflected their personalities – which strikes me as an awesome idea and potentially fantastic gift for someone who loves the series. I wanted to mention it here, since you get a lot of readers who enjoy JA and might be interested. (I am not in any way connected to or profiting from this – I just enjoy sharing book-worm related things!)

  27. Well, I totally missed out on the giveaway, but I really just wanted to pop on and say, “Hi!” since it’s been a while for a blog comment. And also to say that I appreciated your review of “Longbourn”. I am a bit more of an Austen purist, so this one didn’t particularly interest me, but I always love to hear what you have to say. 🙂

    • Anne says:

      My first thought was, “You might like Longbourn, since you did like Austenland.” But on second thought, I’m pretty sure you’d hate Longbourn. Although I think it would be loads of fun to talk about how much you hated it, and why. 🙂

  28. Courtney says:

    Thanks for reviewing Longbourn! I’m getting an ereader for Christmas, and saw this on the list while I was browsing books last night. Austen spinoffs can be hit or miss, so I like to read reviews before buying (and I trust your opinion). I didn’t like ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ (great premise that ended up being a copy & paste job), but LOVED the BBC movie ‘Lost in Austen’ (it’s one of only three movies I own on DVD). I guess the search for more enjoyable Austen spinoffs continues!

  29. Sherry Henschel says:

    Hello, Anne!
    I’m late to this party, but just stumbled on this post today. It makes me want to SHOUT: HAVE YOUR READ “INTIMATIONS OF AUSTEN” BY JANE GREENSMITH? It’s a compilation of short stories that provide pre-quel, sequel and additional light on Austen characters. I thought it was absolutely fantastic, and didn’t find any reference to it or Ms. Greensmith on your blog.

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