Fiction — Large print. Random House, 2013. 560 pgs. Library copy.
If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them. The title of this book was what moved it from the shelf into my hand, but this line from the back cover was what moved this book from my hand into my growing pile of library books. I was so excited to find a book imagining the events behind the scenes of Pride and Prejudice and expected to read Sarah and Mrs. Hill’s reactions to Bingley and Darcy’s courtship of the Bennet girls.
Perhaps most surprising was the fact that I became more interested in the lives of Sarah, James, and Mrs. Hill than those upstairs. I suppose it’s because I already know that story so well, but I think it also has to do with how interesting life downstairs was despite the mundane chore of cleaning mud off Elizabeth’s petticoats. The book didn’t exactly line up with my expectation, but I ended up loving it even more so because of that fact as we are introduced to an inventive world where the lives of the servants not their employers take center stage.
There wasn’t a single, new character I didn’t like — the mysterious James Smith, the naive Polly, the cautious yet curious Sarah — and I was surprised to connect so much with them given how much I love the original characters. While the novel doesn’t copy the style of Austen’s original — more romance than examination of life during this time period — the story Baker weaves for those characters that are referenced in the original novel fits in seamlessly adding rather than detracting from the original novel.
And I was so pleased to see how the servants agreed with some of my own ideas about those living upstairs, particularly as to whom Mr. Collins should have married. While I didn’t agree with all of their feelings towards those upstairs, it did give me something new to think about. Almost like having a conversation with readers of the original novel, which is something I love to do. Mr. Bennet takes on a characterization I think actually enhances who he is in the original novel rather than detracts as I have seen others state.