Tag Archives: Jane Austen

The Continued Influence of Jane Austen on Contemporary Fiction: Longbourn by Jo Baker

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From various creatures of the ocean deep in Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters to the untimely and homicidal death of Mr. Wickham in P.D. James’ Death Comes to Pemberley, the literary works of Jane Austen continue to inspire the writers of today. With Longbourn, author Jo Baker throws her own hat into the ring with a unique take on that well-known story, Pride and Prejudice.

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The setting is the same as the original story, the country estate of the Bennet family named Longbourn, but it is the protagonist that is quite different: a young servant of the Bennet household by the name of Sarah. Through her viewpoint, the reader is provided a decidedly different picture of the Bennet family and their lives than the one that was penned by Ms. Austen.

As with the original, Jane Bennet takes long walks and reads, Mrs. Bennet gossips and plots marriage arrangements, the youngest daughters giggle together while speculating on romances, balls are attended, and dinner is served daily. But what was required “below stairs” to create and maintain this existence for the Bennet family? Through extensive research of the time period, Ms. Baker is able to provide an accurate description of the endless, difficult, and oftentimes unpleasant tasks that servants of this period faced each and every day, which will be of particular interest to fans of Downton Abbey, Upstairs, Downstairs, and the like.

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Those sojourns through the English countryside, for example, enjoyed so much by Ms. Bennet and that so endeared her to the reader are seen quite differently by the servants, as Sarah ruminates:

“The petticoat had been three inches deep in mud when she’d retrieved it from the girls’ bedroom floor…the soap was not shifting the mark, but it was biting into her hands, already cracked and chapped and chilblained, making them sting. If Elizabeth had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.”

While daily life of nineteenth century rural England is a prominent and fascinating feature of this novel, it is not the primary focus; rather, the personal intrigues of the original cast of characters and their servants (along with some newcomers imagined by Ms. Baker) provide the reader with the storylines that supply the most entertainment and surprise.

With the plethora that currently exists of novels written by contemporary authors who do homage to the works of Jane Austen, those readers interested in this type of fiction have many options. In Longbourn, Ms. Baker has added an additional title to this genre that is distinguished from the others with her fresh and inventive look at one of the most enduring works of English literature.

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith

First off I must tell you that I’ve been an avid fan ofdownload Jane Austen since I was a young teenager. I have read most of the reimagined books including ones that had zombies and vampires. I was very interested about the Austen Project when I heard that they were going to be taking many of Austen’s classics and reimagining them for modern times. Emma was the third of this new series to be released and Alexander McCall Smith was chosen to pen this one.

McCall Smith has taken the basic pieces of the classic story and reinvented them into a modern retelling of the classic. It is written for the modern reader, leaving out much of Austen’s original speech that can be daunting for today’s readers. Emma’s father now becomes an intense hypochondriac worrying about vaccines and antibacterial soap. Emma also gets a modern upgrade with a new mini Cooper that she drives around town. There are also many quips about McCall Smith’s town of Edinburgh, Scotland that you may not catch unless you have actually traveled there.

While Emma was not my favorite of Austen’s books, I do believe this book does honor the original character’s personalities. While Emma was not a favorite of mine in the original book, I really formed a dislike for her in McCall Smith’s book. I think that it’s because he took a lot more time to develop the main characters (Mr. Woodhouse, Emma, Harriett) then Austen did in the original. In doing this, he however leaves little time for Mr. Knightly and others in the story. This was the only disheartening part of the novel for myself because the reader misses out of Emma’s blooming relationship and it seems like an afterthought at the end of the book. The author does leave some of the original formality in the book, including mention of the room Mr. Woodhouse entertains his guests in and also some very formal speech.

The story is delightful overall and a fun beach read. I would recommend it to readers, but would recommend that they possibly read the original after or before reading McCall Smith’s re-imagination.  Many die hard Austen fans may view this is a heresy, but I think McCall Smith does a wonderful job both paying respect to the original, but also putting a new spin on the classic story. The book would also be a good primer for readers that are slightly frightened to begin reading Austen’s originals. Overall this has been one of the best re-imaginations of Austen’s classics yet.

Formats available: Book, E-book

Reviewed by Sara, Okolona Branch