Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Downstairs from Pride and Prejudice

They said on the news last night that mountain cedar pollen levels were high, which explains everything. If it had been a cold, the symptoms would have progressed to stuffiness by this point, but instead, the sniffling and sneezing has eased up a bit and Allegra seems to be taking care of it during the day, with Benadryl at night (which means I'm having really fun dreams). In spite of the sniffling, I managed to meet my usual daily writing time goal, plus some extra time to try to make up for being out on Friday.

My reading last week was an interesting book that kind of falls into the category of "published Pride and Prejudice fan fiction." There's practically an entire industry of books spinning off from the classic -- sequels in which the remaining sisters find love, mystery series in which Mr. and Mrs. Darcy are the sleuths, additions of zombies or vampires, etc. Longbourn is a more serious, literary approach, focusing on the servants of the Bennet household. The original story serves mostly as the setting and situation, happening in the background while a story about the servants unfolds. A few of them are named in the original book, while others exist without even being given names. This book attempts to flesh them all out and give them their own stories. It all kicks off at about the same time as the original, with the announcement of a new rich, single man as neighbor that sends the household into a tizzy. Meanwhile, a new footman has been hired under what seems to the housemaid to be mysterious circumstances. She sets out to learn about him, and that gets her started thinking about a lot of things that make her question her lot in life.

To be honest, I'm not sure how much I liked this book. I found it interesting more than anything else, but a lot of detail is spent on describing just how difficult it was to be a servant in that era and how even "good" employers could be pretty thoughtless toward them. I would caution P&P superfans who absolutely love the original book (or the 1995 TV miniseries) because this book doesn't look so lovingly upon the characters. Lizzie and Jane come off pretty well, being mostly kind to the maid, but they're still pretty oblivious to the fact that she's a human being with her own hopes and dreams. Some of the others get some character assassination, with story elements and character traits that are pulled from thin air. And I got the feeling this author didn't find the relationship between Lizzie and Darcy to be all that romantic.

I guess I'm mostly just alerting people to the fact that the book exists. If you're into history and want the gritty realism about the era, you might find it interesting. If Pride and Prejudice is your favorite romantic story ever, you may or may not want to read it.

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