By Jo Baker
Paperback, 332 pages
While the Bennet family worries about who will marry whom and how their estate will be entailed, should Mr. Bennet pass away, the running of the household is left to Mrs. Hill and the young maids, Polly and Sarah. The washing, the cooking, the cleaning, all go unnoticed throughout Pride and Prejudice, but realistically those who lived to serve did not have an easy life.
From page one of this book, where Baker is disgustingly describes laundry day, I was interested. This book sheds a new light on the life of one of my favorite heroines, Elizabeth Bennet, and that of her family. Never once did I think about the work involved in running the Bennet household or preparing their many daughters for the ball. While they are portrayed as “poor” (especially in comparison to the Bingleys and Darcys), they still employ several servants to cook and clean for them and tend to their whims. While Hill and Sarah and Polly are not abused or starved, they do not live free, comfortable lives. Sarah chafes against her lifestyle – no moment of the day is her own.
I especially enjoyed how Baker fleshed out Mary and Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. The love story between Elizabeth and Darcy and Jane and Bingley takes a backseat, while readers are given insight into the daily lives of a family of their station. Mary is given a bit more of a personality, and Mr. Bennet has quite a backstory.
I certainly see one of my favorite books in a new light after reading this book. It was thoroughly engrossing and an excellent companion novel for fans of Pride and Prejudice. If you’ve never read the novel, the plot does contain some spoilers, but the story does focus on the life the servants, and if you’re interested in historical fiction, I would recommend this.