Publisher: Random House
Publishing Date: October 8, 2013
Genre: historical fiction
A brilliantly imagined, irresistible below-stairs answer to Pride and Prejudice: a story of the romance, intrigue and drama among the servants of the Bennet household, a triumphant tale of defying society’s expectations, and an illuminating glimpse of working-class lives in Regency England.
Our heroine is Sarah, an orphaned housemaid beginning to chafe against the boundaries of her class. When the militia marches into town, a new footman arrives under mysterious circumstances, and Sarah finds herself the object of the attentions of an ambitious young former slave working at neighboring Netherfield Hall, the carefully choreographed world downstairs at Longbourn threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, up-ended. From the stern but soft-hearted housekeeper to the starry-eyed kitchen maid, these new characters come vividly to life in this already beloved world.
Orphaned housemaid Sarah mends, washes, cleans, and cooks for the Bennet household, with the help of little Polly, Mrs Hill, and Mr Hill. Life is simply a never-ending list of chores for Sarah till a mysterious new footman catches her attention. Occupied with thoughts of his origins and distracted by Bingley’s servant, Sarah and the rest of the downstairs household is turned upside down as each Bennet daughter is exposed to society’s forms of acceptable love.
I never knew I needed to read the downstairs version of Pride & Prejudice till I read this book. It’s an absolutely fascinating account of what life was truly like in Regency England for the lower classes. How a pig not only provides meat but also soap. How the chamber pots must be taken out daily, the ways people bathed and cleaned laundry and interacted with one another. Though Sarah is only a maid, she too must abide by society’s rules and uphold the Bennet family honor. She cannot fool around or behave mischievously; it would reflect poorly on the family.
The reader is not only given a glimpse of Sarah, but also of Mrs Hill, Mrs Bennet’s maid. We learn her history and her connections to Mr Bennet and the new footman James. Mr Collins is explored outside of Elizabeth’s painful judgment, and James’s history with the militia gives the reader further clues to Wickham’s misdemeanors. The reader is exposed to life before, during, and after the original book, and I loved reading the decisions the characters make and their motivations for their actions. Downstairs intermingles with upstairs so fluidly it was as if I was still reading the original classic.
Thank you, Random House, for providing this book for review!