Maid's pride & prejudice

Maid's pride & prejudice
Longbourne, the debut of British novelist Jo Baker, is a richly drawn historical tale which parallels Jane Austen's iconic romance, Pride And Prejudice, describing what life was like for the domestic help in the houses of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy.

Published exactly 200 years ago, Jane Austen's Pride And Prejudice has been mined so often that British novelist Jo Baker deserves an award for finding new depths in the novel.

Apart from numerous film and TV adaptations, many have authored sequels and revisions to the Cinderella-like romance of saucy Elizabeth Bennet and haughty Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Two years ago, noted crime writer P.D. James delivered an "official sequel", Death Comes To Pemberley, in which Darcy and Elizabeth solve a murder mystery.

Longbourn pays even better homage with a story that enlarges Austen's world, even while remaining centred on Elizabeth's childhood home.

Even though the book was released only last week, film rights were snapped up six months ago by Focus Features, which made the 2005 version of Pride And Prejudice starring Keira Knightley.

But unlike the frothy comedy of Pride And Prejudice, Longbourn's strengths lie in dark, gripping drama.

The Bennet girls and their romances are but the backdrop of this novel, which focuses instead on their maidservant Sarah.

An orphan who grows to womanhood in the Bennet kitchens, she sees her mistresses give dinners or attend dances while she walks miles across muddy fields, in the rain, to deliver invitations or polite acceptances.

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