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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

LONGBOURN Discussion Questions | AIA Read Along

Good afternoon, Janeites!

As many of you know, a month or so ago, I conducted a poll to decide what this year’s group read along would be. You see, we’ve run through most things written by Jane herself, and though I suppose we could have started reading fragments and letters and the like, I decided that this would be the year we branch out reading into Jane-inspired works together.  So after some debating about what would be the best direction to go (and it was a tight race), you chose Longbourn by Jo Baker. Longbourn is a little different in that it doesn’t concern itself so much with the romances and lives of Austen’s beloved characters, but rather, all those scurrying around behind the scenes, facilitating those same romances and daily lives. It’s Pride and Prejudice for the below-stairs set.

If you missed the memo that this is what we are reading this year, fret not! There’s still a whole month in which to grab a copy and dive in. You can join the discussion at any time – and I highly encourage you to! Whether it’s through chatting on Twitter or insta (#AustenInAugust), making your own video responses and blog posts, or leaving your thoughts right here in the comments, please jump in and share your take on Longbourn by Jo Baker!

And to get you started, below you’ll find some discussion prompts. But please don’t feel limited by these; feel free to weigh in on any aspect of the book you’d like!
  1. What were your initial thoughts on the book? Think style, content, characterization – anything that stood out to you in a positive or negative way. Would you recommend it? Reread it?
  2. Assuming you’ve also read Pride & Prejudice, did you feel Longbourn was a good representation of what went on behind the scenes? Did you “buy” the picture that was painted of Regency life below stairs?
  3. In Longbourn, Jo Baker works at peeling away some of the genteel veneer of Austen’s work, making a point to talk about things like body hair/odor, menstruation, chilblains and other unsavory byproducts of actual work, etc. Did you find that you had a different understanding of Pride & Prejudice when you were done with Longbourn? Did it give you a different impression of any characters or events?
  4. Longbourn exists very much as its own story, independent of Pride & Prejudice – without the familiar names, it could be just general historical fiction. Did you enjoy the story for its own sake? What were your general impressions, likes, and dislikes?
  5. Was there anything you found shocking or jarring? Things that didn’t ring true to you, or that you were surprised to find were typical of the time? Is there anything you would have liked to see included, that wasn’t?
  6. Discuss the relationships and dynamics in Longbourn (Sarah and Ptolemy, Sarah and James, among the servants, servants vs. members of the household, etc.); was there anything in particular that you liked or didn't like? Anything that stood out as a real hallmark of the time, or something you found anachronistic? Were you surprised, for example, by Sarah and James' somewhat uninhibited relationship -- once it began -- especially given how damaging it could have been for Sarah?
  7. Beyond just giving you another perspective on the Bennets and members of gentility, Longbourn gives quite a bit more of a peek into Regency life in general than Austen did (or would have been expected, or even "allowed," to): things like race and slavery, the realities of war and brutality, Wickham's predation, corporal punishment, etc., which Austen may have broadly hinted at, are laid bare in Longbourn. Discuss any elements that were surprising to you, or made you look at Austen's works in a different way. Does the knowledge of these things color your impressions of any of Austen's other works or characters? Do you interpret, understand or sympathize with characters' actions and motives more as a result? 
  8. Following up on the previous question, did you perceive aspects of Pride & Prejudice in a more negative light, based on the impact of the servants and behind-the-scenes characters' lives? For instance, Lizzie's refusal of consequences could have had a dire effect on her family, true, but it -- and her and her father's treatment of Collins -- also had potentially far-reaching, life-altering consequences for the staff, hence Mrs. Hill's apprehensions and sincere effort to make herself liked and hopefully indispensable to him.  Do you view Lizzie's refusal as less bold and romantic, knowing that not only could it have meant her family would have lost their status in the world (and all the consequences of that), but that it also could have meant the loss of job and home for the staff, too? Are there other examples of this that stood out to you, or made you view the original characters differently?
  9. [I'm avoiding spoilers in this question, but you certainly don't have to] Discuss the later 1/2 of the book, the actions and revelations that everything hinges on, and Sarah's responses to them. Do you believe how things play out for Sarah and other characters? Did you enjoy the upheavals and resolutions? Would you have preferred anything to play out differently, and if so, what and how?
  10. Would you recommend Longbourn to other Janeites? Non-Janeites? Would you reread it, or read other similar books about behind-the-scenes life of other classics?
  11. Is there anything else you'd like to discuss regarding Longbourn by Jo Baker? 

So there you have it! Those are some of the things I think are worth pondering and discussing for Longbourn, but I'm sure there's much more that could be said! Feel free to create your own responses or leave your thoughts in the comments -- I can't wait to discuss it with you!

Jane Austen, Austen in August, blog event
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  1. I will begin relistening to the story next week with these questions in mind.

  2. The scuttlebutt on the street was that it was an "upstairs downstairs" or Downton Abbey type scenario. But I disagree—it was much more focused on the Longbourn help and those they encountered. The descriptions & interactions with the Bennet's are not always in a favourable light—which added to the richness & freshness of this POV. The backstory of one character on the continent was overly long, and although necessary, I think it really could have been condensed to a few descriptive paragraphs. When this info is introduced, honestly I was mostly interested in what was happening back at Longbourn...
    In a field of many, MANY Austen adaptations, I found this book (for the most part) fascinating, inventive, & enjoyable.


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