At this year's annual Box Hill meeting members of CNJ JASNA spent some time catching up before beginning out discussion of Jo Baker's Longbourn. Set during (and a little after) the events of Pride and Prejudice, Longbourn is set at the Bennett house and focuses on the lives of the staff.
One of the topics discussed was criticism on the number of staff Baker shows the Bennett household having. In this novel there is the butler and housekeeper (Mr. and Mrs. Hill), two maids (Sarah and Polly) and a footman (James). It was discussed whether this was too low a number for the household. We seemed to be split on this idea that the Bennetts didn't have the money to hire more help because Mr. Bennett didn't earn enough or if their lack of savings played a part in the size of the household staff.
We also discussed Baker's use of the war in the novel, something Jane barely hinted at in her novels. This novel gives us a better understanding of the political landscape of the time. England was at war with France (well Napoleon was at war with everyone) and this resulted in James fighting in Spain. The Napoleonic Wars spanned the time period between 1803 and 1815. Between 1801 and 1814 English troops helped Spanish troops in Spain, this is when James was involved in the war. These events were ongoing while Jane was editing P&P. Given a penchant for research one could look at P&P and attempt to glen an insight to troop movements in relationship to English troop movements in relation to the war (I think that sentence makes sense).
We enjoyed the little glimpses we got into P&P while not being a retelling of the novel. Comments about the mud on the bottoms of petticoats, to needing to go fetch the shoe-roses, and the flogging of a private all became major aspects of Longbourn.
We also discussed:
* the similarities between the two stories. Elizabeth is torn between Darcy and Wickham and Sarah is torn between James and Ptolmey
* how Wickham is even more horrible in this novel
* the mixed feelings on Mr. Bennett's characterization
* the inclusion of Ptolmey and how he was similar and yet different from James
Please feel free to share you're thoughts on the novel!