Preloading

Costume-Drama Novels Every Intelligent Woman Needs to Read

Forget the powerless girl mooning over the lord of the manor. These exhilarating journeys into the past feature women who rise above their historical circumstances to find freedom, love—and well-deserved glory.
Longbourne

Longbourn

352 pages; Knopf
If you are a Jane Austen fan with a pronounced predilection for Pride and Prejudice—if rereading it is like wearing your softest, warmest cashmere sweater; if your cure of choice for heartache is immersion in the BBC adaptation starring Colin Firth—you will devour Jo Baker's ingenious Longbourn as the ambrosia from the Austen gods it is.

It turns out that the goings-on in the servants' quarters at the Bennets' Longbourn estate are every bit as interesting as the repartee among Elizabeth, Jane, Darcy, and Bingley, at least as imagined by this British writer. It's an idea that could have felt derivative or sycophantic in its execution—the notion of Sarah, Polly, James, and Mr. and Mrs. Hill as the downstairs counterparts to their upstairs employers—and yet the novel is rich, engrossing, and filled with fascinating observations about the less glamorous side of the period, such as how the servants got to be servants in the first place, and why Mr. Bingley's black footman also has the last name Bingley. Dive in and you might even forget to watch Downton Abbey.
— Leigh Haber

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