Entertainment & Arts

Pride and Prejudice retold from servants' viewpoint

Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth in the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice
Image caption Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth starred in the 1995 version of Austen's novel

A new novel that retells the story of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of its servants has been sold around the world.

Longbourn, by Jo Baker, was snapped up by US and UK publishers last week.

"Jane Austen was my first experience of grown-up literature," said Baker.

"But as I read and re-read her books, I began to become aware that if I'd been living at the time, I wouldn't have got to go to the ball; I would have been stuck at home with the sewing."

The 39-year-old British author said she drew her inspiration from her family's years in service.

"Aware of that English class thing, Pride and Prejudice begins to read a little differently," she explained.

Longbourn follows a romance between a newly arrived footman and a housemaid in the Bennet household that runs parallel to the love story between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.

"I sent it out last week," said Clare Alexander, Baker's agent. "[US publisher] Knopf bought it Monday. On Wednesday, it was bought by Doubleday in the UK.

"By Thursday the film rights had gone. By Friday, we had signed up two foreign translations."

"Longbourn is a piece of art that emerges from a much-loved classic," said Alexander of Baker's fifth novel.

"It is immensely satisfying to have worked with a talented writer from the outset and to see her take flight. Longbourn will make her a literary star."

Translation rights have been sold in Spain, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Brazil, France and Sweden, according to the book's UK publisher Transworld.

Image caption Focus Features were also behind the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley

Film rights have been bought by Random House Studio and Focus Features, which distributed the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice in the US.

"Jo Baker fully inhabits the lives of her characters, and in Longbourn they are ones who previously existed in the background only," said Focus Features' James Schamus.

"By compellingly exploring new avenues in the world of Pride and Prejudice, she has fashioned a tale of a calibre that film-makers dream about."

Two centuries on from her death, Austen's novels continue to inspire adaptations and spin-offs both in book and film form.

A contemporary version of Sense and Sensibility, written by Joanna Trollope, will be published later this year, one of six Austen re-workings by modern-day writers.

This year's Sundance Film Festival saw the premiere of Austenland, a comedy about a girl obsessed with the BBC's 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice.

Longbourn will be published in hardback and e-book format later this year, with a paperback release to follow in 2014.

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