Feminist Book of the Month: Longbourn’s Songbird
Our February Book of the Month is (drumroll please): Longbourn’s Songbird by Beau North. Longbourn’s Songbird is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. This version is set in the American South in 1948.
North’s Longbourn is one of similarities and differences to Austen’s. The Bennets own a large farm; Darcy ran a munitions factory during the war; Elizabeth loves to sing. Many lines of Austen’s dialogue are lifted straight into the 1948 story. The rigorous social structures remain–and so, of course, does brooding Darcy and sharp, witty Elizabeth. Let’s compare.
Not offensive to women: 0/1 pt
Passes the Bechdel test: 2/2 pts
Features a woman as main/supporting character: 3/3 pts
Artistic and/or Entertaining: 4/4 pts
Above and Beyond the General Media: 3/5 pts
The Women: The female characters have more freedom in America in 1948 than Austen’s day. Elizabeth is sexually liberated–which carries positives and negatives for her character. Despite the greater romantic freedoms of the time, North still includes a strong virgin/whore dichotomy between Lizzie Bennet and Caroline Bingley, which I didn’t like and is why the story lost a point in the “Not offensive” category.
The Men: The book falls prey to more than a few romance tropes, specifically Brooding Men with Dark Pasts. I’ve said many times how I’m no fan of romance, so seeing these old tropes in a supposedly-reinvented story was a drawback for me. Overall though, I still gave this full points in the “Entertaining” section. The writing is excellent and there’s a lot of drama to be had. If you love romances then don’t let me hold you back.
The Romance: Beau North is a self-identified fanfic writer. While retellings of classic novels are often the subject of literary critique, I agree Longbourn’s Songbird falls soundly into the fanfic category. I say this because the changes made by North to Austen’s story serve mostly to add texture, but not depth. The Southern setting is pretty but not compelling. All the same characters end up together (save one couple). Longbourn’s Songbird adds a lot more backstory to characters and this should influence how the characters react to each other–different experiences should send characters down different paths from their original counterparts. This doesn’t happen in North’s story. Instead, the changes serve to embellish the path, but not alter it. You can decide if that’s an advantage or disadvantage to you.
Only one couple subverts the original storyline in a refreshing way: two female characters fall for each other, and the choice of characters I feel makes a lot of sense and adds a layer to the source material. This romance gained Longbourn’s Songbird its three points in the Above and Beyond section.
Overall: Excellent writing and Beau North’s imagination keep this novel compelling all the way to the end. When I finished, I fond myself really wanting to reread Pride and Prejudice and think about North’s choices, or how I would write an Austen fanfic. If a retelling makes me appreciate the original book even more, and brings out/expands on feminist themes, then it’s a book I recommend. You can find it on Amazon, and follow Beau on Goodreads or on her blog.
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