Soundtracking Longbourn by Jo Baker

February 3, 2014

Longbourn“There was the music and the clutter of voices from the big house, and the wind shoving and pulling at them, and she thought, I want this, I know I want this. This is how you get from one world to the next.” 

A new book hitting the shelves and getting reviewers talking is Jo Baker’s novel, Longbourn. Baker has set herself apart from other modern attempts to rewrite Austen, even without the obvious exclusion of zombies or sea monsters, by taking the readers downstairs and making us care about the servants barely even mentioned, let alone named, in Pride and Prejudice. 

While creating a soundtrack for a sea monster courtship might have been more exciting, the quietness of Longbourn with all of the tension felt by the inhabitants just rippling under the surface begged for some music. And no, not a quadrille. So continuing WLT’s new feature Sound It Out, I have created a compilation to evoke the journey to contentment—your own instead of only feeling a slight warmth from the glow of other people’s—laced with all of its separate joys and struggles.


1. “Baleen Morning” by Balmorhea

Just as Sara begins the story alone in her discontent and is helped on her own sweet way, the solitary piano rising in volume as if it would burst if only allowed is joined by a calm and lovely guitar to lend support and structure to the roaming melody.


2. “Beat (Health, Life, and Fire)” (feat. Thao) by Portland Cello Project

Much like Longbourn itself houses and links people dying to escape it through whatever means they can find, a strong cello keeps pace beneath longing lyrics and quick-talking pizzicatos.


3. “The Bad in Each Other” by Feist

The beat of this song suggests the rhythm of daily chores while Feist’s voice and lyrics hint at the underlying anger toward each task.


4. “Good Time” by Piano Tribute Conservatory

This piano tribute to Owl City, with the implication that a good time is always to be had, a slightly ironic theme for a piano piece, perfectly matches the contrast between the upstairs class and the downstairs class while the repetitive melody reveals the monotony suffered by all.


5. “The Fabulist” by Nathan Johnson (with The Cinematic Underground)

A strumming guitar and drowsily hoarse vocals lend themselves easily to the dark, early mornings Sara manages to find so much beauty in, as well as the discovery of something as precious and blessedly selfish as a first love.


6. “The Shining” by Badly Drawn Boy 

The sun is pervasively used in fiction to signify healing and hope. This song is filled with a warm sun and adds to Longbourn’s theme of the way other people can heal even the worst of personal tragedies.


7. “Varúð” by Sigur Rós

Baker’s characters go on several literal travels that mirror their journey to contentment. This Icelandic piece suggested a walk through the English countryside, for once free of the proprieties and expectations that cling to the indoors.


8. “Liz on Top of the World” by L’Orchestra Numerique

From another Pride and Prejudice adaptation (the film featuring Keira Knightley), this short track picks up that walk to a new life and finishes it with happiness and the ability to “confront instead the open world, the wide fields of France and Spain, the ocean, anything.”

Shaida Tabrizi is a WLT intern.