The “Downstairs” side of “Pride and Prejudice”. Beneath the lye, chilblains, and hogshit (and other kinds), lies a sweet and genteel little story. In addition to the delightful blurb “it was unnatural, the way he went at his work; this was not the begrudging half-arsery they were used to from the local labourers,” I liked this:
When she was a girl, and still growing, ravenous, whenever there had been a cake – a spongy cake, dusted with sugar, which Mrs. Hall had conjured up out of eggs and flour and creamy butter – Sarah would never even let herself look at it, because she knew that it was not for her. Instead, she would carry it upstairs to be rendered into crumbs, and the crumbs lifted from the plate by a moistened Bennet finger, and the empty smeared plate carried back again. So Sarah would stare instead at the carpet underneath her feet, or at the painting of a horse with a strangely small head that hung at the end of the hall, or the rippled yellow curtains in the parlour, and would do her best not to breath, not to inhale the scent of vanilla or lemon or almonds; even to glance at the cake was an impossible agony. And for months, she realized, James had hardly looked at her at all.