Review: Bronte’s Mistress by Finola Austin

☆☆➹⁀☆ 4 stars ☆➹⁀☆☆

About the Book:

Yorkshire, 1843: Lydia Robinson—mistress of Thorp Green Hall—has lost her precious young daughter and her mother within the same year. She returns to her bleak home, grief-stricken and unmoored. With her teenage daughters rebelling, her testy mother-in-law scrutinizing her every move, and her marriage grown cold, Lydia is restless and yearning for something more.

All of that changes with the arrival of her son’s tutor, Branwell Brontë, brother of her daughters’ governess, Miss Anne Brontë and those other writerly sisters, Charlotte and Emily. Branwell has his own demons to contend with—including living up to the ideals of his intelligent family—but his presence is a breath of fresh air for Lydia. Handsome, passionate, and uninhibited by social conventions, he’s also twenty-five to her forty-three. A love of poetry, music, and theatre bring mistress and tutor together, and Branwell’s colorful tales of his sisters’ elaborate play-acting and made-up worlds form the backdrop for seduction.

But Lydia’s new taste of passion comes with consequences. As Branwell’s inner turmoil rises to the surface, his behavior grows erratic and dangerous, and whispers of their passionate relationship spout from her servants’ lips, reaching all three protective Brontë sisters. Soon, it falls on Lydia to save not just her reputation, but her way of life, before those clever girls reveal all her secrets in their novels. Unfortunately, she might be too late.

Meticulously researched and deliciously told, Brontë’s Mistress is a captivating reimagining of the scandalous affair that has divided Brontë enthusiasts for generations and an illuminating portrait of a courageous, sharp-witted woman who fights to emerge with her dignity intact.

My Thoughts:

In 1843 Yorkshire, there is a scandal brewing, and author Finola Austin uses that scandal as the basis for her debut novel, Bronte’s Mistress. Put down that People Magazine, and grab this delicious and scintillating novel!

Lydia Robinson represents women of her era well. She was raised to be a good wife and mother, but she finds that life running a household is unfulfilling. Her husband provides well financially, but when it comes to anything else, he is a bit of a bore. In other words, he is not the “new-age, sensitive guy” that Lydia wants. 

When her daughters’ tutor, Anne Bronte, recommends her brother as a tutor for the Robinson’s son, Lydia’s life becomes more enlightened. Bronte’s Mistress has all the broody romance of a, well, Bronte novel with the addition of some modern-day woman wants and issues. Lydia is clearly portrayed as a woman with opinions and the burning passion for life as any 20th century cougar. However, she didn’t have the same breadth of choices as today’s women. Bramwell Bronte is a young man who is eager to please. He not only listens attentively to Lydia, but eagerly fulfills her every want and need. Bramwell is frequently portrayed as a drunk or mentally unstable, and in Ms. Austin’s book, his issues are realized as neediness, which later cause Lydia to reassess their relationship.

Beyond the affair, Bronte’s Mistress is an excellent examination of women’s lives in that era. As for Lydia, she relies on her wit and cunning to get by as her domestic situation changes. Neither she nor Bramwell are particularly endearing characters, but their story is compelling. Ms. Austin’s storytelling is enthralling and descriptive without being “Thomas-Hardingesque”. 

About the Author: Finola Austin, also known as the Secret Victorianist on her award-winning blog, is an England-born, Northern Ireland-raised, Brooklyn-based historical novelist and lover of the 19th century. By day, she works in digital advertising.

© Copyright 2020 Book Junkie Reviews. All rights reserved.

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