Lydia Robinson entered history as the seducer of the much younger Branwell Bronte. More than a hundred years later, Finola Austin gives her the chance to tell her side of the tale.
Bronte’s Mistress is an outstanding book that takes historical facts and expands them into compelling fiction. The Bronte siblings and the Robinson family come to life in an entrancing and realistic way.
Print Length: 319 pages
Publisher: Atria Books (August 4, 2020)
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.
From the Publisher’s Blurb
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Branwell Bronte was the less-known brother of the famous Bronte sisters. He was a dreamer, a poet that drunk in excess and had difficulties staying employed.
Trying to keep him away from trouble, his family sent him to work at the same house as his younger sister Anne. Anne was the Robinson’s governess, and Branwell became tutor to their only son Ned.
While in this post, Branwell got acquainted with the lady of the house, Mrs. Lydia Robinson.
Lydia was facing a middle-age crisis. Her marriage was lukewarm at best, and she was possibly depressed. Branwell’s youth and energy made her feel restored and loved. She saw in his troubled temperament a reflex of her own internal turmoil.
The author did an excellent job describing Lydia’s personality and its numerous facets. She took the time to show the many tons of gray that lay in between the black and white facts.
Both Lydia and Branwell were very flawed, and the author did not make excuses for them. I like how she balanced the story showing their vulnerabilities, their reasoning, and the villainy that surrounded them.
Lydia was a force to be reckoned with. Finola Austin brings her to the spotlight and exorcizes the many prejudices she faced as a woman of her time. The result is fascinating and inspiring.
Bronte’s Mistress is a must-read debut. Highly recommended!
Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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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. Find her online at FinolaAustin.com. Brontë’s Mistress is her debut novel.