ARC Review Book Review

ARC Book Review | Brontë’s Mistress by Finola Austin

Title: Brontë’s Mistress
Author: Finola Austin 
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published On: August 4, 2020
Publisher: Atria Books
Source: ebook
Pages: 320


This dazzling debut novel for fans of Mrs. Poe and Longbourn explores the scandalous historical love affair between Branwell Brontë and Lydia Robinson, giving voice to the woman who allegedly corrupted her son’s innocent tutor and brought down the entire Brontë family.

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

(Spoiler free)

What a lovely surprise! This fictionalized account of the alleged affair between Lydia Robinson and her son’s tutor, Branwell Brontë, gives life to the whisperings of an illicit May-December romance between the two. Thoroughly researched, it’s written with a Brontë-esque voice but modern twist. Finola Austin has created sympathetic characters when history has been less kind.

I read this one quickly, surprised by how fast I was consumed by the story. While the characters are not very likable upon first glance, I soon found myself empathizing with Lydia’s circumstances. A woman who has lost her youngest child, whose husband will no longer show her any affection, and who imagines her happiest years are behind her. It’s a compelling argument for why a woman such as Lydia might seek comfort in the arms of Branwell. 

“My dearest, sweetest Georgiana. The child I had wanted in spite of reason, almost to defy logic, the daughter born only to love and be loved. And she was the only child taken from us, as if in confirmation of the world’s perverse cruelty.”

Finola Austin, Brontë’s Mistress

Reading Brontë’s Mistress was also a great reminder that while we like to quickly pass judgement on people and their decisions, we rarely truly know what is going on in their minds, their hearts, and behind closed doors. It’s easy to say Lydia was a bad mother, a bad wife, a bitter person, but Austin provides the reader with possible conclusions to how Lydia may have arrived at those labels.

“How funny it is that men and women struggle as they die, but few of us kick or scream as we are lowered alive into our tombs.”

Finola Austin, Brontë’s Mistress

The same can be said of Branwell, who history has labeled as a rogue, a drunkard, and a drug addict. Austin brings his tragic story to life, helping the reader to see a different side of the young, tortured artist.

Finola Austin’s debut novel is an impressive one, and I’ll be anxious to see what she does next!

Thank you to the publisher, Atria Books, and Netgalley for providing me with an advance copy.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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About the Author

Finola Austin
Finola Austin

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.

A Song For A Book

On Bookstagram I created a hashtag for when I include a song that reminds me of the book I’m sharing, #ASongForABook, I thought I’d make it a regular feature on my reviews, too.

It’s always hard to choose a song for historical fiction stories, but I try to just focus on the lyrics instead of the music. I’ve always loved this song, and the words are fitting, I think. <3

The moral to the story goes
Never leave your heart
In a box
Locked up
With cold cold ice
Never leave your heart
…Never leave your heart… alone

Have you read Brontë’s Mistress? Did you add it to your tbr? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Wandering!

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