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August 13, 2020

Bronte's Mistress by Finola Austin ~ a Review

by MK French

Lydia Robinson lost her daughter and mother within the same year and lives a bleak existence at Thorp Green Hall in Yorkshire. She hires Branwell Brontë, brother of her daughters’ governess, Miss Anne Brontë. Branwell is twenty-five to Lydia's forty-three and tries to live up to the expectations of his famous literary family. He is emotionally volatile and dangerous, and their relationship is soon gossiped about.
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Bronte's Mistress
August 2020; Atria Books; 978-1982137236
audio, ebook, print (320 pages); historical fiction
This novelization gives voice to the scandalous relationship between Lydia and Branwell in 1840's England. She's grieving for her daughter and mother, neither she's really supposed to talk about, and her husband has long since rebuffed a physical relationship with her. Anytime she expresses emotions or opinions to her husband, he wants to call the family doctor to examine her or prescribe something. Her children don't often confide in her, though she's distant and focused on her own desires. When she meets the young and passionate Branwell, she initially resists the attraction, but ultimately gives in when her husband assumes she already was having an affair. He drinks heavily and is more enamored with the idea of her, just as she's nearly giddy from feeling wanted. It's not a good combination, and their lives eventually go downhill. It's not due to the relationship, exactly, but outside circumstances that neither can control. 

I didn't know much about Branwell prior to reading this book. There's a helpful afterward outline what is actually known in history as well as what's simply conjecture for this novel. I love seeing how the fiction blends in with the facts.

Branwell's famous sisters are a shadow over him, and his dangerous nature is that of alcoholism. He doesn't care who catches him with Lydia, what their reputations will be, his writing,  or even the job he was hired to do. She comes under fire as the corrupting influence because she's older than him, though life does offer her few choices. She knows that it's a question of marrying well or being forced to be a governess and that marrying well comes with its own restrictions. Lydia doesn't make very good choices, to be honest, and often cares little about others' feelings, especially in the beginning. When reality isn't the same as how she imagined life to be, she has very little to fall back on, which is sad. I understand why she made the choices that she did, which is a credit to Finola's writing. It's sympathetic within the text without giving approval, and really shows the morality and viewpoints of the time. Those are always the best features of historical fiction. 

Buy Bronte's Mistress at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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  1. those outside influences can help mess up a good thing, but it sounds like they weren't going to make it anyway
    sherry @ fundinmental