Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Madwoman Upstairs, A Fantastic Read

I have been a fan of the Brontës most of my life, and I was always fascinated by the idea of those tiny books the siblings wrote (complete with maps). When I was around twelve or thirteen, I tried to make and write in an itty-bitty book like they did, and I could hardly get six or seven words to a line with a pencil. How on earth did they manage whole books with metal dip pens and messy ink? I'm also a lover of books that take place in Victorian England, and I'm hooked on mysteries, particularly those with a gothic tone, so this book was a triple pleasure!

The Madwoman Upstairs, by Catherine Lowell, doesn't actually take place in the Victorian era, but the protagonist is a student at Oxford. Her research is focused on the Brontës, so there's quite a bit of delving into their famous books and lives. And how did Samantha Whipple become so interested in the Brontës? She's the last remaining descendant of this intriguing family. I've read Emily's Wuthering Heights and Charlotte's Jayne Eyre more than once, and I've seen many movie versions of both stories, but I never read anything by the younger sister, Anne. It was always my understand she was the dull writer. The Madwoman Upstairs led me to order a copy of Anne's The Tenant of Wildfowl Hall, which I'm now eagerly awaiting.

The plot of this engaging novel involves a mystery surrounding the Brontë estate Samantha is thought to have inherited from her eccentric father. Estranged from Samantha's mother, he homeschooled her until he died in a fire. At Oxford, books start mysteriously appearing in strange places, one by one—books Samantha thought had burned up in the fire that took her father's life. Another professor is trying to find the estate Samantha doesn't think exists. Meanwhile, Samantha is slowly falling in love with her advisory professor, curt, cryptic, distant, and as eccentric as she is. For Samantha is eccentric, and their awkward, often antagonistic, cerebral, budding romance is one of the more delightful relationships I've read in a long time. Samantha's one-liners, whether in dialogue or internal, are just terribly witty and funny.

And, for a novel that involves so much literary probing and history, it was a page-turner. When daily life intruded, I seriously hated to put this book down. I plan to read it again. History, humor, mystery, and the Brontës are an unbeatable combination for me! And there's a reason for the title. Mad women apparently appear in more than one Brontë book. And there are parallels between Samantha's life and the women in those books.

You can order The Madwoman Upstairs at
 (My computer is acting funny, so I wasn't able to do the usual link thing.)

How about you? Are you a Brontë fan? Do you like history mixed with mystery? And do you like mysteries that involve famous people? I'm always looking for new reads that combine those elements. If you know of some, do leave the titles in your comments.

Happy New Year, and best wishes for a 2017 filled with peace, love, happiness and health.


  1. I'm adding this one to my TBR list. I'm already engaged in the story just reading your description of it. Thanks, Elizabeth and happy 2017.

  2. Hi, Lee. Thanks for stopping by. I don't think you'll be disappointed. I found it a really fun read. I needed a little laughter, and I got it. But the humor was so original and witty. Good wit is always such a pleasure. Hope you had good holidays and a good year ahead.

  3. This sounds delightful. I will try to check it out sometime soon. Thanks for the review. Happy new year.

  4. Hi, Gehrig, thanks for stopping by. Best wishes to you, too, for a Happy new year.

  5. I enjoyed Jane Eyre and Little Women, but can't think of any mysteries I've read recently featuring famous folks from that era.

  6. Hi, Tamara. I enjoyed Little Women, too. I also read a collection of Alcott's stories a few years ago that weren't published at the time. Once she was famous for Little Women and all her books in that vein, I think publishers thought the stories were a little too sensational to publish. I can't remember the title, but you could probably google it. Hope you had good holidays.