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The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

The Madwoman Upstairs is Catherine Lowell's debut novel.

When Samantha Whipple, the world famous, last known descendant of the Bronte (yes, those Brontes) clan, matriculates at Oxford University, she receives an odd inheritance from her long deceased father.  While the literary world obsesses over the contents of a long rumored, long lost Bronte estate, Samantha knows that such an estate is just that--a rumor--and does not exist.  At Oxford Samantha finds herself assigned to a demanding, inscrutable tutor and then suddenly immersed in the mysteries of her father's past when the Bronte novels that should have burned up with her father in his library begin appearing one by one in her isolated tower room dorm.  Now Samantha must solve the dual mysteries of who is leaving the books for her and why and what they mean in terms of her past.

When Samantha discovers that the math tutor that she long thought dead is instead alive and well and teaching maths at Oxford, she believes she has discovered the person leaving her father's books on her doorstep.  A confrontation between the two women reveals that the maths tutor, who is also her father's former mistress, harbors a deep resentment and vindictiveness towards Samantha.  And Sir John Booker, curator of the Bronte parsonage museum, also nurses an obsessive resentment toward the Whipples predicated on his belief that the family is hiding a (non-existent) treasure trove of Bronte documents and artifacts that should rightfully be turned over for public consumption and scholarly study.

This novel is very steeped in Bronte history and literary tradition.  The dual mysteries of the nature of  the inheritance left to Samantha by her father as well as its whereabouts are intriguing.  This book quickly becomes an engrossing, page turning read.

One thought I had (okay, I had more than one):

Samantha's father did such a poor job of homeschooling/raising her that it borders on neglect.  Thanks to his insistence on isolation, his lack of an established curriculum in favor of one that kowtows to his own unique opinions regarding education and intellectualism, and his failure to teacher her proper grammar/vocabulary, Samantha is a socially awkward, naive young woman.

Booker is a real piece of work.  He doesn't want the fabled hidden Bronte estate so it can be studied by scholars, he wants it so he can sell it and get rich off of it.

Rebecca, the maths tutor/mistress, is a petty, vindictive woman.  She has allowed her disappointment with how her life turned out to curdle into bitterness and misplaced resentment toward Samantha.  That is all.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie


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