The character of Lydia Robinson hovers around the edges of many historical discussions of the Brontes. Branwell Bronte was the only brother of the gifted authors, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte, and was a disappointment to his family. He was thought to be a heavy drinker and unable to keep a job long enough to support his sisters. Anne worked as a governess for the Robinson family and arranged for Branwell to be the tutor for the young boy in that family. Lydia Robinson was the mother of Branwell’s young student and is purported to have an affair with Branwell. As an avid reader of the Brontes, I was intrigued to read about Branwell’s life beyond his sisters. Bronte’s Mistress is a sympathetic telling of Lydia Robinson’s story.
At the opening of the novel, Lydia is starved for affection. She is reeling from the deaths of her mother and youngest child, is in a loveless marriage, and feels disconnected from her other three children. Like most women at the time, she has little control over of her life. She lives only in her relationships to her husband, children, and extended family. She has little to keep her occupied so when Branwell Bronte joins the household, she is intrigued by the passionate young man. They fall into a tawdry affair that brings some excitement to Lydia’s life. Unfortunately, the affair does not remain a secret.
Finola Austin has brought Lydia Robinson to life as a deeply flawed and unhappy woman. I found myself routing for her to find a way to overcome her situation and find some happiness in life. This debut novel was well researched and adeptly brings the plight of women 1840’s to life.
Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for providing a review copy of the novel.