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A Brontë Inheritance

Catherine Lowell's The Madwoman Upstairs is a literary dream for anyone who loves the Brontë sisters.

A Brontë Inheritance

BOOK REPORT for The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

Cover Story: Grown Up Doodles
BFF Charm: Yay
Swoonworthy Scale: 7
Talky Talk: Reader, I Married Him
Bonus Factors: Brontë Sisters
Relationship Status: We Are Family

Cover Story: Grown Up Doodles

Not much to say about this cover, which is pretty and suggests the literary adventure within! (Grownup books so often get better covers.)

The Deal:

Sam Whipple is the last living descendant of the Brontë sisters. After her eccentric writer/alcoholic father dies, the dry-witted, formerly homeschooled Sam crosses the ocean to Oxford, in order to study English literature. (Only...she doesn't really like English literature, it seems.)

Her young, hot professor James Orville is the Mr. Rochester to her Jane, but he seems to hate studying the Brontës just as much as Sam does. When her father’s well-worn and annotated copies of Brontë books start showing up on her dorm room doorstep, Sam has a mystery on her hands. How did those precious books survive the fire—and is there really some sort of grand Bronte inheritance left for her?

This Jane Eyre retelling is full of (sometimes outrageous) literary analysis, humor, and slow-burn swoon—perfect for anyone with a fondness for the Brontë sisters and their contemporaries.

BFF Charm: Yay

Sam might not be for everyone, but to me she’s a drily hilarious smartass who somehow manages to get away with saying things I could only dream of. Of course, she’s also got some Shit To Deal With, like her unwelcome fame, the bizarre inheritance scavenger hunt, and making sense of why her mother left and her father raised her the way he did.

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Now, while I should perhaps clutch my metaphorical pearls at a professor/student relationship, it was really hard to feel that way in the book. James pushes Sam away for a good portion, remaining professional, while delightfully harsh about her work product, which makes the age and power differential seem less one-sided. (James is a very young professor and Sam is an adult, mind you.) The fun of their relationship is watching him slowly wear down in the face of her relentless pursuit of her family mystery. HE LIKES HER, aww!

Talky Talk: Reader, I Married Him

Even if you’ve only made your way through Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and/or The Tenant of Wildfell Hall once, you’re going to be in a much better place to understand some of the literary analysis and humor present here. (In fact, I finished the book having thought about the works of the Brontës a lot differently than I had before!)

Beyond the Brontës, Sam is delightful in her own right. She somehow gets away with saying things that I could only dream of, and it all works out in the end. This email of hers is a particular favorite of mine:

Dear Dr. Orville,
Hello. This is difficult for me to write, as I would prefer never to see you again. But would you please drop by my Tower sometime tomorrow afternoon?


Yeah, I never got away with talking to my profs like that.

Bonus Factor: Oxford

As someone who longs to go back to school in order to have pretentious academic discussions with other like-minded souls, the idea of doing it at Oxford is even better. The Oxford of this book is appropriately moss-covered, misty, and dramatic, with an inordinate amount of teacher-student meetings in pubs. SIGN ME UP.

Casting Call:

Matthew Goode as James Orville

Who wouldn’t be hot for teacher when Matthew Goode is involved? I couldn’t think of anyone specific for Sam, but when I think “young, professorial, English, and hot,” Mr. Goode is always at the top of my list.

Relationship Status: We Are Family

Book, I wasn't sure what to expect when we went out on our date, but you quickly won me over with your deadpan charm and scholarly discussion. Instead of falling in love and figuring out we're related*, how about we just agree to be literary sisters? 

* I promise that will make sense later. It's not a spoiler for the book's plot, I promise.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free review copy from Simon & Schuster. I received neither money nor a pet unicorn for writing this review, despite how hard I wished for one.  The Madwoman Upstairs will be available March 1.

Jennie's photo About the Author: Jennie Kendrick lives in San Francisco and has an excessive fondness of historical fiction, spreadsheets, turquoise sparkly things, and bourbon. She is also a literary agent with Lupine Grove Creative. When she's not reading, writing, or writing about reading, she cooks obsessively, runs an Etsy shop, and thrifts for vintage everything.