A review of The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

Samantha Whipple is used to stirring up speculation wherever she goes. As the last remaining descendant of the Brontë family, she's rumored to have inherited a vital, mysterious portion of the Brontë's literary estate; diaries, paintings, letters, and early novel drafts; a hidden fortune that's never been shown outside of the family.

But Samantha has never seen this rumored estate, and as far as she knows, it doesn't exist. She has no interest in acknowledging what the rest of the world has come to find so irresistible; namely, the sudden and untimely death of her eccentric father, or the cryptic estate he has bequeathed to her.

But everything changes when Samantha enrolls at Oxford University and bits and pieces of her past start mysteriously arriving at her doorstep, beginning with an old novel annotated in her father's handwriting. As more and more bizarre clues arrive, Samantha soon realizes that her father has left her an elaborate scavenger hunt using the world's greatest literature. With the aid of a handsome and elusive Oxford professor, Samantha must plunge into a vast literary mystery and an untold family legacy, one that can only be solved by decoding the clues hidden within the Brontë's own writing.
 
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published March 1st 2016 by Touchstone
ISBN 1501124218 
 
"Because the madwoman is far more compelling if she is a 'regular' woman," said Orville, "If she is a frothing lunatic, then she becomes the most unrealistic part of Jane Eyre, and the one character that transforms the novel into implausible Gothic fiction. If, however, we treat the madwoman as a sane woman who has been locked up, then we force ourselves to acknowledge what did exist in the Brontes' world: generations of women, who, silent and confined, reined in their passions and lived lives of seclusion. Consider the Brontes themselves. I find it best to respect their creativity rather than attribute their genius to insanity.
 
 Illustration of Bertha Mason by Edmund Garrett, 1897
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, British Library
If the madwoman in the attic is insane, as you say, then Jane would be frightened of her, no? But Jane does not fear the madwoman. She fears Grace. Grace is a minor character-a plain old invisible servant-who somehow occupies a disproportionately large amount of Jane's thoughts and fears. Jane compares herself to Grace Poole,hoping not to see any similarity between the two of them. Don't you see? If there's a danger in Thornfield Hall, it does not come from Bertha. Jane Eyre is not running the risk of madness. She is running the real risk of spending forty years as a lonely servant, like Grace. The physical madwoman, Samantha, is irrelevant." 
 
 Charlotte Bronte illustrated writing with her father,
Patrick Bronte watching in the foreground.

The stagnant smell of death, loss and grief permeates the pages of, 'The Madwoman Upstairs.' Protagonist, Samantha Whipple comes to Oxford University upon the death of her father, Tristan Whipple a relation of The Bronte Family. Yes, that one!  He was a published author who adored his daughter. As a result of her parent's  divorce, they rarely speak or see each other. In fact, there are perhaps less than five references Samantha makes to her mother throughout the novel. She is raised on literature; especially all the novels The Bronte sisters have written. The forgotten brother, Branwell is shall we say...rarely mentioned.  Poor thing!

The Madwoman Upstairs  is a character reference from Charlotte Bronte's, 'Jane Eyre' that evokes a gothic sense of dread, fear and loss upon the readership. If you are expecting a Wilkie Collins type gothicness in nature with a Du Maurier undertone, you might be  a tad let down. Only because its not a psychological thriller with a raving lunatic woman trapped in an asylum seeking revenge on her cheating husband or brother. Still, the author very cleverly uses a father-daughter relationship based upon the pursuit and love of the nineteenth-century family of genius writers who became authoresses still yet to be surpassed.

Using quotes from Agnes Grey, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, to The Professor, Jane Eyre and of course Wuthering Heights, the author takes the reader on a journey of Samantha's stages of grief by having her father leave her clues based upon Bronte Family knowledge that only he knew in the form of a scavenger hunt. Hidden rumors, myth and inuendo along with her own family memories, lead her to rediscover her father again as a way of coming to grips with her process of mourning.

So, was there  a Bronte family treasure her father left her? Perhaps and it just might be hidden in plain sight!

If you are looking for a Bronte academic literature seeking romp, then why not give, 'The Madwoman Upstairs'; a try?

What I loved about this story is that it is not maudlin or morose but instead lifts you up and reminds you that although your family may be far away or even long gone, we hold them within our hearts and memories. All you need do is fall asleep and they will visit us in our dreams. Now, if they happen to be one of the Bronte's hey, better yet!  For me, I would love a visit from a tall, dark cloaked poet laureate... If you're out there come on by for a dream chat.

To purchase The Madwoman Upstairs Amazon UK  and to purchase The Madwoman Upstairs  Amazon US 

Comments

Nick Holland said…
Thanks Kimberly, this sounds like a really interesting novel. I can feel a purchase coming on!
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Nick,
I really hope you enjoy it. I can't wait to find out what you thought of it. Especially the Anne Bronte references! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.
Just Me said…
Thanks for the review! Sounds like it is a good read.
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Just Me,
I'm so glad you enjoyed my review. I hope you like the book. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.