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The Madwoman Upstairs Review – A Book Every Brontë Fan Should Read

The Madwoman Upstairs


The Madwoman Upstairs may be one of the more addictive reads I’ve read in a long while. I literally stayed up all night and read the entire book from start to finish in one sitting. It was that good. There’s mystery, romance, intelligent literary conversations, vivid characterization, and, of course, an intriguing premise surrounding the mystery of the Brontë family.

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The Madwoman Upstairs tells the story of Samantha Whipple, the last known descendant of the Brontë family, who goes to Oxford to study literature. There, she stumbles upon a literary mystery with clues left behind for her by her deceased father. This mystery leads to some surprising truths about the Brontë siblings. While facing against some academic nemeses, she joins forces with her tutor, the young and handsome Professor Orville to solve the mystery. However, Samantha must come to terms with her own tragic past and inability to appreciate her family’s legacy (as well as classic literature in general) in order to discover the truth.

I found Lowell’s style to be engaging (though there were a couple of awkward metaphors) with a fitting romantic atmosphere and believable characters to support the unique historical premise. In fact, The Madwoman Upstairs fits into a distinctive genre of storytelling that there needs to be more of – literary and historical sleuthing with an old-fashioned romance thrown into the mix. Lowell weaves historical truths with fiction in a way that will be sure to leave readers questioning what was true and what was made up about the famous Brontë siblings.

One of the best aspects of the novel was the romance between Samantha and her tutor/professor James Orville. If you love romances found in gothic novels, then you should enjoy this believable love story. Orville gives the reader that Byronic Hero fix without actually being Byronic. He’s moody and mysterious but he’s not dark like Rochester and Heathcliff. Still, he has that brooding, witty quality that is sure to please fans who love Byronic Heroes.

I also appreciated that this romance is not overly sexual, especially for not being YA. Lowell cleverly stayed true to the classic elements of the gothic romance and even the spirit of the Brontë sisters by making it about old-fashioned romanticism versus modern realism. It’s all about the meeting of minds, the touch of a hand, a rescue in the rain Willoughby style than it is about explicit sex scenes. The Madwoman Upstairs uses classic storytelling techniques to build the romance in a way that not only makes you root for it but fall in love with it as well.

If you love classic literature, gothic novels, discussing literature in general, then you should enjoy The Madwoman Upstairs, a page turner that will leave you with a smile on your face when it’s done.

However, as much as I love the romance between Samantha and James, the story itself is about much more than just that. So, while it is a very entertaining and even a light read, there is an extra depth to the story and characters with important questions about storytelling raised. Emotional truth vs. literal truth; Author’s intent vs. reader’s intent; And so on and so forth. And while a few of the interpretations of the Brontë’s novels may raise a few eyebrows (Samantha’s views as a character change throughout the novel), and Sam’s initial dislike of classic literature may be grating to some, overall, Lowell introduces a fresh perspective on some of these favorite stories.

I find it truly refreshing to read a book that pays such warmth homage to authors who came before. Lowell throws out literary references left and right like a good Gilmore Girls episode which makes for a very fun read if you appreciate literature. And with this being Lowell’s first novel, it will be fun to see how her storytelling gift develops especially since she has an obvious appreciation for classic literature.

In some ways, The Madwoman Upstairs is also a love letter to family history and how it’s important to connect to our ancestors which I found particularly fascinating.

In all, this debut novel from Catherine Lowell is smart, addictive, romantic and entertaining. If you were to take A.S. Byatt’s fabulous novel Possession and combine it with a fun, gothic read you’d find The Madwoman Upstairs.  And that is a huge compliment. If you love classic literature, gothic novels, discussing literature in general, then you should enjoy The Madwoman Upstairs, a page turner that will leave you with a smile on your face when it’s done.


The Madwoman Upstairs would make a wonderful film adaptation or even a miniseries. One thing is certain, though: Aidan Turner should be cast as the mysterious, moody, intelligent and romantic Orville. Could anyone play this part better than him? I really don’t think so!

Photo: BBC
Photo: BBC

Just imagine Aidan Turner brooding (like he does so well), discussing literature as he sits amidst his personal library that would make the Beast jealous. Plus, he likes to wear t-shirts with werewolves on it – and if you’ve seen Being Human or The Mortal Instruments – the reference could be really funny in a wink-wink way on screen. Besides the perfection of Aidan Turner in this role, this is the type of film I’d watch again and again. I love literary sleuthing combined with gothic romance. It’s the perfect combination and I hope this novel gains traction enough to garner interest for a movie deal. This is just the type of modern fare period drama fans will flock to theaters to see.

The Madwoman Upstairs was released on March 1, 2016, and is now available to buy.

Content Note: There are a few moments of strong language in the book, but it’s not pervasive.


Five Corset Rating Lower Byte Size

“The stuff that dreams are made of.”


Five heart rating

“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.

I have loved none but you.”

Book Info

Paperback: 352 pages

Publisher: Touchstone (March 1, 2016)

Language: English

Genre: Literary Fiction, Romance, Mystery

Buy: Amazon

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By on March 26th, 2016

About Amber Topping

Amber works as a writer and digital publisher full-time and fell in love with stories and imagination at an early age. She has a Humanities and Film Degree from BYU, co-created The Silver Petticoat Review, contributed as a writer to various magazines, and has an MS in Publishing from Pace University, where she received the Publishing Award of Excellence and wrote her thesis on transmedia, Jane Austen, and the romance genre. Her ultimate dreams are publishing books, writing and producing movies, traveling around the world, and forming a creative village of talented storytellers trying to change the world through art.

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