The Madwoman Upstairs

9781501124211_p0_v2_s192x300With the mystery of Jane Eyre and the force of a modern romance, Catherine Lowell creates a satisfying plot in The Madwoman Upstairs.

Samantha Whipple, new student at Oxford University, is the last living descendant of the Brontë sisters.  Home-schooled by her father, Tristan Whipple, a scholar who “spent his entire life trying to deconstruct” the writings of his famous relatives, Samantha, at twenty, is well-versed in the famous novels.  Lowell generously sprinkles excerpts from the well-known Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights as well as the less famous The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

At her father’s request, Samantha’s residence at Oxford is an isolated tower, often the site of campus tours.    When her father’s copies of the Brontë  books mysteriously arrive on her doorstep, encrypted with her father’s obscure notes referring to her inheritance, a collection of writings and paintings, including the “Warnings of Experience –  that may have been left to her by her father, she enlists the help of her tall, dark, handsome Oxford tutor to help her decipher the clues.

If you are a fan of the the Brontë  sisters, the references to the famous novels, and Lowell’s dissection of some of the plot lines may prompt you to reread the original texts.  References to the Brontë  treasure may have been inspired by the recent uncovering of a lost book containing poems and snippets from the Brontë  children –

“The Brontë Society has recovered the treasure for £170,000 from a seller in America where it has been for more than a century…it was originally sold following the death of their father Patrick Brontë  in 1861″…the Telegraph, 2015

If you are a student of literature, you will enjoy Lowell’s notes on literary criticism and intellectual pursuits:

  • “The great reward given to intelligent people is that they can invent all the rules and equate any dissent with stupidity.”
  • “…what everyone wants: meaning. Happiness in some sense, is irrelevant.”
  • “…the interpretation of a novel depends on the reader far more than it does on the text or the author’s intent…”
  • “Reading teaches you courage. The author is trying to convince you something fake is real…”

If you have never read a Brontë book – or only seen one of the many movies – and are looking for a romantic interlude with the trappings of an intellectual discussion, The Madwoman Upstairs has a story to keep you reading, while you sigh through the passion and try to decipher the mystery.

 

Summer Reading List

Journalist Nicholas D. Kristof offers his summer reading list with “great novels relating to social justice.”  He asks, why read fluff when you can read “mindful page-turners” on the beach?

Have you read any of these?  since high school?

  • Germinal by Emile Zola
  • Pale Fire by Vladimr Nabokov (author of Lolita)
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  • Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene
  • All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
  • The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain
  • Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
For a short summary of each, go to Kristof’s essay:  Action! Romance! Social Justice!

Would you rather stick with nonfiction? NPR’s Rachel Smythe has these suggestions:

  • The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal (Read my review here)
  • Nothing Daunted by Dorothy Wickenden
  • Turn Right At Machu Picchu by Mark Adams
For more ideas on nonfiction, see Smythe’s article: Summers’ Biggest Juiciest Nonfiction Adventures