Friday 30 October 2020

September Articles About Bronte’s Mistress

It’s nearly the end of October and I’m still playing catch up in summarising the press coverage of my debut historical novel, Bronte’s Mistress, which was released in August. Bronte’s Mistress imagines the story of Lydia Robinson, the older woman rumoured to have had an affair with the Bronte sisters’ brother, Branwell Bronte. 

Around two weeks ago, I published a post on articles written by me and published in September. This time around, I’m sharing articles about my book that came out last month. Let’s get into it.

First up, I was delighted to receive a wonderful review from the Lancashire Post, which was also printed in various other local English newspapers. Their reviewer, Pam Norfolk, describes the book as “emotionally powerful and written with immense sensitivity.”

Another great review came from fellow Neo-Victorian novelist Essie Fox, writing for Historia, the Historical Writers’ Association magazine. Describing Bronte’s Mistress as “remarkable” she ends the review by saying, “I found myself asking the question: Is Lydia Robinson a victim of her own time—or of herself?”

And I was ecstatic that my book was also reviewed in Bronte Studies, the academic journal of the Bronte Society. The review is behind pay wall, but describes Bronte’s Mistress as “an extremely satisfying read,” with a “stroke of brilliance” in the Author’s Note where I share what is fact vs. fiction in Lydia Robinson’s story.

Meanwhile, Fine Books & Collections included Bronte’s Mistress in incredible company in a piece on recent works of “bibliofiction.” I’m looking forward to reading the other books on their list, especially Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet

I was interviewed by DIY MFA on my self care tips for writers, by Saralyn Bruck on my inspirations and favourite things, and for Authors Answer (which asked the quirkiest interview questions so far!).

Further lovely reviews came from History Through Fiction, whose podcast with me went live in October, from My Interdimensional Chaos, and from Flora’s Musings.

Finally, if you’ve been asking yourself the pressing question “which lipstick shade should I wear to match the cover of Bronte’s Mistress?”, I’ve got you. Check out this delicious pairing courtesy of Read Your Lipstick!

Haven’t ordered your (hardback, audio or electronic) copy of Bronte’s Mistress yet? What are you waiting for?! You can check out a list of suggested retailers for buyers in the US and UK here. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. And for monthly updates on my writing straight to your email inbox, make sure you sign up to my newsletter below.

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Saturday 17 October 2020

September Articles by Finola Austin, Author of Bronte’s Mistress

For the last few months, thanks to the release of my first novel, Bronte’s Mistress, I’ve been cheating on my Secret Victorianist blog by writing articles for other bigger (though less cool 😉) publications. 

August was wild with nine personal essays going live in Oprah Magazine, LitHub, Women Writers, Women[‘s] Books, Frolic, Historia Mag, Off the Shelf, Bronte Blog, English Historical Fiction Writers and Silver Petticoat Review. By contrast, September was much calmer, but I’m really proud of the four essays I had published and excited to (re-)share them with you today!

First up, I wrote about the real love affair that inspired my novel for both the Irish Times and Town and Country magazine. 

In Town and Country, I talked about my attempt to “capture something of the passion of Charlotte, the social commentary of Anne and the darkness of Emily, in shedding light on this scandalous true story,” and highlighted the things that the Bronte siblings and I do and don’t have in common. 

In the Irish Times, I mentioned the Brontes’ Irish and Cornish roots and shared my excitement at finding, “another chapter of this saga…the history of Lydia Robinson, the older woman blamed for their brother Branwell’s early demise.”

The Brontes were also my subject for a piece for Refinery29, which had a pretty different focus. I talked about the afterlife the Bronte sisters have enjoyed as our archetype for the successful woman writer—poor, plain and virginal—and argued that women need more varied models for dedicating their lives to art. 

Finally, I wrote a more technical piece for Almost An Author, on what fellow writers should consider when writing fiction in the first person. Charlotte Bronte’s line “Reader, I married him” may be one of the most famous in English literature, but what does it mean to adopt the “I” of a fictional character? And what are the traps writers can fall into here?

I hope you enjoy these pieces and my other essays from earlier in the year. If you’ve already read and enjoyed Bronte’s Mistress, please consider leaving a review on Goodreads or Amazon. And, if your book club wants to read my book, I’d absolutely love to join your meeting via Zoom. Download the Bronte’s Mistress reading group guide here and contact me via my website. Alternatively, get in touch via Facebook or Instagram or by tweeting @SVictorianist.  

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Monday 12 October 2020

Neo-Victorian Voices: The Confessions of Frannie Langton, Sara Collins (2019)

You may know me as the author of Bronte’s Mistress, but, when I’m not writing my own books, I’m reading other people’s. For five and a half years now, in my Neo-Victorian Voices series, I’ve been reviewing books set in the nineteenth century, but written in the twenty-first. 

So far in 2020, I’ve blogged about Sandra Dallas’s Westering Women (2020), Jess Kidd’s Things in Jars (2019), Syrie James’s The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte (2009), Bella Ellis’s The Vanished Bride (2019), Dinitia Smith’s The Honeymoon (2016) and Sarah Shoemaker’s Mr Rochester (2017). This time, it’s the turn of Sara Collins’s stellar 2019 debut, The Confessions of Frannie Langton.

It’s 1826 and Frannie Langton is in the Old Bailey prison in London when Collins’s novel opens. She’s accused of murdering her employer Mr Benham and his wife, a crime she tells us she can’t have committed because she was in love with her mistress. Frannie was born into slavery in Jamaica, and the British press has dubbed her “the Mulatto Murderess.” She doubts the court will recognise her humanity in her upcoming trial, so she chooses to make her confession to us, the readers, instead.

But what exactly is Frannie confessing? Did she kill either or both of the Benhams? Was she a complicit in the dissections and vivisections of slaves back on the plantation? Should we see her as a victim of sexual abuse, a willing party to incest, or both? Or is her confession a cri de coeur about her romantic feelings for a woman, a union this society condemns as equally unnatural?

While the plot unfolds slowly (after all, we know from the beginning that murder will be our destination), Frannie’s voice is distinctive and interesting. This feels in keeping with the unusual circumstances of her life, and, while I’ve read a few reviews from readers who found the frequency of similes excessive, I enjoyed how Frannie’s images were always rooted in her frame of reference.

Emotionally, there are few moments of joy. This is a novel about righteous and unrelenting anger, and the reading experience can be exhausting. There’s no respite for Frannie, but she never acts the part of docile and pitiable victim. A line of advice the character is given early in the book really stood out to me: “[There are] only two types of white people in this world, chile, the ones doing shit to you and the ones wanting you to tell them ’bout the shit them other ones did.” Collins asks (especially White) readers to confront their own ideas of what a narrative about a former slave should be.

While Frannie is an utterly original creation, at times she reminded me of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Like Jane, she’s overlooked and unfairly written off by those around her, and frequently thrust into the role of observer, although her perceptions are sharp and her words can be fierce. At the same time, she is also, of course, akin to Jane’s predecessor Bertha Mason, another famous Jamaican. As in postcolonial interpretations of Bertha, Frannie can be seen as an avenging angel, a personification of the White British man’s fears of his abuses abroad, the source of his wealth, coming back to haunt him.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Confessions of Frannie Langton and urge fellow Victorianists to add it to their reading lists. Do you have a tip for me about a great book for my Neo-Victorian Voices series? Let me know—here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

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