In Bronte’s Mistress, author Finola Austin tells the story of Lydia Robinson, possible mistress to Branwell Bronte, the ne’er-do-well brother of the famous Bronte sisters. Lydia is lonely and frustrated, but also grieving the deaths of her young daughter and mother, leaving her vulnerable to the charms of the much-younger, roguish Branwell. As their attraction grows, others notice, causing all kinds of problems.
Robinson is portrayed as a spirited woman who was a victim of her time. She had few options as a woman to make her own choices, and thus depended on her beauty and appeal to men to get what she wanted…and who expected her three daughters to do the same.
It’s of note that even the book title reduces Lydia Robinson to her relationship to a man, even though the story is about her.
The affair may or may not have happened, and has been the source of conjecture. Clearly something was going on based on some writings that exist, but how far things went is unknown.
I found Robinson shallow and detestable at times, but still felt sympathetic toward her. She longed for the love and attention of her emotionally distant husband, and I came away believing that she would have given up her lover had her husband given her even a crumb of his attention.
Even in our modern times, if a woman is perceived as being “too much,” she is criticized for it. In Robinson’s day, women were punished. Kudos to the author for keeping a sometimes-unlikable character compelling.