Monday, August 3, 2020

#BrontesMistress blog tour Interview with debut author Finola Austin

Today I'm so excited to welcome you to my first stop on the #BrontesMistress blog tour, today I'm featuring my interview with debut author extraordinaire Finola Austin don't forget to visit all the blogs on the tour and stop back by The Reading Frenzy on August 14th for my review. Or if you can't wait see it HERE on Goodreads.

Title: Brontë’s Mistress: A Novel
Author: Finola Austin
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Atria Books (August 04, 2020)
Length: (320) pages
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1982137236
eBook ISBN: 978-1982137250
Audiobook ISBN: 9781797106878
Tour Dates: August 3 – August 16, 2020



Yorkshire, 1843: Lydia Robinson—mistress of Thorp Green Hall—has lost her precious young daughter and her mother within the same year. She returns to her bleak home, grief-stricken and unmoored. With her teenage daughters rebelling, her testy mother-in-law scrutinizing her every move, and her marriage grown cold, Lydia is restless and yearning for something more.

All of that changes with the arrival of her son’s tutor, Branwell Brontë, brother of her daughters’ governess, Miss Anne Brontë and those other writerly sisters, Charlotte and Emily. Branwell has his own demons to contend with—including living up to the ideals of his intelligent family—but his presence is a breath of fresh air for Lydia. Handsome, passionate, and uninhibited by social conventions, he’s also twenty-five to her forty-three. A love of poetry, music, and theatre bring mistress and tutor together, and Branwell’s colorful tales of his sisters’ elaborate play-acting and made-up worlds form the backdrop for seduction.

But Lydia’s new taste of passion comes with consequences. As Branwell’s inner turmoil rises to the surface, his behavior grows erratic and dangerous, and whispers of their passionate relationship spout from her servants’ lips, reaching all three protective Brontë sisters. Soon, it falls on Lydia to save not just her reputation, but her way of life, before those clever girls reveal all her secrets in their novels. Unfortunately, she might be too late.

Meticulously researched and deliciously told, Brontë’s Mistress is a captivating reimagining of the scandalous affair that has divided Brontë enthusiasts for generations and an illuminating portrait of a courageous, sharp-witted woman who fights to emerge with her dignity intact.

My Interview with Finola Austin:

Hi Finola. Welcome to The Reading Frenzy. Your debut novel is amazing. I loved it.
Thank you, Debbie. I’m so pleased you enjoyed it!
Out of all the historical figures, what made you want to tell Lydia Robinson’s story?
I have always been fascinated by the Brontes. I grew up reading all their novels, starting with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. By my teens, I was also fascinated by the family’s own history. How had three sisters from an obscure Yorkshire town become some of the greatest novelists of their age? And what had happened to their brother, Branwell, which meant he died an alcoholic and opium addict, having failed to equal his siblings’ achievements?
When I read Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Bronte, and came across Lydia Robinson’s story, I was captivated. Gaskell describes Lydia (Branwell’s boss’s wife) as “wretched” and “profligate.” She blames her, the older woman, for her younger lover Branwell’s demise. The characterization felt more like a character assassination and was so clearly steeped in nineteenth-century gender double standards.
Much as I love Charlotte Bronte’s writings, I’ve always felt that she was hostile towards women she perceived as better looking and better off. Charlotte’s heroines are so often poor, plain, young, and virginal. Lydia Robinson was wealthy, beautiful, in her forties and sexually experienced (a mother of five children). But couldn’t her life be hard, and her story be worth telling, too?
You make her a bit less villainous in your novel than history sees her. Do you think this way about her?
I set out to write Lydia as deeply flawed, but I hope that, by the end of the novel, readers can understand why she is the way she is.
She’s trapped in a loveless and sexless marriage, with no access to divorce. She has no property rights and no opportunity to vote. Her education has been limited. She can’t even choose what time to eat or drink. Thanks to restrictive Victorian fashions, it’s hard for her to dress without assistance.
I think very few people in life are villains. Many are selfish. Most have problems. I tried to depict both Branwell and Lydia as troubled people, at a vulnerable moment in their lives, who find a dangerous match in each other. 
Your bio says you spent you childhood regaling your stories on your younger sister. Why is now the right time for your first novel?
I always knew I wanted to be a writer. But for years I didn’t really have anything I was burning to say. By the time I started working on Bronte’s Mistress, I had plenty I wanted to express.
In some ways the novel is my answer to the nineteenth-century novels I grew up devouring, Charlotte Bronte’s in particular. In other ways, it’s a novel very much born out of what I see playing out in the world today—the gendered expectations that all of us suffer from, and a pervasive double standard that persists when it comes to policing women’s sexualities.
I started writing the book when I was twenty-five. I’m twenty-nine at its release. While my main character starts the novel at age forty-three, I wonder if later in my life I’ll look back at this book as an expression of much if what I was feeling in my late twenties. 
Even though Lydia is a kinder gentler version in your novel, I still had problems with her choices. Not so much toward her husband, but how cold she seemed to her children. Is this common for upper-crust women of her time? Did the servants raise most of the wealthy English children?
It can be hard for us to wrap our heads around today, but the very idea of parenting didn’t really emerge in the West until the late twentieth century, and, as you note, distance was very common between wealthy parents and their children.
In Bronte’s Mistress, Lydia mentions that her first four babies were taken from her immediately to be sent to wet nurses, and she makes a relatively unusual choice in insisting she feed her fifth and final child, Georgiana, herself. It is this daughter, who has been dead nearly two years at the novel’s opening, who was her favorite, and I think we could see Lydia, and potentially her husband Edmund, as still suffering from the trauma of her loss. Lydia even tells us that she’s keeping her surviving children at arm’s length as she’s scared that loving them too much will lead to God taking them away too.
Lydia’s daughters then have been passed from wet nurse, to nursemaid, to governess. They’re also teenagers with all the usual difficulties that implies. Lydia, by the standards of her time, could even be seen as coddling. She never inflicts corporal punishment on her children, even though this was widely regarded as essential. She involves herself in their education, and in the girls’ marital prospects. It’s fascinating to me that, although we never see Edmund really interact with his children at all (except to tell them in one scene to be quiet), I am only ever questioned about Lydia’s failings as a mother, never his as a father.What an interesting and in this #metoo era inexcusable thing to ponder, I guess in my case it’s coming from my mother perspective but still wow great point and thanks for mentioning it.
All of your characters were so realistic, but I have to admit I didn’t have a favorite. Am I alone in this, or have you heard others say the same?
You’re not alone, but there are definitely a few characters who stand out as fan favorites.
Some readers have told me that they see Lydia’s eldest daughter, also named Lydia, as a heroine in the tale. She could be seen as rejecting her mother’s pragmatism and making her own more romantic choices. Or you could agree with her mother that she is just being naïve and foolish!
I’ve also heard a lot of love for Dr. Crosby, Lydia’s one friend, who was one of my personal favorite characters to write.
The Brontes all seemed to have their own demons too. Was this truthfully portrayed?
A lot is known about the Brontes, so I cleaved close to the historical record here. Branwell’s indiscretions may be the most dramatic, but as mentioned in the book, Charlotte Bronte was also suffering from an unrequited love—she fell for her married schoolmaster in Brussels. When Branwell mentions this to Lydia in my novel, she becomes obsessed with the idea that there’s a kinship between her and Charlotte, a kinship I’m sure Charlotte would have rejected 
Which of the characters gave you the most trouble while writing the book?
Branwell. He needed to be attractive enough to make Lydia’s recklessness in entering into an affair with him plausible. But his descent into addiction needed to be expected too. My Branwell isn’t the Byronic hero he wants to be, even if he can play the part for a time.
Staying on the topic of characters, you said you found a font of information about your cast from census records. Where else did you find information?
My Author’s Note details my extensive research as well as what’s true and what’s not for readers of the novel. However, some of my favorite sources included…
An inventory of the furniture and books at Lydia’s home, Thorp Green Hall, so most of the interior décor I mention was really there.
The diaries of a local man, George Whitehead, that provided me with many wonderful details about Lydia’s servants and their families.
Eighteen letters written by the real Lydia, which I got to read/hold! From these I took her sign off—yours very truly.
The gravestones of many of my characters, which I saw while on my research trip. It was emotionally affecting to stand before them.
Your bio says that you’re busy working on book 2. Can you share anything about it with us?
The new book I’m working on is also historical fiction but set in a different country and time period. That’s all I can say for now, but it’s been a lot of fun to write and research, even when not all my sources have been in English!
Finola thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, good luck with your fantastic new book.
Thanks for having me.


·      “…a page-turning read full of passion and fire…[Austin] dares to give us a main character as flawed as Jane Austen’s Lady Susan and Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara—a real, hot-blooded woman who has desires and passions and isn’t afraid to act on them.” —Syrie James, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte

·      Brontë's Mistress gives voice to a woman who, until now, has been voiceless; and, indeed, to thousands of women whose lives, like Lydia's, were so terribly suffocating.” —Molly Greeley, author of The Clergyman's Wife

·      “Confident, convincing and engrossing, and with a sure historical touch, it illuminates another dark corner in the Brontës' story.” —Gill Hornby, author of Miss Austen

·      "Rich in heart and detail, Finola Austin’s novel Brontë’s Mistress is a beautifully created tour-de-force." —Sarah Shoemaker, author of Mr. Rochester

·      “This is not a book about a nineteenth-century affair - it is about using physical passion and experience to get at the very sense of self that society wanted women of the time to repress and even deny. It is a daring, troubling, and sophisticated first novel, and it heralds a most intriguing new voice in historical fiction.” —Natalie Jenner, author of The Jane Austen Society

About the author:
Finola Austin, also known as the Secret Victorianist on her award-winning blog, is an England-born, Northern Ireland-raised, Brooklyn-based historical novelist and lover of the 19th century. By day, she works in digital advertising. Find her online at Brontë’s Mistress is her debut novel.


Aug 03           Bronteblog (Guest Blog)                          
Aug 03           The Reading Frenzy (Interview)                           
Aug 03           Austenprose—A Jane Austen Blog (Review)                         
Aug 04           Lu's Reviews (Review)                             
Aug 04           The Best Historical Fiction (Review)                             
Aug 05           The Write Review (Review)                                 
Aug 05           English Historical Fiction Authors (Guest Blog)                                 
Aug 06           Historical Fiction Reader (Review)                                
Aug 06           Captivated Reading            (Review)                               
Aug 07           Reading the Past (Review)                                  
Aug 07           Diary of an Eccentric (Excerpt)                           
Aug 08           Book Nursie (Review)                                                    
Aug 10           Frolic Media (Interview)                             
Aug 10           Historical Fiction with Spirit (Review)                           
Aug 10           Bronteblog (Review)                                 
Aug 11           Chicks, Rogues and Scandals (Review)                                  
Aug 11           A Bookish Way of Life (Review)                         
Aug 12           Laura's Reviews (Review)                                   
Aug 12           Historical Fiction Reader (Interview)                             
Aug 13           The Lit Bitch (Excerpt)                               
Aug 14           Silver Petticoat Reviews (Guest Blog)                         
Aug 14           The Reading Frenzy (Review)                             
Aug 15           The Write Review (Live Facebook Interview)                           
Aug 16           Probably at the Library (Review)


  1. This sounds truly fascinating and very much like something I would love! Thanks for sharing this and wonderful interview! I love the Bronte sisters but I confess I know very little about them and their brother other than what is widely known about them.

    1. Thanks Ali it was an interesting read and not one that I would have picked up on my own. stay safe!

  2. Fantastic interview Debbie. Always fun learning about the author and their writing. This looks suspenseful.

    1. it was Kim and informational. Thanks for stopping by

  3. Thanks for the great interview, Debbie, and for your support of Finola and her debut novel. Best, LA

  4. This one caught my eye earlier and I did mark it for reading. I'm more interested after enjoying the interview. :)

  5. Thanks for the enjoyable interview

  6. She does sound really interesting

  7. I have never felt any draw towards the Bronte's but I know many are fascinated. Sounds like this author took some time to put herself "walking in the shoes" of a couple of these characters.

  8. Thank you for the great questions! I very much enjoyed this interview!