The Madwoman Upstairs

A Novel

The Madwoman Upstairs

In Catherine Lowell’s smart and original debut novel—hailed by Deborah Harkness as a “charming and memorable read”—the last remaining descendant of the Brontë family embarks on a modern-day literary scavenger hunt, using only the clues her eccentric father left behind, and the Brontës’ own novels.

Samantha Whipple is used to stirring up speculation wherever she goes. Since her father’s untimely death, she is the presumed heir to a long-rumored trove of diaries, paintings, letters, and early novel drafts passed down from the Brontë family—a hidden fortune never revealed to anyone outside of the family, but endlessly speculated about by Brontë scholars and fanatics. Samantha, however, has never seen this alleged estate and for all she knows, it’s just as fictional as Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights.

But everything changes when Samantha enrolls at Oxford University and long lost objects from her past begin rematerializing in her life, beginning with an old novel annotated in her father’s handwriting. With the help of a handsome but inscrutable professor, Samantha plunges into a vast literary mystery and an untold family legacy, one that can only be solved by repurposing the tools of literature and decoding the clues hidden within the Brontës’ own novels.

A fast-paced adventure from start to finish for readers who devoured The Weird Sisters and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, The Madwoman Upstairs is a moving exploration of what happens when the greatest truth is, in fact, fiction.
  • Touchstone | 
  • 352 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781501124211 | 
  • March 2016
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Madwoman Upstairs includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Catherine Lowell. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


As the last living descendant of the Brontës, Samantha Whipple is accustomed to the stares, rumors, and questions that come with being a member of one of the most discussed literary families of all time. She grows up studying the novels of her long-lost relatives under the tutelage of her notoriously eccentric father, whose death when Samantha is a teenager mysteriously mirrors events that occur in both the Brontës’ novels and their lives. At twenty, Samantha enrolls at Oxford University, where she takes up residence in an isolated tower and begins finding a series of Brontë novels left on her doorstep, each one encrypted with obtuse notes from her late father. Upon further study, Samantha realizes that the clues in the books point to valuable objects from the long-rumored Brontë estate. Against her better judgment—and the rules of Oxford—Samantha enlists the aid of her inscrutable yet undeniably handsome professor to find the true nature of her inheritance. Along the way she rea see more

About the Author

Catherine Lowell
Photograph © Karolina Novitska

Catherine Lowell

Catherine Lowell received her BA in English from Stanford University, and currently lives in New York City. The Madwoman Upstairs is her first novel.