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Enhanced Edition of the bestselling Mrs Robinson's Disgrace, including author videos and podcasts On a mild winter's evening in 1850, Isabella Robinson set out for a party. Her carriage bumped across the wide cobbled streets of Edinburgh's Georgian New Town and drew up at 8 Royal Circus, a grand sandstone house lit by gas lamps. This was the home of the rich widow Lady Enhanced Edition of the bestselling Mrs Robinson's Disgrace, including author videos and podcasts On a mild winter's evening in 1850, Isabella Robinson set out for a party. Her carriage bumped across the wide cobbled streets of Edinburgh's Georgian New Town and drew up at 8 Royal Circus, a grand sandstone house lit by gas lamps. This was the home of the rich widow Lady Drysdale, a vivacious hostess whose soirees were the centre of an energetic intellectual scene. Lady Drysdale's guests were gathered in the high, airy drawing rooms on the first floor, the ladies in dresses of glinting silk and satin, bodices pulled tight over boned corsets; the gentlemen in tailcoats, waistcoats, neckties and pleated shirt fronts, dark narrow trousers and shining shoes. When Mrs Robinson joined the throng she was introduced to Lady Drysdale's daughter and son-in-law, Mary and Edward Lane. She was at once enchanted by the handsome Mr Lane, a medical student ten years her junior. He was 'fascinating', she told her diary, before chastising herself for being so susceptible to a man's charms. But a wish had taken hold of her, which she was to find hard to shake... A compelling story of romance and fidelity, insanity, fantasy, and the boundaries of privacy in a society clinging to rigid ideas about marriage and female sexuality, Mrs Robinson's Disgrace brings vividly to life a complex, frustrated Victorian wife, longing for passion and learning, companionship and love.


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Enhanced Edition of the bestselling Mrs Robinson's Disgrace, including author videos and podcasts On a mild winter's evening in 1850, Isabella Robinson set out for a party. Her carriage bumped across the wide cobbled streets of Edinburgh's Georgian New Town and drew up at 8 Royal Circus, a grand sandstone house lit by gas lamps. This was the home of the rich widow Lady Enhanced Edition of the bestselling Mrs Robinson's Disgrace, including author videos and podcasts On a mild winter's evening in 1850, Isabella Robinson set out for a party. Her carriage bumped across the wide cobbled streets of Edinburgh's Georgian New Town and drew up at 8 Royal Circus, a grand sandstone house lit by gas lamps. This was the home of the rich widow Lady Drysdale, a vivacious hostess whose soirees were the centre of an energetic intellectual scene. Lady Drysdale's guests were gathered in the high, airy drawing rooms on the first floor, the ladies in dresses of glinting silk and satin, bodices pulled tight over boned corsets; the gentlemen in tailcoats, waistcoats, neckties and pleated shirt fronts, dark narrow trousers and shining shoes. When Mrs Robinson joined the throng she was introduced to Lady Drysdale's daughter and son-in-law, Mary and Edward Lane. She was at once enchanted by the handsome Mr Lane, a medical student ten years her junior. He was 'fascinating', she told her diary, before chastising herself for being so susceptible to a man's charms. But a wish had taken hold of her, which she was to find hard to shake... A compelling story of romance and fidelity, insanity, fantasy, and the boundaries of privacy in a society clinging to rigid ideas about marriage and female sexuality, Mrs Robinson's Disgrace brings vividly to life a complex, frustrated Victorian wife, longing for passion and learning, companionship and love.

30 review for Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace, The Private Diary of A Victorian Lady ENHANCED EDITION: Including author videos and podcasts

  1. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Roden

    I'm currently about halfway through this, and, frankly, am finding it somewhat disappointing. I had such high hopes after the absorbing THE SUSPICIONS OF MR WHICHER, but the first section alone had far too much irrelevant padding, and I fear somewhat for the remainder. While there was much more to interest once the account of the legal proceedings got underway, this book remained something of a disappointment throughout. Despite that, I still feel it's worthy of 3***

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    Where I got the book: e-ARC from NetGalley. I'm sort of hovering between 4 and 5 stars for this one, but I'm settling for 4 because it took me a little while to get into this book. Summerscale's deadpan reporting voice has the happy effect that the author disappears from the narrative leaving the characters to speak for themselves, but this also means you have to get to know the characters before you can get engaged so the first 50 pages can be tough. I had the same problem with The Suspicions of Where I got the book: e-ARC from NetGalley. I'm sort of hovering between 4 and 5 stars for this one, but I'm settling for 4 because it took me a little while to get into this book. Summerscale's deadpan reporting voice has the happy effect that the author disappears from the narrative leaving the characters to speak for themselves, but this also means you have to get to know the characters before you can get engaged so the first 50 pages can be tough. I had the same problem with The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher. This is the true story of Isabella Robinson, a frustrated mother and wife with, evidently, too much time on her hands. Her husband is a controlling bully in true Victorian paterfamilias style, often absent from the home and, one suspects, from the marital bed. So Isabella's eyes rove...and so does her pen, in the form of a diary in which she recounts her obsessions with various men of her acquaintance. When one of her attempts at conquest appears to succeed, Isabella tells all to Dear Diary...and husband Henry finds out. He drags Isabella and her supposed lover into the newly formed Divorce Court, and the diary becomes the centerpiece of a well-publicized scandal. Oh, those Victorians! This book is a treasury of Victorian naughtiness and prudery hand in hand, as Summerscale unearths skeletons in more than one closet. Charles Darwin makes a few appearances, as does George Eliot and dear old Dickens. If you're a student of the era you'll find many delights, including a slew of eccentric Victorian names (Sir Cresswell Cresswell, anyone?) There is also some thoughtful reflection on, and elucidation of, the position of a middle-class wife in a society where double standards were an everyday experience. Recommended.

  3. 4 out of 5

    BAM The Bibliomaniac

    A life of discontentment with a loss in faith of man and miracles This poor woman was certainly a victim of the Victorian era. After hearing the diary recitations I think Isabella missed her calling. She should have written bawdy novels and made a killing. Proper ladies hiding the penny book behind a magazine's pages sitting in the parlor, becoming flushed and distracted as their husbands elucidate on their day's events. The author proves that Mrs. Robinson's predicament was not an isolated A life of discontentment with a loss in faith of man and miracles This poor woman was certainly a victim of the Victorian era. After hearing the diary recitations I think Isabella missed her calling. She should have written bawdy novels and made a killing. Proper ladies hiding the penny book behind a magazine's pages sitting in the parlor, becoming flushed and distracted as their husbands elucidate on their day's events. The author proves that Mrs. Robinson's predicament was not an isolated incident. Women and their desires were suppressed and repressed and used as a plot twist in many literary contributions of the times. Sexual inequality is still seen today; men are studs, women are whores. Women deserve to be raped. Single mothers shouldn't have a social life. Has society evolved?

  4. 4 out of 5

    Debra

    I feel like this is two separate books in one, neither of which I have any desire to re-visit. The title starts out promising, and then it's all yawn from there. The book really does not pick up speed until midway through, at the actual divorce proceedings. Even then, Summerscale takes so many side trips down irrelevant avenues that I started to wonder if these tangents don't serve the purpose of fluff and filler. Do we really have an aching need to learn everything there is to know about I feel like this is two separate books in one, neither of which I have any desire to re-visit. The title starts out promising, and then it's all yawn from there. The book really does not pick up speed until midway through, at the actual divorce proceedings. Even then, Summerscale takes so many side trips down irrelevant avenues that I started to wonder if these tangents don't serve the purpose of fluff and filler. Do we really have an aching need to learn everything there is to know about hydrotherapy, phrenology and other voodoo sciences of the Victorian era? Or could we not write a book filled with the indignities of a woman's place in that society, the medical history behind hysteria and declarations of insanity due to female complaints, and the laws and precedents that led up to the divorce of Henry Robinson and his wife, Isabella? I think there is an abundance of material available in the world that readers of this book are looking for and will not find here. Too bad, as that would have strengthened this story in a historical context. I wanted to learn and I was denied, instead fed trivia that had very little to do with what should have been the main subject of the book. I'm truly disappointed, and that does not happen often.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Charity

    This morning I heard a story on the radio show Radio 360 about Jace Clayton, a Brooklyn-based DJ also known as DJ/rupture, and how he pulls together sometimes quite different pieces of music and merges them into something new. I found it thrilling to hear the original pieces and then hear how Clayton brought them together. This was similar to how I felt while reading Mrs Robinson's Disgrace. Kate Summerscale skillfully weaves a variety of elements into a cohesive narrative, which I found This morning I heard a story on the radio show Radio 360 about Jace Clayton, a Brooklyn-based DJ also known as DJ/rupture, and how he pulls together sometimes quite different pieces of music and merges them into something new. I found it thrilling to hear the original pieces and then hear how Clayton brought them together. This was similar to how I felt while reading Mrs Robinson's Disgrace. Kate Summerscale skillfully weaves a variety of elements into a cohesive narrative, which I found absolutely engaging. I picked up this book after reading a review by Teresa on Shelf Love. Teresa seemed most struck by the idea that the act of keeping a diary would in itself have an influence on the diarist's thoughts and actions, that because in her diary Isabella Robinson dwelled so much on her infatuations and her feelings of being trapped by her marriage, she actually heightened and perpetuated those feelings. While I, too, found this idea intriguing, I was more interested in where Mrs Robinson's diary and the ensuing divorce trial were situated in relation to the culture at that time. Victorian England was very focused on appearances and on maintaining institutions. While, given that atmosphere, it might seem an odd time to establish a Divorce Court, it wasn't really divorce as we think of it today. The purpose of the Divorce Court in Victorian England wasn't to dissolve unions that were unpleasant for either party. The purpose of the Divorce Court at the time, Summerscale suggests, was to strengthen the institution of marriage by weeding out the "bad" examples. As a result, many of the rulings contained elements that we might find strange today. For example, there was the case in which Fanny Curtis was granted a divorce from her abusive husband but was not granted custody of their children. The vice-chancellor deciding the custody case determined that it was more important to the fabric of society to uphold a husband's rights, even if that meant leaving children in the hands of someone known to be abusive in his actions. "However harsh, however cruel the husband may be," the vice-chancellor explained, "it does not justify the wife's want of that due submission to the husband, which is her duty both by the law of God and by the law of man." Upholding the institution of marriage and the man's role within it was more important than the safety and wellbeing of the people affected by it. If the institution of marriage should fall, the concern seemed to be, society itself would be in danger. It struck me several times while reading this book just how delicate the Victorians seemed to view society. Everywhere you turn, there's a threat. After Henry Robinson read his wife's diary with its apparent confession of adultery and amorous feelings for multiple men, he filed for divorce in the new court. Because he had no evidence for the adultery besides his wife's diary, excerpts were presented as evidence in court. Initially, the newspapers printed these excerpts as they were read in court, but after a while, the prurient content of the excerpts began to alarm some readers. Women had been barred from the courtroom during the reading of the most expository of the passages, but here women and even children could read the same material in the morning paper. Some publications chose not to publish these extracts because they might give readers (particularly women) bad ideas. Summerscale writes: The idea that certain kinds of writing were dangerous---especially to young women---was commonplace: usually the culprits were French novels, but Isabella Robinson's diary showed that a middle-class Englishwoman could assault her own decency in prose. England recognized the bad influence of foreign novels like Flaubert's Madame Bovary, which addresses issues of adultery and (gasp!) women's sexual urges, but now it appeared necessary to protect the women of England even from themselves. This is the beauty of this book. Summerscale doesn't just present the diary of one woman or chronicle the collapse of one marriage. Instead, she places these elements in historical context. We see how the lives of Isabella and Henry Robinson are interwoven with the culture and the ideas that were emerging at the time. She clearly demonstrates to her readers the tumult in England at the time as ideas of spirituality, sexuality, art, intellectualism, and the role of institutions in the lives of individuals were being scrutinized and inevitably altered in the examining. She shows the anxiety with which these new and dangerous ideas were received and how all of this coalesced in the pages of Isabella Robinson's diary and then intersected with the public sphere again during the divorce proceedings. I enjoyed observing Summerscale's skill in pulling all of this together, and I highly enjoyed reading the resulting narrative.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Naomi

    Summerscale, again, provides an interesting portrayal of the Victorian England criminal/legal system. This time, she focuses on divorce laws, unfair to women, through presenting the case of Isabelle Robinson's divorce through her infidelity. Kate Summerscale brings light to some of the most unusual cases in Victorian England, such as her last book, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective, and now this one. She brings what could be an a Summerscale, again, provides an interesting portrayal of the Victorian England criminal/legal system. This time, she focuses on divorce laws, unfair to women, through presenting the case of Isabelle Robinson's divorce through her infidelity. Kate Summerscale brings light to some of the most unusual cases in Victorian England, such as her last book, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective, and now this one. She brings what could be an a boring law of the times to life in her descriptions and implications on real people. I also love that she brings the Victorian period to life in her descriptions of life in England around that time. Being a lover of literature, particularly from that period of time, I loved how Ms. Summerscale brought in frequent examples from novels written in early 1800's England. I had read all of the books she identified, so it was wonderful to see how she applied them to that period of time. I can always count on her books to educate me and have had situations where the storyline, such as with "Suspicions", come up in other media, such as television shows and such that it has helped to add to my understanding of the stories!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Wollstonecrafthomegirl

    This was thoroughly enjoyable and interesting. If you want to read some well researched, accessible mid-nineteenth century British history, this is the book from you. Whilst its about Mrs Robinson, her life, her relationships, her diaries and the ultimate divorce proceedings which followed them, the fact of writing about these matters causes Summerscale to explore many others. Namely, sex, medicine, religion (or the lack of it), law, gender, marriage, sex, public vs private and a whole variety This was thoroughly enjoyable and interesting. If you want to read some well researched, accessible mid-nineteenth century British history, this is the book from you. Whilst it’s about Mrs Robinson, her life, her relationships, her diaries and the ultimate divorce proceedings which followed them, the fact of writing about these matters causes Summerscale to explore many others. Namely, sex, medicine, religion (or the lack of it), law, gender, marriage, sex, public vs private and a whole variety of other themes. A number of significant Victorian names crop up in this book (because very rich, learned people are always linked in numerous random ways) - Darwin, the Drysdale family, George Combe and his wife. There’s also an exploration of the new divorce law and court and the cases arising from it in its earliest years, before proceedings were moved (largely) into private. Summerscale sets out the plight of Mrs Robinson and interweaves these themes, characters and stories very deftly without breaking the central thread of the historical narrative at the centre of the book. The writing is narrative and wonderfully descriptive: "Isabella was gazing across a gulf from rich to poor, from the sparse, clear streets of modern Edinburgh to the busy vertical slums of the old." (p. 14) “The sun funnelled in to the courtroom through a glass turret and a ring of round skylights in its dome, bathing the long desks and benches below. The stench of the city was pushing in too. In the heat wave that laid siege to London that June, a ‘Great Stink’ of sewage lifted off the fat banks of the Thames and sifted into the Houses of Parliament and the adjoining courts…” (p. 112) Many of the personalities are introduced with neat character sketches, and sometimes descriptions. When I was reading I could picture the workings at Edward Lane’s house Moor Park and I almost felt myself under the gaze of Sir Cresswell Cresswell, surely the best named jurist ever to have graced the Bench of England and Wales. However, there were, for me, some issues. I never really felt like Summerscale got to grips with Isabella herself. In some respects the diary and the events which followed were allowed to characterise the woman entirely, as a consequence of which she comes across as rather a sad victim of circumstance. Perhaps that’s simply all we have left of her – the law reports in which the saddest moments of her life were chronicled, but Summerscale does a lot of analysis into the thematic issues her story raises and makes some neat points, I think she could have fleshed out the woman at the centre of it all in the same way. Perhaps linked to this, it felt like a lacuna in the book that Summerscale never passes comment on whether she thinks that the diaries were true or not. That might be by design – let the reader decide – but I think she should have addressed it. She has read everything of the woman and those around her and is best placed to address the issue. Henry Robinson was also underplayed. He comes across as a villain and a Victorian husband of the worst sort, but one felt there might have been more there, or more to say to back up such a conclusion. On my part I could not understand his decision to bring the divorce proceedings, it seemed a terribly public and expensive way for a proud, penny-pinching man to get revenge upon his wife. I would’ve liked to see that and him explored a little more. One final moan: end notes are something I will always distrust – I like my references where I can see them (or most easily access them) at the bottom of the page. I read the end notes and it all seemed sound enough, but I like to be able to glance down and check a source rather than having to search for it at the back of the book. That said, a great read and I will be picking up Summerscale’s other books in the future.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Pat

    What an incredilbly tedious book. It was chosen by some-one in my book group as the book to be discussed in August or I would never have read it. I find Kate Summerscale's writing style intensely irritating. This is, essentially, the story of a Victorian divorce when divorce had only just become a possiblity for the middle classes. As such it should have been very interesting but it really wasn't. The author certainly does the research but she doesn't appear to have a stop button. Everything is What an incredilbly tedious book. It was chosen by some-one in my book group as the book to be discussed in August or I would never have read it. I find Kate Summerscale's writing style intensely irritating. This is, essentially, the story of a Victorian divorce when divorce had only just become a possiblity for the middle classes. As such it should have been very interesting but it really wasn't. The author certainly does the research but she doesn't appear to have a stop button. Everything is expanded on to the point where one is longing to read less not more! The book does give an insight into the conditions for women in Victorian society but it does not engage the emotions in any way. So, this is a text book complete with notes and bibliography almost longer than the book itself and I am not sure I would recommend it to anyone except someone doing serious research into Victorian marriage. And even then, I think there are probably much better written books in this area.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Francine

    This biographical story about Isabella Robinson broke my heart. Imagine that you are Isabella: you are a Victorian lady and have had a privileged upbringing. Nevertheless, you were married off not once, but twice. Your first husband died, leaving you with a small child, and your second husband is avaricious, cruel and a philanderer. Since you live in Victorian times, anything you own is the property of your husband's. Your father gave you £5000 as a wedding gift for your first wedding; he gave This biographical story about Isabella Robinson broke my heart. Imagine that you are Isabella: you are a Victorian lady and have had a privileged upbringing. Nevertheless, you were married off not once, but twice. Your first husband died, leaving you with a small child, and your second husband is avaricious, cruel and a philanderer. Since you live in Victorian times, anything you own is the property of your husband's. Your father gave you £5000 as a wedding gift for your first wedding; he gave you another £5000 as a wedding gift for your second wedding. This is a good sum of money (not counting the inheritance you received after your father passed away), and with interest, you earn around £400 a year. Since these were your father's gift to you, your husband cannot touch any of your money. Except that your second husband, Henry Robinson, cajoles then insists that you sign over all your blank checks to him, so that he has access to all your money. Eventually, to keep the peace in your marriage, you relent. You also find out that your husband has been cheating on you; he has taken on a mistress and has fathered daughters with her. Furthermore, he spends most of his time away from you; he is gone for months at a time, doing business (spending your money), building houses (from the earnings of the businesses you have essentially financed) and being with his other family (his mistress' family). You want out of the marriage, but can't leave, since English law will more than likely award your husband sole custody of your children. You have no choice but to remain with Henry. You live an unhappy life, empty and lonely, save for the time you spend with your children and when you visit friends. Your friends are an intellectual group, and offer you an escape from the tediousness of your quotidian life. It is a refreshing escape, and makes the monotony of your life bearable. Every time your husband comes home, however, he finds fault in everything you do and say, as well as in the children's behavior. The one thing that offers you true solace is the time you spend writing about your life in your diary. You describe all your hopes and dreams, and yes, even your attraction toward other men -- crushes, in today's parlance -- such as your children's tutor or a neighboring doctor, because you simply are not receiving the respect, love and attention you crave and desire from your husband. You write about your husband's atrocious behavior, and you also document every time you have had a conversation or a visit with a good friend you have fallen in love with, Dr. Edward Lane. You and Dr. Lane have long conversations about poetry, literature, philosophy. In other words, he stimulates you intellectually, makes you feel like a woman by igniting all these feelings you never felt in either of your marriages, and unlike your husband, he is a devoted father and husband. When your husband discovers your diary -- and remember, anything you own, including any of your papers, are considered his property -- he uses that as a means to take your children away from you. It is also his way of gaining a separation from you at first, then again to obtain a divorce later on, on the grounds that you had committed adultery, and that the proof was in your diary. What's worse, the contents of your diaries are laid out not only to the judges at the trial, but are provided to newspapers and magazines as well, so that everyone in England, Scotland and Wales now has access to your innermost thoughts, to the collapse of your marriage, to your fears regarding separation from your children. It is salacious reading; so much so that some newspaper editors are reluctant to publish what occurred in court or excerpts from your diary, lest children inadvertently read the paper at the breakfast table. Nevertheless, others will publish it; your writing becomes a daily topic of conversation, and not in a good way. The boundary between truth and fiction are discussed, argued, and deliberated in the courtroom, and you have no choice but to remain silent. The man you were in love with, Dr. Lane, denies ever having had any relations with you, and in order to save him and his reputation (as well as to prevent Henry from receiving a monetary amount from Edward, if you and he are proven guilty of adultery), you must admit that everything you wrote about him in your diary was nothing but a fanciful lie. Your lawyers plead insanity -- because why else would a perfectly sound and normal woman write such things in her diary, if not because she couldn't distinguish between fact and fiction, and also because she was suffering from erotomania and/or nyphomania -- and again, you remain silent. ----- This was a really good work of narrative non-fiction. It showcased how powerless women were, in a time when women were actually becoming their own persons, holding down jobs, having careers and were regarded as esteemed writers, philosophers, nurses and business women. The double standard that was prevalent at the time was disheartening. The fact that for a woman to request a separation or a divorce, she had to prove unusual cruelty, abandonment or physical abuse but not adultery was ridiculous. On the other hand, the primary reason a man could file for separation or divorce was...you got it...adultery. This book had me livid at times (in a good way). While it is still unclear whether Isabella Robinson had an affair with Edward Lane, what is sure is that in her mind, and by her own admission, and ultimately, in the minds of everyone else at the time, she committed adultery of the heart. By loving someone else, regardless of whether it was physical or not, her husband was able to take her own words and use it against her, taking her children, her money and her life away from her. There were so many jaw-dropping moments in this book, but I don't want to go into them since they're all spoilers. Suffice to say, as much as the Victorian era is one of my favorites, I don't think I could have abided the double standards as far as marriage went. It's a shame Isabella hadn't been born just sixty or seventy years later: her whole life may have been different if she had been.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Quirkyreader

    I did this book on audio. By doing it that way it gave me a better reading expirence.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Aimee

    Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace tells the story of Isabella Robinson. Isabella is married to Henry, a cold and strict man who is not home often. Isabella is left to take care of their home and children most often alone and she finds her life dull and passionless. She writes a diary of her restlessness and for her desire for another man. The other man is Dr. Edward Lane who is married and has children. The diary tells of Isabella's hopes, desires, fantasies, and the lack of feeling she has for her own Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace tells the story of Isabella Robinson. Isabella is married to Henry, a cold and strict man who is not home often. Isabella is left to take care of their home and children most often alone and she finds her life dull and passionless. She writes a diary of her restlessness and for her desire for another man. The other man is Dr. Edward Lane who is married and has children. The diary tells of Isabella's hopes, desires, fantasies, and the lack of feeling she has for her own husband. Henry finds the diary, becomes enraged and files for a divorce, which has just become legal in England during this time. The book gives a detailed look at the contents of the diary and the legal battle that ensued over it. This book is a detailed look at a woman in the Victorian age who is unhappy in her marriage and looking for an escape. The book talks of the roles of women at this time and how they lived with so little power or say in their own lives. While I found the information given interesting, this just was not an exciting read for me. There was so much information given on different topics relevant to the time that I found myself skimming through some of the parts. I felt bad for Isabella and the situation she found herself in, but I did not think she was very likable. I thought she was rather selfish and seemed to be constantly looking for male attention. I did not agree with the choices she made, but I could see her reasons based on the details we were given of the life she had with her husband. This was just an ok read for me but I could see someone more interested in the subject or the Victorian Era enjoying it more than I did. It is a solidly researched book with lots of information about the time.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Josie

    [Audiobook version] This really didn't live up to its title. Mrs Robinson came across as embarrassing rather than scandalous, flinging herself at younger men without seeming to realise that they really weren't attracted by her cougarish antics. The affair with Dr Lane, which this book is centred around, left me baffled. One moment Mrs Robinson is desperately bombarding him with gushing letters (to which he doesn't reply) and I'm thinking, give up, love, and the next minute they're having sex in a [Audiobook version] This really didn't live up to its title. Mrs Robinson came across as embarrassing rather than scandalous, flinging herself at younger men without seeming to realise that they really weren't attracted by her cougarish antics. The affair with Dr Lane, which this book is centred around, left me baffled. One moment Mrs Robinson is desperately bombarding him with gushing letters (to which he doesn't reply) and I'm thinking, give up, love, and the next minute they're having sex in a carriage? Except then Kate Summerscale goes on to say later that Mrs Robinson and Dr Lane probably had sex for the first time in his office, and revises her earlier description of the hanky-panky in the carriage by saying it could just have been kissing. It was pretty difficult to keep track of what was going on. There was a lot of padding and going off on unconnected tangents. Add to that the fact that all the people involved were thoroughly dislikable, and I wonder why I bothered listening to the whole book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    3.5 Summerscale definitely has the knack of making nonfiction readable for all, not dry as so many are. Once again I am so glad that I did not live back than, woman had absolutely no rights of their own and Mrs. Robinson's husband was not a very nice man at all. The Victorian legal system, the books that the system tried to suppress, how little upper class woman had to do if they wanted to challenge their minds, their complete dependance on the males in their lives are all highlighted in this 3.5 Summerscale definitely has the knack of making nonfiction readable for all, not dry as so many are. Once again I am so glad that I did not live back than, woman had absolutely no rights of their own and Mrs. Robinson's husband was not a very nice man at all. The Victorian legal system, the books that the system tried to suppress, how little upper class woman had to do if they wanted to challenge their minds, their complete dependance on the males in their lives are all highlighted in this very interesting book. Her diary being read in public and used by her husband in a divorce action was such an invasion of privacy, I felt so very sorry for this poor woman who stood to lose everything including her children. Will appeal to those fascinated by Victorian society, woman;s rights and the legal system. ARC from NetGalley.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Review from Badelynge. In Kate Summerscale's previous book The Suspicions of Mr Whicher the author demonstrated that if you are going to try marketing what was essentially an extended essay you could do worse than find a subject that included a notorious Victorian murder, family secrets and a celebrated Scotland Yard Detective. It was a massive bestseller. If you expected Summerscale to choose another such mystery, perhaps another murder and another dashing detective then you might be a little Review from Badelynge. In Kate Summerscale's previous book The Suspicions of Mr Whicher the author demonstrated that if you are going to try marketing what was essentially an extended essay you could do worse than find a subject that included a notorious Victorian murder, family secrets and a celebrated Scotland Yard Detective. It was a massive bestseller. If you expected Summerscale to choose another such mystery, perhaps another murder and another dashing detective then you might be a little disappointed that this time the focus is on one of the most notable of the early divorce trials of the 1850s. Henry Robinson is a middle class businessman who discovers his wife's secret diary, the contents of which form the basis of his legal attempts to divorce her. The case hinges on whether the illicit affair detailed within the pages is truth or some elaborate fiction. Also on trial is the professional and personal reputation of the object of Mrs Robinson's obsession, Edward Lane, respected by the great and the good as a brilliant practitioner of hydrotherapy working from his clinic/spa at Moor Park. The verdict is less important, to the reader at least, than the study of a period of history focusing on social aspects like the law, marriage, health, class, family, sex, the psyche, morality, science and religion. Lane and Mrs Robinson have a large and eclectic circle of contacts and friends that reach deep into British literary circles and the Victorian scientific intelligentsia; Darwin is one of Lane's patients and George Combe, a proponent of phrenology, is a frequent correspondent of them both. Sumerscale melds the different sources into the essay with care and the proper focus for the themes explored. The tone is certainly engaging and never dry. As a slice of social history the book works very well. It might be the case that some people might be more inclined to read the diaries in question and make their own mind up without Summerscales commentary but as a fuller snapshot of the times Mrs Robinson's disgrace would be my choice. Divorce case aside the book also celebrates the early history of diaries, their place in the British home and like the crux of the trial, the line between factual journal and their place among fiction as entertainment.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Angie Boyter

    Mixed emotions about this book; started out quite enthused, got bored, and then was caught up again in the the second half. On the one hand, it reads like a novel, a portrait of an upper-class wife of that period and a fascinating account of the laws and procedures for divorce in the mid-nineteenth century. The first half of the book is like an English Madame Bovary, using Isabella's diary extensively to describe a neurotic but also somewhat sympathetic woman , dissatisfied with her life and Mixed emotions about this book; started out quite enthused, got bored, and then was caught up again in the the second half. On the one hand, it reads like a novel, a portrait of an upper-class wife of that period and a fascinating account of the laws and procedures for divorce in the mid-nineteenth century. The first half of the book is like an English Madame Bovary, using Isabella's diary extensively to describe a neurotic but also somewhat sympathetic woman , dissatisfied with her life and attracted to other men. This part was to my taste a bit more drawn-out than it could have been; I became somewhat impatient. I also wish we had a fuller picture of Henry Robinson during this period; he is distinguished primarily by his absence and seems to be mentioned only when he and Isabella quarrel. I wondered, for example, if he actually was as cold as she pictures him. Can't really criticize the author for less detail about Henry than about Isabella; after all, we don't have HIS diary! However, about 2/3 of the way through the book the author mentions almost in passing that Henry had 2 illegitimate daughters that he acknowledged sufficiently to want to introduce them to society and was known to have a long-term mistress. Obviously more is known about Henry than we are told. In the second half of the book Madame Bovary morphs into Perry Mason as we see conflicting testimony in the courtroom about whether the diary is true. The question is not "Who dunnit?" but "Did anyone do it?". The emphasis is on social, legal, and (horrifying ) medical history in the second half, and it is more interesting than the first half, which is, after all, merely the story of the life of a not very remarkable woman whose most personal thoughts/fantasies became public record. Throughout the book there are cameo appearances by well-known figures like Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin, so many that if it were fiction I might object that there were too many to be credible! "Six degrees of separation" are way too many---it seems everyone who was ANYONE was at most one or two degrees removed, usually by blood as well as acquaintance.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    heads up from Brazilliant: 'don't waste your time with Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace'

  17. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    When we meet Isabella Robinson, she is a married woman with three sons. Born into a wealthy family, Isabella married Edward Dansey "on impulse" and had a son with him. After he died, leaving her a young widow, she was persuaded "against better judgement" to accept the third proposal of Henry Oliver Robinson. The marriage gave Henry Robinson status and the ability to appropriate Isabella's personal money. She never loved her husband - now she despised him. Isabella began keeping a diary in 1849, When we meet Isabella Robinson, she is a married woman with three sons. Born into a wealthy family, Isabella married Edward Dansey "on impulse" and had a son with him. After he died, leaving her a young widow, she was persuaded "against better judgement" to accept the third proposal of Henry Oliver Robinson. The marriage gave Henry Robinson status and the ability to appropriate Isabella's personal money. She never loved her husband - now she despised him. Isabella began keeping a diary in 1849, confiding her depression, fears and loneliness to it's pages. Moving to Edinburgh she was befriended by Lady Drysdale, a rich widow and renowned hostess. On the 15th November, 1850, Isabella set out for a party. She was thirty seven and her husband Henry was away on business. At the party she met Lady Drysdale's daughter Mary and her son in law Edward Lane. Edward Lane was twenty seven, a lawyer, a lover of the arts and literature, interesting and the total opposite of Henry, whom Isabella found to be, "uneducated, narrow-minded, harsh-tempered, selfish and proud." Isabella was enchanted by Edward and was immediately infatuated with him. This fascinating book follows Isabella's obsession with, not only Edward Lane, but other men - every desire documented into the diary which would fall into Henry's hands. Isabella is a mix of desire, depression, need and regret. Impulsive and impatient, she rails against the life she feels she has been forced to accept and the boundaries of her marriage. It is hard to say whether the portrait she paints of her husband, Henry, is a fair one; although other members of his family also seem to have had issues with him which suggest she was not being totally unfair. She declared in her diary that she would leave him if it was not for her sons by him, whom she would lose custody of; but her writings eventually means she, in effect, documented her own disgrace. The author follows Isabella's relationship with Edward Lane, who opened a health spa which had many influential and wealthy visitors. When Henry discovered Isabella's diary (in a very exciting way, but I won't spoil it) he took advantage of a new court, opened in 1858 in London, to make divorce available in a much easier and more reasonable way than previously. During the summer of the 'Great Stink', Henry accused Isabella of adultery and submitted her private diary as evidence. Her private and personal words were read aloud in court and printed in the press, portraying her as a "predatory and ageing seductress". The disgrace did not only affect Isabella and her sons - it also affected Edward and his wife Mary. Edward had many female patients, who would certainly lose all trust for him if he was found to be tainted by such a scandal. This book looks not only at Isabella's tragic downfall and disgrace, but looks at the way women in Victorian England were at the mercy of their husbands in marriage and the concern changing divorce laws had on the nation. Excellent book, which I thoroughly enjoyed and, although Isabella is often critical of herself, you feel a great deal of sympathy for her plight and her obvious desire to love and be loved.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I had a high school English teacher who told us the most important part of any essay we would ever write was not the how or the why, but the "so what?" The essay--or whatever else we wrote, really--should mean something, should have a purpose. For me, this is where Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace failed. The writing was good and the research meticulous, but I spent the entire book wondering what was so important about Isabella Robinson's story and why Kate Summerscale had bothered to write an entire I had a high school English teacher who told us the most important part of any essay we would ever write was not the how or the why, but the "so what?" The essay--or whatever else we wrote, really--should mean something, should have a purpose. For me, this is where Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace failed. The writing was good and the research meticulous, but I spent the entire book wondering what was so important about Isabella Robinson's story and why Kate Summerscale had bothered to write an entire book about her. Mrs. Robinson, deeply unhappy in her second marriage to an absent and unfaithful husband, kept a diary that eventually records her short-lived affair with her friend Dr. Edward Lane. Mr. Robinson reads the journal while his wife was sick, learns of her indiscretions, and takes her to court: first ecclesiastical court for a separation, and later to a different court for divorce. Mrs. Robinson's diary is submitted as evidence, and in order to exonerate Lane, she and her counsel try to prove that she was basically insane and that the diary was a collection of the fanciful imaginings of a disturbed woman. (view spoiler)[The court rules in her favor, but only because there is not sufficient detail in the diary to prove that she committed adultery, not because the judges believed her to be insane. Mr. and Mrs. Robinson remain separated but not divorced. Some years later, Mr. Robinson finds enough evidence of a new affair of Mrs. Robinson in order to fully divorce her. (hide spoiler)] That paragraph-long summary of the book is no different from the summaries of similar, concurrent cases that Summerscale presents in the book. Mrs. Robinson's story appears to be no more remarkable than any other at the time; I could hardly imagine what it was about her affair and trial that warranted an entire book. There were some interesting aspects--what amounted to an insanity plea; how she was ridiculed by her friends and the public at large; the sexism--but the author never really comments on them. She was so removed from the story that, at one point, I felt as though she thought insanity was a viable explanation. There were other issues with the book--the organization was confusing and the author frequently went on pages-long tangents about Darwin or pornography or some other marginally-related topic--but the lack of a "so what?" was what, in the end, left me cold.

  19. 4 out of 5

    David Williams

    I enjoyed Kate Summerscale's earlier book 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher'. She consolidates her reputation for me with this absorbing account of a Victorian lady's fall from respectable affluence to disgrace as a result not so much of her sexual appetite but her obsession with writing about it in a diary which could easily be found by her monstrous husband; and inevitably was. Summerscale tends to her prose like a diligent gardener; it is well-kempt and unfussy, attractive without being showy, and I enjoyed Kate Summerscale's earlier book 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher'. She consolidates her reputation for me with this absorbing account of a Victorian lady's fall from respectable affluence to disgrace as a result not so much of her sexual appetite but her obsession with writing about it in a diary which could easily be found by her monstrous husband; and inevitably was. Summerscale tends to her prose like a diligent gardener; it is well-kempt and unfussy, attractive without being showy, and provides something new of interest at every turn. Nor does she leave her tools on the lawn as so many historian-gardeners do - the details of her extensive research are kept neatly in the notes section at the back so as not to interrupt the flow of the story. While Isabella Robinson's emotions and psychology form the core of interest, there is plenty of rewarding diversion along the way. We learn a good deal of the ways, habits and foibles of mid Victorian upper-middle class society, which confirms so much of what we may have discovered in the fictional worlds of E M Forster and others. The status of women as 'chattels' to their husbands becomes starkly apparent in the way Isabella is economically 'stripped' by her husband. (I'm sure most readers will have shared my longing for Henry to have his come-uppance, but I won't spoil things for new readers by revealing whether or not this happens.) The later chapters of the book are fascinating too for their treatment of the changing legal system in England, and the consequences of decisions made in court. As with 'Mr Whicher' Kate Summerscale turns the trick of making us think of these real-life subjects as characters in a novel, and in so doing takes us through all the emotions, identifications, lows and highs that we would normally expect in fiction. The paradox is that they become more real and immediate as a consequence than they might have seemed had the author supplied a drier historical account. This narrative technique certainly works for me and, judging by the popularity of Summerscale's books, for many other readers too.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    Another Mrs. Robinson...another sexual escapade, only this one is not begun with "plastics" but with the lonely life of a Victorian woman's misalliance. The widowed Isabella marries Henry who is not only mean, but unable to fulfill her sexual needs (or maybe her sexual needs are extreme; remember this is Victorian England). Isabella seems to "fall in love" with every young man who crosses her path, and moreover keeps a diary detailing all of her feelings and desires. Her diary does indicate a Another Mrs. Robinson...another sexual escapade, only this one is not begun with "plastics" but with the lonely life of a Victorian woman's misalliance. The widowed Isabella marries Henry who is not only mean, but unable to fulfill her sexual needs (or maybe her sexual needs are extreme; remember this is Victorian England). Isabella seems to "fall in love" with every young man who crosses her path, and moreover keeps a diary detailing all of her feelings and desires. Her diary does indicate a strong emotional reporting of "something" with her favorite young doctor, but was this criminal adultery? In 1857 Parliament passes the new Divorce Law making divorce possible for all, although it is easier for a man to sue for divorce than a woman. Nonetheless, this is a huge step forward for women's rights in allowing them a legal exit from an abusive marriage. The case of Robinson v. Robinson is one of the first heard in the new divorce court. While the book starts out a bit slowly, it records Isabella's life as she details it in her diary. As is usual in books about the upper class in Victorian England, one meets many familiar people: Charles Darwin partakes of the "water cure" at the same facility as Isabella. I enjoyed Part II -- the divorce trial -- better than Part I, but that could be because of my interest in law. I adored Summerscale's "The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher" and this nearly meets that standard. Perhaps I just enjoy murder mysteries better than divorce cases. For an interesting slice of Victorian life, I recommend this book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lou Robinson

    I really did enjoy this, perhaps not quite as much as The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, but Kate Summerscale's writing style definitely appeals. Added interest in that not only was the main protagonist a Robinson (I hope to god that I am in no way related to Henry, detestable man) but much of the story is set in Reading. The Robinsons actually built Balmore House, a huge rambling Georgian style mansion, that we used to see as kids, from my Nan and Grandad's house. (Remember the ghost stories, Alfred I really did enjoy this, perhaps not quite as much as The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, but Kate Summerscale's writing style definitely appeals. Added interest in that not only was the main protagonist a Robinson (I hope to god that I am in no way related to Henry, detestable man) but much of the story is set in Reading. The Robinsons actually built Balmore House, a huge rambling Georgian style mansion, that we used to see as kids, from my Nan and Grandad's house. (Remember the ghost stories, Alfred the butler, Suzanne?). Anyway, better say a bit about the book. It's very much based on factual details of one of the first divorce cases (certainly one of the most celebrated ones) in the country after the introduction of the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act. But it reads more like a fictional novel and that's probably one of the main reasons I liked it. Split into two halves, the first describes the lonely life of Isabella Robinson and her relationship with several men, including Edward Lane who she falls "madly" in love with, the account described in detail in her diaries. The second half of the book is the drawn out divorce trial. Henry (the horrid husband) discovers Isabella's revealing diaries and petitions for divorce, citing the weak Edward Lane as the adulterer with whom his wife has misbehaved. Very interesting read and a superb illustration of how far the equality of men and women in marriage has come since the mid 19th century.

  22. 5 out of 5

    July

    Liked: * There was a lot of interesting information about divorce and divorce law in Victorian England. * The reader gets a glimpse of how life was for middle class Victorians whose lives touched those of the great well-knowns (Darwin, Dickens, Queen Victoria) but who were not famous enough to be remembered themselves. I found it to be a very enlightening view. * The book touched on the effects of new ideas and sciences on the lives of ordinary people. For example, Mrs. Robinson was an atheist and Liked: * There was a lot of interesting information about divorce and divorce law in Victorian England. * The reader gets a glimpse of how life was for middle class Victorians whose lives touched those of the great well-knowns (Darwin, Dickens, Queen Victoria) but who were not famous enough to be remembered themselves. I found it to be a very enlightening view. * The book touched on the effects of new ideas and sciences on the lives of ordinary people. For example, Mrs. Robinson was an atheist and I liked reading about the effect on her life in her own words. * The author also ties in the Victorian "craze" for diaries and places Mrs. Robinson's journal in the context of the times. Liked Less: * The first 35-40% of the book is a fairly dry recounting of Isabella Robinson's activities and thoughts with a large amount (verging on too many) of quotes directly from her diary. Others' writings are quoted as well, but the story wasn't really all that interesting at that point. I think the section leading up the court case could probably have been more succinct without losing any impact. Overall, there is a lot of interesting information in this book but it comes after a fairly lackluster first portion.

  23. 5 out of 5

    F.R.

    Isabella Robinson was a Victorian lady who began a passionate affair with a doctor of her acquaintance. She recorded details of their entanglement in her diaries, and when her brutish husband discovered it, this written record exploded into a scandal which burst into the newly formed divorce courts and the front page of the newspapers. After Summerscales hugely impressive The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, this was a disappointingly slight tale to hang a whole book around. Yes, its good on the Isabella Robinson was a Victorian lady who began a passionate affair with a doctor of her acquaintance. She recorded details of their entanglement in her diaries, and when her brutish husband discovered it, this written record exploded into a scandal which burst into the newly formed divorce courts and the front page of the newspapers. After Summerscale’s hugely impressive ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’, this was a disappointingly slight tale to hang a whole book around. Yes, it’s good on the hypocrisy of Victorian prurience and has a good array of characters (Darwin and Dickens both make appearances), but the diary entries quoted have a ‘Woe is me!’ quality which I found particularly irritating and the whole thing felt drawn out and almost inconsequential.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Noran Miss Pumkin

    10% of the book is literally footnotes, at the end of the book. Not easy to turn to, with an ebook. The histoy drips from it's pages-who some famous and not so famous crossed paths with her. No copy of the diary included-lost to time. Some passages do get quoted though. I was looking forward to reading actually pages, from her personal journal. I enjoyed the journey , that this books takes one, and learned much from it. I just started a new book recently, and just noticed-it is by the as author. 10% of the book is literally footnotes, at the end of the book. Not easy to turn to, with an ebook. The histoy drips from it's pages-who some famous and not so famous crossed paths with her. No copy of the diary included-lost to time. Some passages do get quoted though. I was looking forward to reading actually pages, from her personal journal. I enjoyed the journey , that this books takes one, and learned much from it. I just started a new book recently, and just noticed-it is by the as author. I am excited about it as well.

  25. 5 out of 5

    OLT

    This true account of an unhappy marriage and a frustrated wife in mid-Victorian England is not just about Mrs. Robinson and her woes. It's a sociological look at attitudes towards women, sex, marriage, science and religion in 1800s England. Upon reading this, if you're a woman, you might be feeling grateful you didn't live then, except that a closer examination may show that although there's a good bit of advancement in our knowledge and beliefs we may not have arrived quite at the stage of This true account of an unhappy marriage and a frustrated wife in mid-Victorian England is not just about Mrs. Robinson and her woes. It's a sociological look at attitudes towards women, sex, marriage, science and religion in 1800s England. Upon reading this, if you're a woman, you might be feeling grateful you didn't live then, except that a closer examination may show that although there's a good bit of advancement in our knowledge and beliefs we may not have arrived quite at the stage of enlightenment yet. (Aren't we still arguing evolution, sexual orientation, and don't we still have a few double standards in attitudes towards the sexes?) This was compelling reading. It's also factual and has 65 pages of notes at the back to corroborate the author's exposition. Letters, extracts from diaries, publications and newpapers, public records, biographies, census returns, etc., cited by the author show her extensive research when writing this. Isabella (Mrs. Henry) Robinson is the titular character of the book but much mention is made of other troubled marriages of the period, of troubled characters such as George Drysdale, who struggled with sexual dysfunction at an early age, and of behavioral science and religious attitude of the times, with particular mention of the use of phrenology in diagnosis of mental and emotional problems (e.g., George Combe's theories) and of hydropathy in their treatment (e.g., Dr. Edward Lane and his water-cure establishment). Isabella was married for the first time in 1837 to Edward Dansey at the age of 24. They had 1 child and Edward died in 1841. In 1844 Isabella saw herself more or less forced to marry Henry Robinson, since a widow with a child had few freedoms and a restricted life. But, unfortunately, marriage for a woman could be a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation. Henry showed himself to be dictatorial, cold, uninterested in intellectual pursuits, appropriative of Isabella's money, and notoriously unfaithful, producing 2 illegitimate children while they were married. We have Isabella sexually and intellectually frustrated and lonely. She took to writing letters to and engaging in conversation with those who were more compatible. She also took to writing, had some published verse, and a very private diary in which she laid herself bare about all her dissatisfactions. In her diary she mentions her romantic relationships with 3 men, one of whom was married Dr. Edward Lane, a friend of the Robinson family, and their relationship is described in her diary in such a way that one could infer it was sexual in nature, not just romantic. Henry Robinson discovers the diary close to the time of Parliament's passage of the Matrimonial Causes Act, which opens up the possibility for divorce in the middle classes through secular court rather than through the expensive private Act of Parliament in place previously and available basically only to the very rich. (To give an idea of how difficult it was to be granted a divorce prior to 1857's new law, only 325 divorces had been granted between the years 1670 and 1857, less than 2 a year.) The divorce trial of Isabella and her husband Henry is quite the eye-opener. Be prepared for curious ideas such as 'uterine disease' in its mental manifestations, female sexual manias such as erotomania and nyphomania, self-abuse and self-pollution, treatments for these monomanias such as leeches, enemas, douches, etc. All good stuff, but we still have some residual quaint attitudes to this day. (Who hasn't heard that "oh-she's-just-PMSing"?) It's an interesting read and I especially enjoyed the information about George Drysdale, the author of THE ELEMENTS OF SOCIAL SCIENCE, who with his brother lobbied for women's suffrage, contraception and freer sexual relations. Now there's a man to admire! The book is only 226 pages, not including the author's notes, but it's chock-full of information about the Victorian age and makes for a fascinating read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Leah

    http://theprettygoodgatsby.wordpress.... Although I finished the book last week I sat on this review for a few days. Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace is the type of book that needs to be digested slowly and given careful thought. Personally, I adore those kinds of books and am absolutely ecstatic I found this one. My misery is a woman's misery, and it will speak - here, rather than nowhere; to my second self, in this book, if I have no one else to hear me. Wilkie Collins; Armadale The book opens in 1850 in http://theprettygoodgatsby.wordpress.... Although I finished the book last week I sat on this review for a few days. Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace is the type of book that needs to be digested slowly and given careful thought. Personally, I adore those kinds of books and am absolutely ecstatic I found this one. My misery is a woman's misery, and it will speak - here, rather than nowhere; to my second self, in this book, if I have no one else to hear me. Wilkie Collins; Armadale The book opens in 1850 in Edinburgh, Scotland and introduces Isabella Robinson, the 36-year old wife of Henry Oliver Robinson. Isabella had remarried after the death of her first husband and was left with no inheritance as he willed everything to a son from an earlier marriage. Isabella's life with Henry was not a happy one (her only joy came from her three sons) and it was her unhappiness that led to her infamous diary. 'Dreaming all night of absent friends, romantic situations, and Mr. Lane,' ran another entry. 'Oh! Why are dreams more blest than waking life?' Edward Lane had been a family friend for quite some time before becoming the target of Mrs. Robinson's affections. He and his wife are very close with Isabella and on multiple occasions their children stayed with Isabella and her own sons while the Lanes were away. Over time, however, Isabella's marriage rapidly weakened and her friendship with Edward developed into something more - at least on her part. The two would spend countless hours discussing philosophy or literature and, from what Isabella mentions in her diary entries, the two seemed very compatible. One thing I loved about Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace was that the book doesn't waste any time getting to the story. Things start happening from the very start and I think that would certainly help in keeping the attention of a reader who typically doesn't go for non-fiction. Many times I've picked up a non-fiction book (although fiction definitely applies as well!) that sounded absolutely fascinating, only to be bogged down with technical jargon the average reader wouldn't understand or to have the story start so slowly I've had to force myself to continue. I'm extremely pleased that this isn't the case with Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace. Oh, thought I, each of these roofs conceals human life with all its mysterious joys and sorrows. Doubtless, many a sojourner in these dwellings has a private history, thrilling, exciting, strange. Not only does the book have a wonderful pace, but the writing is simply remarkable. At times I completely forgot I was reading non-fiction. Despite the lack of dialogue, I never once felt the story lacking. In fact, I feel I got to know the characters extremely well! George argued that in women, as in men, 'strong sexual appetites are a very great virtue...If chastity must continue to be regarded as the highest female virtue, it is impossible to give any woman real liberty.' While Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace is Isabella's story, there were a few other story lines woven in and it all came together beautifully. After struggling with his own issues, George Drysdale published a rather radical-minded book on sexuality. Phrenology and hydropathy were two courses of medicine very much in vogue. A new divorce court had made it much easier for couples to end their marriages. Each story line had its center-stage moments without losing focus of the main story and it was great. All the guests were encouraged to walk in the park. 'I strolled a little beyond the glade for an hour & half & enjoyed myself,' reported Charles Darwin in a letter to his wife, '-the fresh yet dark green of the grand Scotch firs, the brown of the catkins of the old Birches with their white stems & a fringe of distant green from the larches, made an excessively pretty view. At last I fell fast asleep on the grass & awoke with a chorus of birds singing around me, & squirrels running up the trees & some Woodpeckers laughing, & it was as pleasant a rural scene as ever I saw, & I did not care one penny how any of the beasts or birds has been formed.' One thing I was extremely surprised to discover was that Isabella was an acquaintance of Charles Darwin! I really enjoyed reading the chapters where he played a role. Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace largely took place before and during his theories on evolution and reading his thoughts through letters was interesting. The above quote was from Darwin's time spent at Moor Park, a hydropathy spa opened by Edward Lane. Isabella also spent time there and it was at Moor Park, after years of spurned advances, that Edward Lane finally returned Isabella's affections and the two shared a kiss. 'All day,' she wrote, 'this dream haunted my brain. "I never loved any one as I did thee, both mind and body," I had said in my dream, and in my waking moments the same idea was breathed still in my ear.' While Isabella doesn't go into detail (and it is this lack of detail that ultimately leads to the court's decision at trial), she does mention multiple trysts until Edward ended things one day. At his sudden rejection, Isabella fell ill and it was while she was bedridden that Henry discovered the diary. That scene was easily one of the most exciting in the whole novel. And how it ended! The moment Henry came across Isabella's diary and realized what it was, the first part of the novel ends. Such a fantastic finish to book one. Loved it! 'We can colonise the remotest ends of the Earth...we can spread our name, and our fame, and our fructifying wealth to every part of the world, but we cannot clean the River Thames.' The second part of Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace focuses on the trial. The divorce court was still in its infancy and in cases of adultery, the odds were definitely stacked against the wives. Multiple witnesses and evidence were required in accusing a husband of adultery, while husbands accusing wives had hardly any opposition at all. Also, accused wives were not permitted to attend the trial, so Isabella's diary had to speak for her. The summer of Isabella's trial saw record temperatures and with the heat came the stink. I can't even begin to imagine what that must have been like! Though the journal contained elements of melodrama and sentimental fiction, the judges considered that as a whole it told a nuanced story, rendered credible by its self-recrimination, disappointment and doubt. Its exaggerations and excesses were those familiar to any diarist, to any desperately unhappy person or to anyone in love. It was ultimately not a work of madness, but of realism, an account of the limits of romantic dreams. In the end Isabella won her case, although she lost custody of her children along with any inheritance. She also found her reputation in tatters and her own mother disowned her. As her children came of age however, they chose to break ties with Henry and live with their mother. While Isabella's story doesn't end on a particularly high note, her trial certainly made waves. Numerous books were published afterwards depicting unhappy wives taking on secret lovers. Diaries saw a surge in popularity. Laws changed to enable incompatible couples (as well as abused wives) ways to separate. Ms. Summerscale definitely did her research. I was shocked when I reached the end of the book: there were still nearly 100 pages left! Those pages were notes and references and a bibliography! Almost 100 pages! I was so excited to read Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace and it didn't disappoint at all. I absolutely loved it.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Colin Mitchell

    This was a good read as during my working life I was involved with the divorce courts in England. This is the story the case between Henry Robinson and his wife Isabella in 1858 just after the first Divorce bill had been past. It alleged indiscretion between Isabella and a Dr. Lane, this was another interesting part for me as he ran a hydrotherapy clinic at Moor Park, which is near to my home , The case hinged on her diary entries which were seized by her husband. A good deal of family history This was a good read as during my working life I was involved with the divorce courts in England. This is the story the case between Henry Robinson and his wife Isabella in 1858 just after the first Divorce bill had been past. It alleged indiscretion between Isabella and a Dr. Lane, this was another interesting part for me as he ran a hydrotherapy clinic at Moor Park, which is near to my home , The case hinged on her diary entries which were seized by her husband. A good deal of family history and research into the act and divorce procedure and the way woman were treated by their husbands at this time in our history, basically they had little right and even in the divorce case Isabella was not permitted to attend and give evidence. A good book but there could have been some family pictures to illustrate the protagonists.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Eustacia Tan

    The subtitle of this book reads "The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady". But really, it's like one of those non-fiction historical crime novels - it dissects what actually happened using not only her diary but also the letters, newspapers, etc. What all this leads to is a very interesting narrative on what happened. Because it's almost impossible to know exactly what happened (even the diary is not explicit), quite a lot of guesswork has to be made. But it all sounds very plausible, Now that I've The subtitle of this book reads "The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady". But really, it's like one of those non-fiction historical crime novels - it dissects what actually happened using not only her diary but also the letters, newspapers, etc. What all this leads to is a very interesting narrative on what happened. Because it's almost impossible to know exactly what happened (even the diary is not explicit), quite a lot of guesswork has to be made. But it all sounds very plausible, Now that I've got the whole "reliability" thing out of the way, on to the narrative of the book. While it's not a first person narrative, it reads like a crime novel (without the crime). There is (naturally), a lot of emphasis on the titular Mrs Robinson, who is caught between for her feelings for another man, and her husband, who by all accounts sounds like a deeply unpleasant fellow. The book is split into two parts - what happened before, and the divorce trial. Apparently, the trial was a great sensation because of the diary. It also caused a lot of scandal/trouble among those she knew, because she didn't believe in God but in the powers of science (and at time, one of her teachers was endeavouring the show that they two weren't incompatible). Well, I guess there's not much to say. It's a biography (on a very specific part of her life, even though there is an quick summary of her life before and after) after all, and it's hard to summarise without giving away the plot. But it's a really interesting book, and it provides a look at a very interesting lady. In fact, I think you should read this book along with "The Women Reader" by Belinda Jack. The Women Reader looks at the history of women reading (and writing), and Mrs Robinson is by all accounts a well-read and talented women writer. So, it makes sense to read her and learn about the history of women reading at the same time (plus, this if you read Mrs Robinson's Disgrace second, you get the benefit of knowing the attitudes towards reading and writing at that time). Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review. First posted at Inside the mind of a Bibliophile

  29. 4 out of 5

    Joanna Bolton

    Mrs. Robinson's diary was her disgrace, but it is a gift to us. Any time a journal of a woman from another era has somehow been preserved, it is a rare treasure, and no less so when it is that of a normal woman, not a public figure, recording her innermost thoughts and emotions as if the journal were the only friend who would ever listen or care. Mrs. Robinson was a scandalous, wanton, if not criminally insane seductress in the eyes of Victorian society. But today the record she left shows a Mrs. Robinson's diary was her disgrace, but it is a gift to us. Any time a journal of a woman from another era has somehow been preserved, it is a rare treasure, and no less so when it is that of a normal woman, not a public figure, recording her innermost thoughts and emotions as if the journal were the only friend who would ever listen or care. Mrs. Robinson was a scandalous, wanton, if not criminally insane seductress in the eyes of Victorian society. But today the record she left shows a bright intellect and complex inner-emotional life, a tragic figure who was not able to live to her potential, stuck in the wrong era and an intolerable marriage. The diary is preserved only by virtue of the divorce case in which it entangled her. She was careless to keep it and it casts her as somewhat self-centered and perhaps delusional, but I found her eminently sympathetic, a victim of a society that did not respect women as free individuals, but as their husband's chattel. The book not only tells Mrs. Robinson's story but provides a fascinating look into the history of divorce law - hers was one of the first granted to a couple from the general public - and of the legal status of women. And I love most of all the poetic justice of this story being told today. This woman who was so intellectually powerful, but muted by her society, and who felt that her stifled life would have no meaning, has left this record of herself from which women (and men) today can appreciate her plight, and her intelligence. She frets in her diary over her conclusion that there was no God; no life after death. Yet in the pages that disgraced her, she lives on and, in my view, is vindicated as a victim of an unjust era.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    If nothing else, this book made me so grateful not to have been born a Victorian lady. To have no freedom, no choice, no legal status at all, to be dismissed as hysterical, weak, feeble. Reading this book, I felt so for Isabella Robinson, for the insight into the married lives of so many Victorian women - practical prisoners to their husbands. This book is about the divorce trial of Isabella Robinson, accused of adultery by her husband and indicted by her own diary, in which she wrote all the If nothing else, this book made me so grateful not to have been born a Victorian lady. To have no freedom, no choice, no legal status at all, to be dismissed as hysterical, weak, feeble. Reading this book, I felt so for Isabella Robinson, for the insight into the married lives of so many Victorian women - practical prisoners to their husbands. This book is about the divorce trial of Isabella Robinson, accused of adultery by her husband and indicted by her own diary, in which she wrote all the details of her unhappiness, her husband's rough brutal nature, her love for a friend's husband, Edward Lane, her own struggles with her passionate impulsive nature. The divorce was one of the first in the new Divorce Court - previously couples needed a personal Act of Parliament to divorce, a time-consuming and incredibly expensive endeavour which naturally limited the number of divorces. The way the papers of the time reported the case, the way she was painted as a slattern, as hysterical or necessarily insane - because of course no sane married woman would want more than her husband chose to give her, could possibly want to seek love outside of the bonds of marriage - are really eye-opening. Isabella Robinson was utterly disgraced, but of course Edward Lane came out clean and unscathed. And really, have things changed all that much today?

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