Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady


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Bloomsbury USA


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1608199347

9781608199341

320 Pages

$17.00

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"I think people marry far too much; it is such a lottery, and for a poor woman—bodily and morally the husband's slave—a very doubtful happiness."—Queen Victoria to her recently married daughter Vicky

Headstrong, high-spirited, and already widowed, Isabella Walker became Mrs. Henry Robinson at age 31 in 1844. Her first husband had died suddenly, leaving his estate to a son from a previous marriage, so she inherited nothing. A successful civil engineer, Henry moved them, by then with two sons, to Edinburgh's elegant society in 1850. But Henry traveled often and was cold and remote when home, leaving Isabella to her fantasies.

No doubt thousands of Victorian women faced the same circumstances, but Isabella chose to record her innermost thoughts-and especially her infatuation with a married Dr. Edward Lane-in her diary. Over five years the entries mounted-passionate, sensual, suggestive. One fateful day in 1858 Henry chanced on the diary and, broaching its privacy, read Isabella's intimate entries. Aghast at his wife's perceived infidelity, Henry petitioned for divorce on the grounds of adultery. Until that year, divorce had been illegal in England, the marital bond being a cornerstone of English life. Their trial would be a cause celebre, threatening the foundations of Victorian society with the specter of "a new and disturbing figure: a middle class wife who was restless, unhappy, avid for arousal." Her diary, read in court, was as explosive as Flaubert's Madame Bovary, just published in France but considered too scandalous to be translated into English until the 1880s.

As she accomplished in her award-winning and bestselling The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, Kate Summerscale brilliantly recreates the Victorian world, chronicling in exquisite and compelling detail the life of Isabella Robinson, wherein the longings of a frustrated wife collided with a society clinging to rigid ideas about sanity, the boundaries of privacy, the institution of marriage, and female sexuality

REVIEWS

Praise for Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace

"Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace is a glorious evocation of both one woman's inner world, her hopes, dreams, disappointments and desires, and her outer one in the form of the painstakingly researched Victorian world she inhabits where a multitude of new ideas are threatening traditional conventional values . . . Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace is an equally captivating read which will surely catapult its heroine into the same limelight as her detective predecessor."—Lucy Scholes, The Daily Beast
 
"[Isabella Robinson's] is a sad story, but Summerscale tells it with sympathy and understanding. She sees Isabella as a British Madame Bovary, whose story Gustave Flaubert was setting down in his great novel even as Isabella's story was unfolding. She also sees Isabella as a transitional figure in women's slow and difficult progress from repression and exploitation to the liberation that in time emerged. The evidence Summerscale presents suggests that this is a fair interpretation."—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

"You'll find Fifty Shades of Grey on beaches everywhere, from Maine to Mashpee, but the story of Mrs. Robinson deserves a place on summer reading lists. She is pretty hot stuff."—Matthew Price, The Boston Globe

"The mark of any good book, especially one that sheds light on historical events, is that the issues it raises remain relevant for contemporary readers. Kate Summerscale's Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady is just such a book . . . Illuminating reading."—Micki Myers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"This nonfiction account of the divorce of Isabella and Henry Robinson in 1858 is an elegantly rendered portrait of marriage, class and hypocrisy in Victorian Britain."—Cynthia Crossen, WSJ.com's Dear Book Lover
 
"Readers who complain that history is boring nave never read Kate Summerscale . . . If you want historical accuracy and excellent research, grab the Summerscale."—Yvonne Zip, The Christian Science Monitor
 
"Riveting . . . Summerscale uses the diary, private letters, newspaper stories and public documents to seamlessly and dispassionately tell Isabella's still-poignant story."—Anne Bartlett, BookPage
"With literary precision and vivid detail, Summerscale captures the contradictory notes of Isabella's character and the peculiar era in which she lived."—Deborah Horan, The Washington Spectator
 
"A revealing portrait of the straight-laced Victorians who produced innumerable sex scandals, delved into new and sometimes bizarre health fads and generally dismissed anyone considered beneath them, like colonials and women."—Kirkus Reviews
 
"A deft unraveling of a little-known scandal that should appeal to any reader interested in women's history or the world behind the facade of the Victorian home."—Library Journal

"With intelligence and graceful prose, Summerscale gives an intimate and surprising look into Victorian life."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads

BACK

BOOK EXCERPTS

Read an Excerpt

Kate Summerscale is the author of the bestselling books The Queen of Whale Cay and The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher. She lives in London with her son.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


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  • Kate Summerscale is the author of the bestselling books The Queen of Whale Cay and The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher. She lives in London with her son.
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