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

3.06  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,732 Ratings  ·  553 Reviews
"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
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published June 19th 2012 by Bloomsbury USA (first published January 1st 2012)
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Apr 06, 2013 Bennet rated it really liked it

Women are so scary.

The rise in the diagnosis of sexual mania in women corresponded to an intense contemporary anxiety about unsatisfied female desire. It had recently come to light that there was an excess of spinsters in Britain. According to the census of 1851, the country contained half a million more women than men, chiefly because men died younger and migrated more often...Older women were especially likely to live alone: 42 percent of those between 40 and 60 were widows or spinsters. The '
Jul 08, 2012 Jane rated it really liked it
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
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***
May 04, 2012 Naomi rated it really liked it
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 bori
Jun 27, 2012 Debra rated it did not like it
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 hydrot ...more
May 21, 2012 Aimee rated it liked it
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 h ...more
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
Aug 18, 2012 Charity rated it really liked it
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 absolut ...more
Jul 27, 2012 Pat rated it it was ok
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 ...more
May 30, 2012 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 di
Jun 22, 2012 Angie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 att ...more
Lou Robinson
Mar 01, 2014 Lou Robinson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Sep 10, 2012 July rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in Victorian life
* 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
May 01, 2012 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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, ...more
May 14, 2013 Tintaglia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e-books, arcs, non-fiction
Ho letto il primo libro di Kate Summerscale, Il delitto di Road Hill House, come se fosse un romanzo: la stessa appasionante cura nella narrazione, unita a un'attenzione per il dettaglio documentaristico eccezionale.

Al mio stupore sul come gli italiani non sappiano scrivere saggistica così, ma debbano sempre affliggere il lettore con prosa ponderosa e sintassi polverosa (mi scusino le poche, meravigliose eccezioni, come Benedetta Craveri) un amico mi spiegava che nei Paesi di lingua anglosassone
David Williams
May 28, 2012 David Williams rated it really liked it
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
Feb 17, 2013 Josie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
[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
Jul 22, 2012 Donna rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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 st ...more
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 ver
May 10, 2013 F.R. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 hyp
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. ...more
Aug 07, 2012 Becky rated it liked it
Shelves: bookclub
This is nonfiction book takes a look at an infamous adultery case in Victorian England. Isabella Robinson falls ill, and her husband, whom she despises, goes through her things and reads her diary, thus leading to one of the first divorce trials in England to be covered by the papers, tabloid-style. Recent laws had made divorce more simple and cheap for the middle class to afford, and Isabella's diary was read aloud in court.

I found the first half of this book, that sets up the history of her un
Eustacia Tan
Jun 11, 2012 Eustacia Tan rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
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
Jan 10, 2013 Joanna rated it really liked it
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 bri ...more
Jul 27, 2012 Rebecca rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
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 boo

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
Jun 16, 2012 Caroline rated it really liked it
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 det
Feb 28, 2013 Helen rated it really liked it
This was a well researched account of a divorce case in 1857. Factual and a little dry but interesting as an insight into the way marriage, divorce and women's rights were dealt with in the Victorian era. To quote: 'a wife could not undertake legal proceedings, or keep her own earnings or spend her money as she wished. She has no legal right even to her clothes and ornaments. Her husband may take them and sell them if he pleases'. A man could divorce his wife for suspected adultery but a man cou ...more
Sep 11, 2014 Roberta rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biografico
Mi riservo di rivedere la valutazione tra qualche giorno, perché forse 4 stelle sono eccessive; tuttavia, per il momento, 3 non sono sufficienti.

Cominciamo a dire ciò che non è: non è una storiella in costume, come avevo temuto, ma una cronaca ben documentata.
Mrs Robinson è una signora intelligente dell'Inghilterra vittoriana, vittima di un marito non necessariamente violento (bisogna anche tener conto delle consuetudini del periodo storico, quando il padre padrone era la norma), ma insensibile
Jul 23, 2012 Stephen rated it really liked it
really interesting read about one of the first divorces in the UK after the 1857 Act of a highly sexed female who wrote it into her diary and the court case which followed as her husband Henry applied for divorce, interesting that at time women were classed as the property of the husband and had limited rights how the world has changed so much for the better now in that respect
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Kate Summerscale (born in 1965) is an English writer and journalist.
She won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction in 2008 with The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House and won a Somerset Maugham Award in 1998 (and was shortlisted for the 1997 Whitbread Awards for biography) for the bestselling The Queen of Whale Cay, about Joe Carstairs, 'fastest woman on water'.
As a journa
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“In tribunale il valore del diario di Isabella rimase dubbio. Come ogni altro libro dello stesso genere, oltre che di ricordi era fatto anche di aspettative: era provvisorio e instabile, si situava al confine tra pensiero e azione, desiderio e realtà. Ma, come cruda testimonianza emotiva, era un’opera che lasciava attoniti, che poteva destare entusiasmo o allarme. Il diario diede ai suoi lettori vittoriani un’immagine del futuro, come offre a noi un’immagine del nostro mondo plasmato sul passato. Sicuramente non ci dice ciò che accadde nella vita di Isabella, ma ci dice ciò che lei desiderava.
Il diario dipingeva un ritratto delle libertà a cui le donne avrebbero potuto aspirare, se avessero rinunciato a credere in Dio e nel matrimonio: il diritto ad avere delle proprietà e del denaro, a ottenere la custodia dei figli, a sperimentare dal punto di vista sessuale ed intellettuale. Accennava anche al dolore e alla confusione che queste libertà avrebbero generato. Nel decennio in cui la Chiesa rinunciò al proprio controllo sul matrimonio e Darwin gettò nel dubbio più profondo le origini spirituali dell’umanità, quel diario era un segno dei tumulti che si sarebbero verificati.
In una pagina senza data Isabella si rivolgeva esplicitamente a un futuro lettore. «Una settimana del nuovo anno se n’è già andata, - esordiva. – Ah! Se avessi la speranza dell’altra vita di cui parla mia madre (oggi lei e mio fratello mi hanno scritto delle lettere affettuose), e che il signor B. ci ha sollecitato a conquistarci, sarei allegra e felice. Ma, ahimé!, non ce l’ho, e non potrò mai ottenerla; e per quanto riguarda questa vita, la mia anima è invasa e lacerata dalla rabbia, dalla sensualità, dall’impotenza e dalla disperazione, che mi riempiono di rimorso e di cattivi presentimenti».
«Lettore, -scrisse – tu vedi la mia anima più nascosta. Devi disprezzarmi e odiarmi. Ti soffermi anche a provare pietà? No; perché quando leggerai queste pagine, la vita di colei che “era troppo flessibile per la virtù; troppo virtuosa per diventare una cattiva fiera e trionfante” sarà finita». Era una citazione imprecisa dall’opera teatrale The Fatal Falsehood (1779) di Hannah More, in cui un giovane conte italiano – un «miscuglio di aspetti strani e contraddittori» – si innamora perdutamente di una donna promessa al suo migliore amico.
Quando Edward Lane lesse il diario, fu questo passaggio in particolare a suscitare la sua rabbia e il suo disprezzo: «Si rivolge al Lettore! – scrisse a Combe – Ma chi è il Lettore? Allora quel prezioso diario è stato scritto per essere pubblicato, o, almeno, era destinato a un erede della sua famiglia? In entrambi i casi, io affermo che è completa follia – e se anche non ci fossero ulteriori pagine, in questo guazzabuglio farraginoso, a confermare la mia ipotesi, a mio parere questa sarebbe già sufficiente».
Eppure il richiamo di Isabella a un lettore immaginario può, al contrario, fornire la spiegazione più limpida del perché avesse tenuto il diario. Almeno una parte di lei voleva essere ascoltata. Coltivava la speranza che qualcuno, leggendo quelle parole dopo la sua morte, avrebbe esitato prima di condannarla; che un giorno la sua storia potesse essere accolta con compassione e perfino amore. In assenza di un aldilà spirituale, noi eravamo l’unico futuro che aveva.
«Buona notte, - concludeva, con una triste benedizione: - Possa tu essere più felice!».”
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