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

Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace by Kate Summerscale
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's review
Aug 03, 2012

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bookshelves: nonfiction
Read from July 31 to August 03, 2012

I read this right after reading Mr. Briggs Hat, another non fiction book that relates events that occurred in Victorian England. While Mr. Briggs Hat told the story of the first railway carriage murder, Mrs. Robinson's ruminated on what it meant to be a woman and the state of marriage in Victorian England. As you can imagine we have come a long way. Interestingly both novels referenced Wilkie Collins A woman in White. It must be quite the hallmark book of the times.

In Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace we are introduced to Isabella Robinson. She is a young widow with a small son when she marries Henry Robinson. At first she has high hopes for the marriage but most like most men Henry is grumpy and hard to please. He also takes all of her money and I think he cheats on her too. Although Isabella does her best to be a good wife and mother her thoughts turn towards a handsome family friend Dr. Edward Lane. Since she doesn't have to pick up his dirty underwear off of the floor and listen to his bitchin' and moaning he seems attractive to her, probably more so than if she had to actually live with him. She puts her scandalous thoughts about him into a diary. Whether the things she writes about in the diary actually occurred or were just in her imagining is up for some debate. Whatever the case, she and Dr. Lane will go on to deny every word. One day Isabella becomes very ill and while she is out of it her sneaky husband goes through her things and reads the diary. It is enough to bring Isabella to court on charges of adultery and he takes her sons away and files for divorce.

Although Isabella came off as stupid and vapid some times, my sympathies definitely lay with her although she could have picked someone better to objectify than a married man with small children. Too many innocent people were hurt by her flirtations. Her choice of love interest seemed to be rectified in later life. Henry was portrayed as a real miserable piece of work and Dr. Lane alternated between oblivious and flirtatious. I felt sorry for his family but he seems to have known the score where Isabella was concerned. In addition to the story of Isabella and Henry there was some further padding with discussions of the Victorian notion of women and sexuality. All in all it was a good look into the Victorian family. As long as a woman was able to keep her unhappiness suppressed as well as her sexual desires everything was hunky dory. If she dared to try to take control of her life she was thought to be insane. This book made me feel sorry for Isabella who would have been better suited to find happiness if she had lived today.

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