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Thursday, May 31, 2012
MRS. ROBINSON'S DISGRACE by Kate Summerscale
Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady by Kate Summerscale
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In June 1858, scarcely a month after divorce became a matter for civil court in Great Britain, a civil engineer, Henry Robinson of Edinburgh, sued for dissolution of his second marriage to Isabella, herself a widow. His brief held that Isabella was guilty of adultery, and he had the evidence of her written personal diary to prove it. This book is a study of that case, and far more: of the changing but still rigid mores of the lengthy Victorian Era; of the awakening of women an entire century before the first public stirrings of feminism; of the groundswell among the middle class for change (hence the new prevalence of divorce filings) and among women for relief and release, of both a practical and an intimate nature.
Yes, this is an actual case; no, it is not the “Mrs. Robinson” and her approach to a younger man of the Simon & Garfunkel song. This Mrs. Isabella Robinson was a true Victorian lady, reticent on the surface and to her husband and society, but at her inner core nearly a hellion from unrequited love and lust and the emotional stiffness and distancing of her husband Henry. Likely if Isabella had been of nobility, she may have taken many lovers and little scandal would have resulted. As it was, once Henry breached her privacy, finding and reading her private diary, and presenting it to the Court, Isabella was disgraced, flaunted as a wanton and a failure as a wife.
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