Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary Of A Victorian Lady


Isabella Walker married Henry Robinson in 1844. Henry moved the family to Edinburgh, and traveled a lot for work, leaving Isabella alone to her own devices. Isabella kept a diary of her thoughts and experiences, including her infatuation with Dr. Lane. These entries culminated in over five years of mounting passions, and were very sensual accounts written from her perspective. In 1858 Henry happened upon her diary, and was shocked by what he read. He petitioned for divorce based on her perceived infidelity. Their divorce case was famous, as her diary was read aloud in court--all but the most scandalous bits being published in the papers.

When I first heard of this book, I was immediately intrigued by the description. A woman's privacy being violated in such a way, and an account of one of the earlier divorce cases in England under the new laws making it easier for the general populace to obtain a divorce seemed like a fascinating piece of history. I thought this was an interesting account of a Victorian woman and what her life was like. I had thought this would be her actual diary with some information about the court proceedings. Instead it was about her life and the events that led up to the court case. Her actual diary was destroyed, which was rather disappointing.

I felt very bad for Mrs. Robinson. She lived a lonely life, and was in an awkward position because of the role women played in Victorian England. Her lawyers had her plead insanity to help win her divorce case. Her privacy was violated in a horribly public way. I was interested in her story, but I thought the writing could have been more focused on Mrs. Robinson and her case. There were a lot of references to contemporary novels. Some of it was fine as it helped illustrate the culture of the time, but I would have liked more of her own words.

If you are interested in Victorian England, I would recommend reading this book.

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