- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition (June 19, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781608199136
- ISBN-13: 978-1608199136
- ASIN: 1608199134
- Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 92 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,189,164 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady 1st Edition
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“This is the golden age of narrative nonfiction, and Summerscale does it better than just about anyone.” ―Laura Miller of Salon.com on NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday"
“You'll find Fifty Shades of Grey on beaches everywhere... but the story of Mrs. Robinson deserves a place on summer reading lists. She is pretty hot stuff.” ―The Boston Globe
“Summerscale unspools the Robinsons' tale with flair in Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace, but it's her social history of marriage that's really riveting. Grade: A” ―Tina Jordan, Entertainment Weekly
“[Kate Summerscale] prods, scrutinizes and examines, employing a real-life historical episode to shed light on Victorian morality and sensibilities . . . The end of the court case is surprising, and to give it away would be an insult to Summerscale's cleverly constructed narrative. But she stresses that one thing is clear: the diary ‘may not tell us, for certain, what happened in Isabella's life, but it tells us what she wanted.'” ―Andrea Wulf, The New York Times Book Review
“Kate Summerscale--perfectly at home in the 19th century, as evidenced in 2008's The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, her grisly but addictively readable tale of an 1860 murder investigation--blends cultural history with all the elements of a doomed love story in her tale of a real-life Madame Bovary . . . Isabella emerges, regardless of the verdict, as the most fascinating of characters, her pride not trampled in the face of a defense that called for her to proclaim herself a sex maniac rather than an adulterer. Not much of a choice, but she still came out on top.” ―Jordan Foster, NPR.org
“Summerscale engages with her material in such a psychologically rich manner, an added bonus feature, as it were, given that the original story is already so fascinating in itself . . . 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 . . . [A] captivating read which will surely catapult its heroine into the same limelight as her detective predecessor.” ―Lucy Scholes, The Daily Beast
“Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace is far more than the account of a failed marriage and its aftermath--or even the story of a torrid affair, imaginary or otherwise. In the manner of her prize-winning The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Kate Summerscale takes the records and reports of the court case and treats them like a detective story, skillfully building up the suspense and using the interstices in her main narrative--when the judges retire to consider their verdict, for instance--to digress into the highways and byways of Victorian life.” ―Virginia Rounding, Financial Times
“[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
“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" blog
“With intelligence and graceful prose, Summerscale gives an intimate and surprising look into Victorian life.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace tells us far more than the story of one reckless woman born before her time. It navigates the cloudy waters of marital law, Victorian sexuality, and the burgeoning women's liberation movement. The diary may have ruined Isabella Robinson, but Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace has the power to vindicate her.” ―Hillary Kelly, Bookforum.com
“Not just a scandalous diary, but a portrait of the plight of women in the early Victorian era . . . A revealing portrait of the straight-laced Victorians.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Following the pattern of her previous book The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, Summerscale combines a thorough examination of her topic with a wider view of relevant social issues--in this case, Victorian attitudes toward marriage, divorce, and the figure of the unhappy housewife. 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.” ―Kathleen McCallister, Library Journal
“Romance and repression abound as a Victorian matron's innermost secrets are revealed in court via her private diary…. Summerscale does a nice job of placing both the case and the diary firmly into historical and sociological contexts.” ―Margaret Flanagan, Booklist
“Readers who complain that history is boring have never read Kate Summerscale . . . If you want historical accuracy and excellent research, grab the Summerscale.” ―Yvonne Zip, The Christian Science Monitor
About the Author
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.
Top customer reviews
"I believe it is the common case that very few wives do consider sufficiently their solemn obligation of obedience and submission to their husband's wishes, even though they be capricious."
It would seem to deny the reality of any thinking woman's life that this was the expectation. And Isabella was certainly a thinking woman! Her obsessive thoughts about men, her dissatisfaction with her husband and her own personal failings are effectively showcased against the background of detailed descriptions about the social mores of Victorian England.
Definitely an excellently written, non-fiction book. A must for history buffs, Anglophiles, or just those who enjoyed the novels by the Bronte sisters.
Most every country and culture has its mythologies and contradictions. Where those mythologies are too much at odds with reality, there will be increasingly complex and contradictory efforts to sustain and extend what is ultimately unsustainable.
In the United States, maintaining slavery as a righteous institution involved a sequence of extreme and nonsensical arguments. The African people were inferior to Caucasian populations.; Blacks liked being held in the security of slavery; even the possibility of romantic love between members of the respective races became a matter of regulatory control. Victorian Society had similar problems with the myths surrounding women.
Between assumption made about the relative helplessness of women and the barely emerging science of medicine a middle class British woman had second class standing in her legal rights and little reason to expect better from her doctor.. Many of these contradictions are laid out for us by Ms. Summerscale. For example, much of Isabel's defense would depend on letting herself be portrayed by her witnesses, leading members of the medical community, in terms no modern woman would tolerate.
Without being overly dramatic, Ms. Summerscale presents the relevant facts about the limits on a woman's standing in the newly created Court of Divorce and Matrimonial Causes. She could be divorced solely on the ground of adultery, she need more than this complaint to divorce an openly unfaithful husband.
For the rest I kept wondering about things not said, or said without preparation. We are told in too much detail about the growing friendship between the slightly older Robinson family and their friends Dr. and Mrs. Edward Lane. There is no warning when we are suddenly told that Mrs Robinson's feeling for Edward had gotten deeper and more romantic. Later Isabelle would develop a romantic attraction for a tutor, Mr. Thorn, even as she still felt drawn to the Dr. Are we to conclude that the lady is flighty in her emotions and perhaps too clingy once she has formed a particular desire?
Meantime Mr. Robinson is at best something of a cypher and at worst emotionally stunted, grasping and hostile. It is never clear if his business and engineering inventions are papering or barely keeping the family in the symbols of middle class security. We are told that he pressures his wife into surrendering much of her independent means, but the actual security of the household is never made clear. Mr. Robinson's biography is handled by an indifferent if not openly hostile Mrs. Summerscale.
There is much discussion of phrenology and hydrotherapy. Some is justified, but we are left uncertain as to Ms. Summerscale or Mrs. Robinson's opinions about these then popular versions of science. Charles Darwin makes a few appearances , in part because we know that name, part because he was present for some of the events and part because, no particular reason. The conclusion is that this is not tightly written history.
In Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace, Mrs. Summerscale has brought attention to a story that should be told. It includes many aspects that make it an important history of domestic life in a world where women are patronized, but nor respected. It includes many aspect that make it entertaining. The story teller mostly succeeds. Only mostly.
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