Interesting to read this book so soon after Loving Frank, which chronicles the struggles of an American woman to break free of her marriage in the first decades of 1900s. Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady follows the tribulations of a well-born, well-connected British woman who feels trapped by her marriage in the 1850s.
An intelligent and imaginative woman, Isabella Robinson found solace in reading, writing, and dwelling unhealthily on the crushes she developed on other men; notably Dr. Edward Lane, a family friend. She recorded her irritations with her husband and her affections for Lane and others in her diary. As Great Britain introduced a divorce law in 1858 and her husband discovered the diary, Isabella found her most intimate—and probably creatively enhanced—confessions on public display in court and in the news.
Summerscale sets this domestic drama against the age’s social, cultural, and scientific trends: phrenology, evolution, atheism, sexual freedom, new literary forms. This book isn’t quite as engrossing as Summerscale’s 2008 true-life Victorian crime procedural The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, but it nevertheless highlights the undercurrents of remarkable change in an era which seems, on the surface, so static.