Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace by Kate Summerscale

I received a galley of this novel from NetGalley for review. This in no way affected my opinions.

Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace is a very unique, first-hand look into the life of a middle class, married woman in Victorian Britain.

Over the course of several years, Isabella Robinson keeps a diary, in which she describes her infatuation with a a married doctor named Edward Lane. Isabella's husband Henry finds this diary whilst snooping around, and uses it to bring about a petition for divorce.

This book strongly showed the double standard between men and women, husbands and wives, during the Victorian era. For a husband to obtain a divorce, he needed to prove his wife was unfaithful, and produce two witnesses. For a wife to obtain a divorce, she had to prove that her husband was cruel and/or violent, or that he had deserted her. So, a husband could carry on an affair and produce several illegitimate children (ex. Henry Robinson), but a wife could not get a divorce based just on that.

The first part of the book sets up the back story, and shows us the events from 1850-1856, which includes her words about Dr. Lane. Isabella was definitely someone who needed attention and affection, which her husband did not provide for her. In fact, she was starved for it, which is evident from her diary entries. This caused her to have above friendly feelings for a few different men, which also included her sons' tutor.

The second part of the book was the trial and outcome. Isabella's most private thoughts were read aloud to a packed courtroom. I was enraged and mortified for her as her words were scrutinized. Not only was the supposed affair had to be proven or not, but Isabella's sanity was also an issue. It was even brought up, at one point, that all women who wrote were insane, including prominent novelists. Ludicrous. I guess I'm insane right now.

Whether or not the affair between Edward and Isabella existed, or whether the words Isabella wrote were just from her own imagination were irrelevant. She was treated unkindly by everyone involved. Her privacy was invaded, her sanity was questioned, and her reputation was destroyed. The double standard between men and women was even more disgusting then than it is now, and this book was a good look into the hypocrisy of the Victorian era.


Marg said...

I really enjoyed the first book by this author and I hope to read this one soon.