"I think people marry far too much; it is such a lottery, and for a poor woman - bodily and morally the husband's slave - a very doubtful happiness." (Queen Victoria to her recently married daughter Vicky)
Headstrong, high-spirited, and already widowed, Isabella Walker became Mrs. Henry Robinson at age 31 in 1844. Her first husband had died suddenly, leaving his estate to a son from a previous marriage, so she inherited nothing. A successful civil engineer, Henry moved them, by then with two sons, to Edinburgh's elegant society in 1850. But Henry traveled often and was cold and remote when home, leaving Isabella to her fantasies.
No doubt thousands of Victorian women faced the same circumstances, but Isabella chose to record her innermost thoughts - and especially her infatuation with a married Dr. Edward Lane - in her diary. Over five years the entries mounted - passionate, sensual, suggestive.
One fateful day in 1858, Henry chanced on the diary, and broaching its privacy, read Isabella's intimate entries. Aghast at his wife's perceived infidelity, Henry petitioned for divorce on the grounds of adultery. Until that year, divorce had been illegal in England, the marital bond being a cornerstone of English life. Their trial would be a cause célèbre, threatening the foundations of Victorian society with the specter of "a new and disturbing figure: a middle class wife who was restless, unhappy, avid for arousal." Her diary, read in court, was as explosive as Flaubert's Madame Bovary, just published in France but considered too scandalous to be translated into English until the 1880s.
As she accomplished in her award-winning and best-selling The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, Kate Summerscale brilliantly recreates the Victorian world, chronicling in exquisite and compelling detail the life of Isabella Robinson, wherein the longings of a frustrated wife collided with a society clinging to rigid ideas about sanity, the boundaries of privacy, the institution of marriage, and female sexuality.
"With intelligence and graceful prose, Summerscale gives an intimate and surprising look into Victorian life." (Publishers Weekly)
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Wonderful Insight Into Victorian Culture
I have. I am a big fan of the time period, and I felt this book did an excellent job of relating the scandalous tale of Mrs. Robinson while interweaving facts about Victorian England's culture that were surprising and unintentionally humorous in hindsight. The author delves into medical science, psychology, feminism, and religion in a factual account of the beliefs of the time, without putting her own bias on it.
Mrs. Robinson was such an anachronism, and I couldn't help wish that she could have lived in the 1970s instead of the 1800s.
Mrs. McCaddon is a wonderful narrator whose accents help bring authenticity to the people whose words she relates. She keeps it matter-of-fact, but is still interesting.
Several, but I wouldn't want to ruin it.
If you are interested in the history of the time, this is a great way to get into it from an interesting lens. It avoids a dull textbook approach to history. However, it is not a novel, so I might not recommend it if you aren't at all interested in a historical look at the culture of Victorian England.
Almost fell asleep
Real first person diary narratives. It was too subjective, someone narrating the history, than a small excerpt from a diary.
She sounded older than the character.
Listing the price of everything, houses, dresses etc. it was like a tax audit.
I did not finish the book. I tried to exchange for another one but it didn't work . I recently just found out about this a week ago and exchanged all the books I didn't finish/like narrator etc. so I am guessing there is a limit.
- Michelle Watters