cover image Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady

Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady

Kate Summerscale. Bloomsbury, $26 (384p) ISBN 978-1-60819-913-6

With intelligence and graceful prose, Summerscale gives an intimate and surprising look into Victorian life. A century before Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” a financially comfortable Victorian named Isabella Robinson defended herself in the newly created English divorce court over a mislaid diary filled with passionate erotic entries, philosophical musings, and complaints against her husband. Summerscale (The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher) suggests that Isabella fought to maintain her marriage to a controlling, tight-fisted husband (himself an adulterer) to protect the reputation of her alleged lover, Dr. Edward Lane, a hydrotherapist who treated her, as well as an ailing Charles Darwin and popular phrenologist George Combe. In two sections, the book first describes Isabella’s flowery, coy memories of the doctor and others who offered her distraction; the second part focuses on her trial on an adultery charge and the scrambling of her male friends to preserve their reputations. Questions raised in the newspapers about Isabella’s sanity and desperate need for attention, coupled with Lane’s firm courtroom denials, clouded the truth for contemporary spectators concerning Henry Robinson’s charge of adultery, resulting in a highly unusual 19th-century divorce case filled with salacious details and unsympathetic characters on both sides of the aisle. 8 pages b&w photo insert. Agent: Rogers, Coleridge & White Ltd (U.K.) (June)