- The idea of reading a Victorian woman’s diary was… thrilling.
- Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
- The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
Summary from GoodReads:
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 celebre, 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.
Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace is one of those books which puts me right dead center, making it very difficult to review. So I’m going to split this review into two parts and leave it up to you to decide if this is a book that’s up your alley.
Story: The story here is fantastic. It’s a lesson in feminism, a look at the issues and trials facing a bored housewife in a time where that is what a respectable lady was. Think Madame Bovary – but this time written by a woman and in such a way that tidbits of her diary are cropping up everywhere, allowing the reader to live in this sort of omnipresent place.
The story is strong enough that it almost (ALMOST) overcomes what bothered me most about the book. I wanted to know everything there was to know about Mrs. Robinson. I wanted to know just how she fell in love, or lust, why she felt about her second-born the way she did, and many other secrets that get revealed through the course of the book. Those questions were enough to propel me through the book.
Telling: This is where the book fell massively short for me – and I think had I not been a student recently, and preparing to be one again this fall, it would not have been quite so noticeable to me. That said, this entire novel read like a research paper – complete with quotes (although lacking citations). The telling was so dry and so researched-sounding, that it made me think I was reading an incredibly long presentation paper on the life of a Victorian woman.
So, there’s my two-sided review. I don’t want to reveal to much in this review, because like I said earlier, Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace has an amazing story to tell.
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