Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace by Kate Summerscale

89%

28 Critic Reviews

... she has turned a sepia photograph, curling and tattered, into a film that runs through the mind in glorious and unimpeachable Technicolor.
-Guardian

Synopsis

"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 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.

As she accomplished in her award-winning and bestselling 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.
 

About Kate Summerscale

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Kate Summerscale is the author of the bestselling The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, which was awarded the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, and the upcoming Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace. She has also judged various literary competitions including the Booker Prize. She lives in London with her son.
 
Published June 19, 2012 by Bloomsbury USA. 320 pages
Genres: History, Travel, Biographies & Memoirs, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Jul 08 2012
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Critic reviews for Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace
All: 28 | Positive: 26 | Negative: 2

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by ANDREA WULF on Jun 22 2012

...she prods, scrutinizes and examines, employing a real-life historical episode to shed light on Victorian morality and sensibilities.

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Guardian

Excellent
Reviewed by Rachel Cooke on May 12 2012

... she has turned a sepia photograph, curling and tattered, into a film that runs through the mind in glorious and unimpeachable Technicolor.

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Guardian

Excellent
Reviewed by Alexandra Harris on May 09 2012

As a guide to mid-Victorian cultural life...Summerscale is simply superb, and she sets a fine example of what cultural history can do.

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Feb 20 2012

With intelligence and graceful prose, Summerscale gives an intimate and surprising look into Victorian life.

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WSJ online

Excellent
Reviewed by ALEXANDRA MULLEN on Jul 19 2012

...Ms. Summerscale has told a story as thrilling and complex as the best of them.

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WSJ online

Excellent
Reviewed by ALEXANDRA MULLEN on Jul 18 2012

...Ms. Summerscale has told a story as thrilling and complex as the best of them.

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NPR

Above average
Reviewed by Jordan Foster on Jun 19 2012

...Summerscale admits (oddly late in the book) that the original journal and any complete copies were long ago destroyed and her research is based on excerpts used in the protracted Robinson vs. Robinson & Lane divorce proceeding...

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Washington Times

Good
Reviewed by Marion Elizabeth Rodgers on Sep 28 2012

...a highly original and intimate look into the double standards of Victorian life with its rigid ideas about sanity, the boundaries of privacy, the institution of marriage and female sexuality.

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Entertainment Weekly

Excellent
Reviewed by Dianna Agron on Jun 27 2012

Summerscale unspools the Robinsons' tale with flair in Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace, but it's her social history of marriage that's really riveting.

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The Telegraph

Good
Reviewed by Philippa Gregory on Jun 07 2012

This is a highly considered social history teased out from a fascinating personal document, and Summerscale takes the reader through layer upon layer of understanding...

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The Telegraph

Excellent
Reviewed by Judith Flanders on May 11 2012

Summerscale triumphantly avoids fairy ink and poesy both, producing a gripping account of the destruction of a marriage.

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Christian Science Monitor

Good
Reviewed by Yvonne Zipp on Feb 10 2013

Readers who complain that history is boring have never read Kate Summerscale.

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The Boston Globe

Excellent
Reviewed by Matthew Price on Jul 08 2012

You’ll find “Fifty Shades of Grey’’ on beaches everywhere, from Maine to Mashpee, but the story of Mrs. Robinson deserves a place on summer reading lists. She is pretty hot stuff.

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City Book Review

Good
Reviewed by Audrey Curtis on Sep 12 2012

...Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace offers an interesting, extraordinarily well researched look into our social past.

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The Sydney Morning Herald

Above average
Reviewed by Kirsten Tranter on Jul 28 2012

... the book would be greatly enhanced by reproductions of some of the paintings Summerscale discusses, pages from the newspapers that published the diary, and pictures of the people and places involved in the case.

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Historical Novel Society

Excellent
Reviewed by Nanette Donohue on Aug 01 2012

... the story is fascinating, and the glimpse inside the lives of the mid-Victorian middle-class is unusual and unique.

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We Love This Book

Good
Reviewed by Sally Hughes on Feb 10 2013

For those interested in the contradictions inherent in the Victorian age, particularly the role of women or just those craving a good story this is an absorbing read.

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Independent.ie

Good
Reviewed by ANNE MARIE SCANLON on Jun 10 2012

Any woman who says she is not a feminist should read this book which shines a spotlight on just how powerless women were in the "good old days".

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Independent.ie

Good
on May 19 2012

She is a bold and brazen heroine, defying every stereotype of the Victorian wife, and emerges as a thoroughly modern woman.

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Scotsman.com

Above average
Reviewed by Claire Harman on May 26 2012

This is the story of Victorian scandal and double standards expertly presented by Kate Summerscale in her first book since the genre-busting The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, and it makes a suitably gripping follow-up.

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Bookmarks Magazine

Excellent
Reviewed by Jon on May 14 2012

... Kate Summerscale brilliantly recreates the Victorian world, chronicling in exquisite and compelling detail the life of Isabella Robinson...

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Story Circle Book Reviews

Above average
Reviewed by Mary Daniels Brown on Jul 16 2012

Reading this book made me once again appreciate our foremothers' hard work in establishing a woman's right to respect and personal autonomy.

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Book Forum

Excellent
Reviewed by Hillary Kelly on May 16 2012

The diary may have ruined Isabella Robinson, but Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace has the power to vindicate her.

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New Zealand Woman's Weekly

Excellent
Reviewed by Vicky Tyler on Jul 20 2012

Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace provides a fascinating insight into the life of a 19th century wife and a scandal that rocked Victorian England.

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Artswrap

Excellent
on Feb 10 2013

...Mrs Robinson's Disgrace brings vividly to life a complex, frustrated Victorian wife, longing for passion and learning,

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The Times Literary Supplement

Excellent
Reviewed by Mark Bostridge on May 09 2012

... she has produced a marvellously compelling narrative as well as a superb piece of historical detection.

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Book Oxygen

Excellent
Reviewed by Caroline Sanderson on Apr 30 2012

I found Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace a more compelling and satisfying read than its mega-selling predecessor because it examines so many questions which still consume us today.

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History and Women.

Excellent
on Jun 29 2012

...it is a fascinating case story and an important historical event worth reading about.

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