Monday, 24 June 2013

Mrs Robinson's Disgrace: the Private Diary of a Victorian Lady

A further retrospective review.

This is not something that I would have picked out, although I do read a lot of history, but it was offered as a Kindle 'deal'.  I read the first few pages, and quite liked it, so bought it, then forgot about it for several months.

I did find it interesting, a view into what marriage in Victorian times was like. Isabella was the still young widow of a much older man who had suddenly 'gone mad', and subsequently died. She had a young son, so accepted the suit of Mr Robinson, who she didn't appear to like very much, because - quite frankly - she didn't have much alternative.

She did have an income, but for a widowed woman with a young son there was very little opportunity to meet people, or travel, so she married again. Her husband, Henry, was a boor, who forced her to hand over all her money, and, as father to her two younger sons, had a major hold over her - if she left, she lost her children. They were wealthy, but Isabella needed more from a marriage than financial security.

She was a romantic who loved to discuss poetry, and was interested in phrenology and other topics discussed in the fashionable salons of Edinburgh. She also kept a diary of her passions for handsome and charming younger men. Mostly, it seemed to be the kind of thing that 14 year old girls used to write before Facebook came along, full of half disclosed passions and imaginings. However, there were passages that suggested a more real relationship with one man had developed, albeit briefly.

Eventually her husband found the diary, and attempted to divorce her on the grounds of adultery - the only evidence being the diary. Not withstanding his own adultery and illegitimate children, almost as soon as the law was changed to allow divorce without an act of parliament he took action, obtained a separation and attempted to gain a divorce.

Of course, there were other people involved, and the book turns around the actions of a group of people who tried to get the adultery disproved - because of the damage it would do to the co-respondent in the case.

What did I like about the book? Gaining an understanding of what life was like for a wealthy woman, and how little power women had. The beliefs of the time: phrenology, the idea that women were in thrall to their uteri, and unable to think clearly about anything - even madness caused by 'uterine disease'. I also got a better idea of how men could do whatever they wanted, with little regard for women or women's wishes. 

Because I read this on my Kindle I suddenly found the book coming to an end only about a third of the way through. This was because of the way it is organised: Book, then footnotes/explanations, then extensive references. This wasn't a problem, but I found it a bit weird that I could see the book was close to finished, and my Kindle kept telling me I had a lot still to read.

I liked it 8/10.

No comments:

Post a Comment