Friday, January 4, 2013

Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace

Mrs. Robinson is a Victorian era lady. She was raised in relative wealth, married, had a son and was widowed at 31. As a child she was willful, disobeying her parents at every opportunity. She smoked cigars as a young woman, something scandalous for the time. She married Henry Robinson because she felt she needed to be married even though he father left her some money to live on. Robinson was an engineer, who was often away on business.

The setting is the time of Queen Victoria's reign. Madam Bovary had just been published in France, but was currently banned in England. In 1858, the Crown began giving divorces to the middle class - an act of Parliament was no longer required. Even though the Victorians were thought to be straight-laced, sex was everywhere.  Several treatises had been published dealing with the sexual urges of woman and how they effected their mental health. Isabella was a forward thinking woman, more free spirited than her very straight and narrow minded husband. To say that Henry was mean spirited and vindictive was understating the facts.

Isabella and Henry lived in a fashionable area of Edinburgh. Isabella became good friends with Lady Drysdale, her daughter, Mary, and her son-in-law Edward Lane. They lived within walking distance of each other and had children of similar ages. Isabella spent a lot of time with the Lanes. Isabella also kept a diary, a common practice at the time. In it she recorded her thoughts and emotions as well as her feelings for certain people, her husband and Edward Lane included. She called her husband an "uncongenial partner" after he took control of the money her father had given her for her personal use.

In time Isabella grew to despise Henry. He had a mistress and 2 illegitimate daughters. Isabella believed Henry married her for her money. Isabella spent more and more times with the Lanes. She and Edward talked about poetry and philosophy and items in the news something she never did with her husband.   Isabella indicated in her diary that she had feelings for Edward. She was concerned that her "lustings" were going to ruin her. Edward was not the only man Isabella had feelings for. She actively sought out  the tutors of her sons. All this information was contained in her diary. Either Isabella had a vivid imagination or her diary was remarkably frank.

While Isabella was ill with delirium,. she called out the names of other men. Henry was appalled and began to search through Isabella's things.  He found the diaries and set about to ruin her and Edward. In order to get a divorce Henry had to establish his wife's infidelity. The diaries were just the item to do so.

The book goes through the divorce proceedings in detail. The divorce laws were changing at the time and Henry was adept at manipulating things. He wanted to ruin both Isabella and Edward.  The basis for the book are the court records, the diaries and some letters. Kate Summerscale has pieced these together to write a book showing not only the folly of an unhappy woman but the injustice that the woman faced simply because of her being a female. I thought the book was fascinating. An interesting situation taking place at an  interesting time.

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