A review of Mrs.Robinson's Disgrace The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady by Kate Summerscale

Product details
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (30 April 2012)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 140881241X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408812419  


On a mild winter's evening in 1850, Isabella Robinson set out for a party. Her carriage bumped across the wide cobbled streets of Edinburgh's Georgian New Town and drew up at 8 Royal Circus, a grand sandstone house lit by gas lamps. This was the home of the rich widow Lady Drysdale, a vivacious hostess whose soirees were the centre of an energetic intellectual scene.

Lady Drysdale's guests were gathered in the high, airy drawing rooms on the first floor, the ladies in dresses of glinting silk and satin, bodices pulled tight over boned corsets; the gentlemen in tailcoats, waistcoats, neckties and pleated shirt fronts, dark narrow trousers and shining shoes. When Mrs Robinson joined the throng she was introduced to Lady Drysdale's daughter and son-in-law, Mary and Edward Lane. She was at once enchanted by the handsome Mr Lane, a medical student ten years her junior. He was 'fascinating', she told her diary, before chastising herself for being so susceptible to a man's charms. But a wish had taken hold of her, which she was to find hard to shake...

A compelling story of romance and fidelity, insanity, fantasy, and the boundaries of privacy in a society clinging to rigid ideas about marriage and female sexuality, Mrs Robinson's Disgrace brings vividly to life a complex, frustrated Victorian wife, longing for passion and learning, companionship and love.

My Thoughts
I really wanted to fall in love with 'Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace' but alas I haven't! 
This really should be no surprise. I am a romantic at heart and do not believe in affairs; fictionalized, loosely based on truth or otherwise! To each his own, I suppose but what I discovered in 'Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace' was a woman who was so isolated and neglected by her travelling businessman husband that she became a fantasist with infatuations of men she met; primarily a much younger Mr. Edward Lane. Her one strong flaw was writing her desires and feelings down in her diary and stupidly keeping it in such an obvious place. For if her husband had never found it, that mock trial, would never have happened and both their affairs could have persisted! You see, what Kate Summerscale has done is write the British version of Madame Bovary with her ideas on Victorian social mores thrown in extensively.

 I was hoping that by reading 'Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace' it would help me to better understand the viewpoint of 'the mistress'. However, I just came away with frustrations and too many questions. I understand writing fictionally about a middle class Victorian married couple and the social, economic and political ideas of that time. What I could not get past as a reader and writer, was the obvious journalistic stance Kate Summerscale proivdes throughout 'Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace.' For instance, even though 'Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace' is broken up into parts where the storyline is moved along chronologically, huge portions of each chapter of part one begin with a long narrative background of each character before the character really comes alive through their feelings, behaviors and thoughts. This was the most frustrating aspect of reading 'Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace'.  As a reader, if the storyline is well-written, I should be able to follow the characters without a long running introduction. Kate Summerscale's background as a newspaper journalist comes into play here and gets in the way too much for me. I enjoyed the diary entries, even the salacious moments and was just hoping for a bit more storytelling and not so much story-dragging. 

I highly recommend 'Gillespie and I' by Jane Harris instead of Kate Summerscale's 'Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace'. 

Please feel free to leave any comments, 



Gary said…
Thank you for a refreshingly honest review, Kimberly! I enjoy your blog and your passion for historical fiction. Especially the Victorian Era.
Anonymous said…
An honest appraisal. gigigirl
Kimberly Eve said…
Thank you both for stopping by and commenting! Much appreciated!
Hermes said…
She's such a good writer and the reviews here have been positive but may skip this one.
Kimberly Eve said…
Thanks for commenting Hermes.
Well, if you do choose to
read it, just be ready to know
primarily every aspect to every
character's life!
Judy said…
Thanks for your review, Kimberly. As a researcher this is probably JUST the kind do novel I would end up writing. Too much research, not enough narrative.

I almost got this instead of Bringing Up the Bodies...
Kimberly Eve said…
Thanks for visiting and commenting Judy. I like that kind of novel, more research and less narrative!

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