Monday, June 11, 2012

Mrs Robinson's Disgrace by Kate Summerscale

The subtitle of this book reads "The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady". But really, it's like one of those non-fiction historical crime novels - it dissects what actually happened using not only her diary but also the letters, newspapers, etc. What all this leads to is a very interesting narrative on what happened.

Because it's almost impossible to know exactly what happened (even the diary is not explicit), quite a lot of guesswork has to be made. But it all sounds very plausible,

Now that I've got the whole "reliability" thing out of the way, on to the narrative of the book. While it's not a first person narrative, it reads like a crime novel (without the crime). There is (naturally), a lot of emphasis on the titular Mrs Robinson, who is caught between for her feelings for another man, and her husband, who by all accounts sounds like a deeply unpleasant fellow.

The book is split into two parts - what happened before, and the divorce trial. Apparently, the trial was a great sensation because of the diary. It also caused a lot of scandal/trouble among those she knew, because she didn't believe in God but in the powers of science (and at time, one of her teachers was endeavouring the show that they two weren't incompatible).

Well, I guess there's not much to say. It's a biography (on a very specific part of her life, even though there is an quick summary of her life before and after) after all, and it's hard to summarise without giving away the plot. But it's a really interesting book, and it provides a look at a very interesting lady.

In fact, I think you should read this book along with "The Women Reader" by Belinda Jack. The Women Reader looks at the history of women reading (and writing), and Mrs Robinson is by all accounts a well-read and talented women writer. So, it makes sense to read her and learn about the history of women reading at the same time (plus, this if you read Mrs Robinson's Disgrace second, you get the benefit of knowing the attitudes towards reading and writing at that time).

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

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