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Mrs Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady [Diary]

Kate Summerscale
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)
RRP: 16.99
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Book Description

30 April 2012

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 terrace lit by gas lamps.

The guests were gathered in the high, airy drawing rooms on the first floor, the ladies in glinting silk and satin pulled tight over boned corsets; the gentlemen in tailcoats, waistcoats and neckties. When Mrs Robinson joined the throng she was at once enchanted by a Mr Edward Lane, a handsome 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...

Frequently Bought Together

Mrs Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady + The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House + The Queen of Whale Cay: The Extraordinary Story of 'Joe' Carstairs, the Fastest Woman on Water
Price For All Three: 26.37

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Product details

  • Diary: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (30 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140881241X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408812419
  • Product Dimensions: 21.2 x 14 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 205,258 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kate Summerscale is the author of the bestselling The Queen of Whale Cay, which won a Somerset Maugham award and was shortlisted for the Whitbread biography award. She has also judged various literary competitions including the Booker Prize. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House, published in April 2008, was awarded the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction 2008, the 2009 Galaxy Book of the Year and is a Number One International Bestseller. Kate Summerscale lives in London.

Product Description


Like her previous book, I was hooked after the first few pages. It's as good as non-fiction could possibly get (Victoria Hislop, Daily Mail)

Extraordinary ... As one would expect from the author of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, the material here is handled with confident subtlety. The history goes from the individual to the individual's world with seductive ease. This is a highly considered social history teased ... fascinating ***** (Philippa Gregory Daily Telegraph)

Summerscale strikes non-fiction gold for the third time (Independent on Sunday)

As in the wildly successful The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, the strange tale of Mrs Robinson acts as a whirlpool for all the furious undercurrents of an era. Summerscale's brilliance lies not only in recognising the power of a particular story, but in charting, with beautiful precision, its strange echoes and reverberations ***** (Craig Brown Mail on Sunday 'Book of the Week')

You'll find Fifty Shades of Grey on beaches everywhere ... but the story of Mrs Robinson deserves a place on summer reading lists. She is pretty hot stuff (Boston Globe)

A masterful retelling of a true Victorian scandal ... a breathtaking achievement ... Summerscale's account of this court case is faultless; her seemingly inexhaustible capacity for research renders what could be tedious and vividly dry alive ... I'm all admiration: she has turned a sepia photograph, curling and tattered, into a film that runs through the mind in glorious and unimpeachable Technicolor (Rachel Cooke Observer)

Book of the week ... a winning blend of biography and courtroom drama - and an important slice of social history ... an absorbing tale, admirably told by a mistress of her craft (Valerie Grove The Times)

Grippingly suspenseful ... Mrs Robinson's Disgrace displays a scalpel-sharp investigative mind, and it vividly conveys the immediate surroundings of the case, from the stench of the polluted Thames infiltrating Westminster Hall to the degradations of Victorian marriage (John Carey Sunday Times)

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

Told with dazzling detail and exquisite tenderness, this non-fiction tale reads like a perfect novel (Elle)

Absorbing ... grippingly told ... Summerscale's book is detailed, expansive and well informed (Philip Hensher Spectator)

It's brilliant. Summerscale is a historian who writes like a novelist. A good novelist (Lev Grossman Time Magazine)

Moving, compelling and brilliantly executed (Daily Telegraph, Books of the Year)

The best kind of detective story ... Summerscale triumphantly avoids fairy ink and poesy both, producing a gripping account of the destruction of a marriage ... Sure to be a hit (Sunday Telegraph)

This real-life Madame Bovary's ensuing divorce case scandalised society and Kate Summerscale brilliantly re-creates a Victorian world clinging to its rigid ideas about marriage and women's sexuality (Good Housekeeping)

Her first book since the genre-busting Mr Whicher, and it makes a suitably gripping follow-up ... Summerscale puts this peculiar case in a wonderfully rich context of fads of the day ... Her courtroom reconstructions are vivid and enthralling, her research is impeccable and her narration coolly authoritative as she draws together what was happening around her subject and makes Mrs Robinson's volatile state of mind much more explicable (Claire Harman Evening Standard)

Where Kate Summerscale's exhaustively researched book is most fascinating and disturbing is in laying bare contemporary anxieties about female sexuality **** (Sunday Express)

Far more than the account of a failed marriage and its aftermath - or even the story of a torrid affair, imaginary or otherwise. In the manner of her prize-winning The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Kate Summerscale takes the records and reports of the court case and treats them like a detective story, skillfully building up the suspense (Financial Times)

Utterly engrossing (Woman & Home)

A marvellously compelling narrative as well as a superb piece of historical detection. But more than that, Summerscale has astutely positioned the case at the intersection of various legal and social developments (Times Literary Supplement)

Kate Summerscale has a knack for rescuing Victorian histories from obscurity and turning them into the most compulsive books you're likely to find in any non-fiction section ... Thought-provoking stuff from a writer who, in putting the past in the dock, teaches us about who we are now (Scotsman)

A great book-group read (Red)

A gripping read: thoughtful, and studded with asides on Victorian culture (The Lady)

A highly original and intimate look into the double standards of Victorian life ... Mrs Robinson could be as big a hit as Downton Abbey (Washington Times)

Kate Summerscale follows The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, her gripping reconstruction of a Victorian murder case, with a look at domestic horror of a very different kind. It's the heart-breaking true story of Isabella Robinson (Irish Times '30 Great Summer Reads')

A fascinating insight into the inequalities of Victorian society, women's place in it and the boundaries of privacy (Psychologies)

A fascinating story of desire, prejudice and cover-up ... Summerscale turns super-sleuth again (Sebastian Shakespeare Tatler)

Summerscale painstakingly analyses medicine, property, divorce and the treatment of women (Guardian Readers' Books of the Year)

Book Description

From the number one bestselling, multi-award-winning author of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher comes a brand new true story of Victorian scandal

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fact over fiction? 29 Jan 2013
Format:Diary|Verified Purchase
This is a case of successful extreme research and cleverly stitched historical information apparently about the marriage of an individual woman. It is actually much more than that, providing insight into both men and women, the way society is organised, and how established values can dominate fragile human beings. The profiling of individual persons, victims or lawyers, is fascinating. Read the notes.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Victorian life and morals 15 April 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
To learn more about middle/upper class Victorians. This book shows the double standards in Victorian society, men appear to have had different rules they lived by, whilst women were deemed of no consequence and not supposed to have views on any subject other than their children and running of the household. And to have actual feelings of passion was shocking.
This book is an excellent record of victorian marriage and divorce, based on a genuine divorce, not a novel so many will be disappointed, the language is different, more stilted, many would struggle with it. The book is quite short pity another case is not included. If you like light chick lit this is not for you, students of history will find it a helpful reference of research.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read 6 Aug 2014
One or two reviewers have criticised the book for not being the diary itself, but a quick glimpse at the description would show that it's a book about the diary and its author, with diary extracts, so I think that's a little unfair.

I found it a fascinating story and couldn't help feeling for both Mrs Robinson and Victorian women in general because of the outrageous way in which they and virtually everything they 'owned' legally belonged to their husbands.

There is some padding, as there so often is in this kind of story where there isn't quite enough material to fill a whole book. Background information is one thing, but some of the sidetracks the author goes down seemed to me to be largely there to increase the word count.

My other gripe is that it fizzles out at the end. We get quite detailed insights into the lives of the main characters for most of the book, presumably mostly culled from newspaper accounts as well as the diary. But once the trial was over and they were out of the limelight, there seems to have been little more information to go on but for the barest facts, and it all feels like a hasty summing up.

I'd still recommend it as a worthwhile read, though.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant! 25 July 2013
I'm dumbfounded by the reviewers here who thought this brilliant work of non-fiction was a "novel" or said they would have just preferred to read the original diaries (which, if they knew how to read footnotes, they would realize were destroyed). This was an exceptionally researched and expertly written history. I was enthralled.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much food for thought 5 Feb 2013
Format:Diary|Verified Purchase
This book has really gripped me despite my misgivings about the violation of privacy in reading someone's (highly edited) diary. That aside, Kate Summerscale does a great job in contextualising the diary's contents. It gives a sobering account of the plight of even quite wealthy women in the 1850's if they had the misfortune to be unhappily married. This all sounds a bit worthy but I can truly say I found it an absorbing read and am very grateful for the freedom and independence women have always enjoyed in my lifetime. The Kindle edition also contains the full text of Madame Bovary with an introduction by KS which makes it particularly good value.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed. 23 Aug 2014
By jazzy2
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
After reading the glowing reviews from other authors and critics,I was very disappointed with this book. I was expecting some sort of diary. It isn't often that I choose a book which I find I don't particularly want to finish, but this, sadly, didn't hold my interest and I was glad to get to the end. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find Madam Bovary at the end which is one of my favourite books, so rereading that was a reward for staggering through poor Mrs. Robinson's little tale.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Misleading purchase 26 Aug 2014
By Nick
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Disappointing; not a patch on her other 2 books. No indication from the cover or anything at the front of the book that it included "Madame Bovary" - if I'd wanted to buy this I would have liked to have the option. Very thoroughly researched though, although I can't say it made me feel particularly sympathetic for any of the characters involved.
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40 of 53 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Like a long essay 14 May 2012
I was really looking forward to this book - but was very disappointed.

What I found was not the private diary of a Victorian lady but the author's explaination of it with the odd quote from the diary itself written in, followed by a usually glaringly obvious explaination as to what said quote meant within that context.

I felt like I was reading a very long essay on the book.

The story is interesting, but I would rather have read more of the diary itself.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Poor Mrs. Robsinson
This was interesting as a historical perspective on attitudes to women and sexuality, hypocracy and ignorance. Poor Mrs. Robsinson, her namesake had much more fun in The Graduate!
Published 1 month ago by Helen Reece
3.0 out of 5 stars In the end who care
Well written, but a very very minor matter of little historical or human interest. Certainly not woth linking with Madame Bovary.
Published 5 months ago by D. G. Kirby
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read if you like history.
I enjoyed the lead up to the main events of the story - the social setting and the detailed background. Read more
Published 5 months ago by nyorks Annie
2.0 out of 5 stars A long hard slog
Yawn. Surprise, surprise women had a hard time in the Victorian era and had to go through a series of court cases to get their rights recognised.
Published 6 months ago by BrentwoodBlue
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
The author has taken a Victorian scandal and turned it into much more. Her meticulous research and clear, insightful writing have made this a fascinating account of an age we think... Read more
Published 7 months ago by GeordieReader
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
This is an intriguing look at an old scandal but, sadly I began to get bored and did not finish it. Maybe it needs tighter editing.
Published 7 months ago by B. Brown
5.0 out of 5 stars The beginnings of modern divorce explained
Victorian society was very different to modern society in many ways, but the status of women was perhaps one of the biggest differences. Read more
Published 7 months ago by History Geek
3.0 out of 5 stars A little disappointing
I heard about the book on radio 4. I found it a little difficult to get into and was rather disappointed over all. I found very little empathy for the named main character
Published 7 months ago by helen.remfan
2.0 out of 5 stars Tedious
I found this boring. It never really grabbed me as other books of a similar genre have and I am not sure if it was the writing or the subject.
Published 7 months ago by Mrs H
4.0 out of 5 stars a good read
A well written account of double standards as regards morals in the 19th century. It's hard to believe this happened only 150 years ago.
Published 7 months ago by santacruzgirl
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