Just read, Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace, Kate Summerscale

IMG_0473This is a very good book. I really enjoyed Kate Summerscale’s Suspicions of Mr Whicher a few years ago so bought Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace soon after it came out, sometime early summer I think. Only just got around to reading it and it took me a while, not because the book was slow going, on the contrary, I’ve just been busy. What I really like about Kate Summerscale is how she manages to make the story utterly fascinating. On the surface, it is not really a big story or a very important event, it was just a bit of a Victorian divorce scandal but Kate Summerscale builds on this to discuss Victorian morality, the media, social standing of women and what a momentous occasion the introduction of the divorce was in 1858. Also the fascination with writing diaries, influences of Romantic poetry and fiction, and basically how unfulfilled and repressed some women (and men) were in their lives in mid nineteenth century. Interwoven with all this, familiar Victorian characters such as Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Charles Darwin appear and it is fascinating to see how current events often influenced what the first two wrote about. I love reading Dickens and particularly love finding out, (always sometime later) how a real event inspired a character or a storyline, he was such a magpie (in the nicest possible sense).  Then there are bits of medicine, what was accepted and what was considered ‘quackery’ – for example homeopathy and craniology as well as some ideas in psychology and psychoanalysis that predated Freud. At the same time, the narrative is never weighed down, there are no clunky conclusions and there is ambiguity, you are not forced to feel pity or to make a judgment, Summerscale just draws a parallel or your attention to something, then moves on. I didn’t feel there was anything laboured or overworked but the story will definitely linger. What a marvel of a book.


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