This book is really beautifully bound if you get the hard cover edition. It’s soft blue, with embossed gold flowers on the cover, and a swathed Victorian lady pictured in the centre. Perhaps it’s slightly beside the point, but I do love a the pleasure of reading a beautifully bound volume.
Kate Summerscale once again takes us back to the Victorian Era to explore the case of the Robinson’s, a couple whose divorce case made all the papers of it’s time. In the mid 1800’s, Isabella Robinson was unhappily married to her dull and unkind husband. She liked to live in a world of ideas, mixing with some of the great minds of the day, while he had married her for money, was frequently absent, and happened to have a mistress and two children on the side. But Isabella kept a diary. And when her husband came across it and it’s contents, it’s publication through the divorce proceedings shocked polite society of the time.
The story follows Mrs Robinson through her life, looking at society at the time, and the laws that meant that women, essentially, did not exist and were an object owned by their husband. Divorce was starting to become easier to attain, but involved a great deal of shame. In using her diary, Isabella’s husband was trying to destroy her both emotionally, financially and socially. There’s something about Isabella that is heartbreakingly naive and also boldly free spirited. She’s very easy to relate to in this book, and yet her written words of longing and desire as well as her actions to meet these needs, were totally at odds with what was expected of women of the day. It’s a fascinating story, both because of the scandal surrounding her and the nature of the subject. I read it in one sitting.
Read It If: a fascinating look at the lives of women in the Victorian Era, one for history lovers and free spirits.