MRS ROBINSON’S DISGRACE

A diary and a divorce trial that scandalised the nation

When Isabella Robinson was introduced to the dashing Edward Lane at a party in 1850, she was utterly enchanted. 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, and she was to find it hard to shake...

 

In one of the most notorious divorce cases of the nineteenth century, Isabella Robinson's dreams and secrets were exposed to the world. Kate Summerscale brings vividly to life a frustrated Victorian wife's longing for passion and learning, companionship and love, in a society clinging to rigid ideas about marriage and female sexuality.

‘A breathtaking achievement ... she has turned a sepia photograph, curling and tattered, into a film that runs through the mind in glorious and unimpeachable Technicolor’

Rachel Cooke, The Observer

Praise for ‘Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace’

‘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

 

‘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 (£)

 

‘Summerscale has rescued this extraordinary story from the archives, and set it into the context of a time when the debate about women, sexuality and marriage reached a new level of anxiety’

Philippa Gregory, Daily Telegraph
 

‘Kate Summerscale has done it again. Her rare combination of scholarly precision and novelistic skill, displayed in her award-winning account of a Victorian murder, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, are used to tremendous effect in this account of a scandalous divorce case. Once more her dark Victorian page-turner also reveals much about the age in which it took place’

Catherine Peters, Literary Review (£)

 

‘This is the golden age of narrative nonfiction, and Summerscale does it better than just about anyone’

Laura Miller of Salon.com on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday

 

‘A marvellously compelling narrative as well as a superb piece of historical detection’

Mark Bostridge, Times Literary Supplement (£)

 

‘Summerscale has a gift for historical excavation and reconstruction. This book is every bit as captivating as her award-winning bestseller, The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher… instantly gripping’

Arifa Akbar, Independent

 

‘Told with dazzling detail and exquisite tenderness, this non-fiction tale reads like a perfect novel’

Elle Magazine

 

‘As a guide to mid-Victorian cultural life… Summerscale is simply superb, and she sets a fine example of what cultural history can do’

Alexandra Harris, Guardian

 

‘A glorious evocation of both one woman’s inner world, her hopes, dreams, disappointments and desires, and …the painstakingly researched Victorian world she inhabits where a multitude of new ideas are threatening traditional conventional values … captivating’ 

Lucy Scholes, The Daily Beast

 

‘The surface of the book is Victorian; the sense of life it contains is modern, unresolved and open’

Philip Hensher, The Spectator

 

‘Fascinatingly forensic… a gripping account of the destruction of a marriage’

Judith Flanders, Sunday Telegraph

 

‘Her courtroom reconstructions are vivid and enthralling, her research is impeccable and her narration coolly authoritative … gripping’

Claire Harman, Evening Standard

 

‘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 (£)

 

‘I was hooked after the first few pages. It's as good as non-fiction could possibly get’ 

Victoria Hislop, Daily Mail

 

‘Moving, compelling and brilliantly executed’

Dan Jones, Daily Telegraph Books of the Year

 

‘What a clever little book this is… Kate Summerscale is an original and graceful storyteller’

Duncan Fallowell, Express

 

‘A riveting exploration of human sexuality and the private worlds of the self, of the gray area between fact and fiction… [with] all the titillation of the raciest summer read’

Matthew Price, Boston Globe

 

‘A fascinating story of desire, prejudice and cover-up… Summerscale turns super-sleuth again’

Sebastian Shakespeare, Tatler

 

‘Kate Summerscale… has a scrupulous eye for evidence and a deep knowledge of the period… But her greatest strength is her ability to shape a scene or manage a revelation in a way that does indeed recall the pleasures of the nineteenth-century novel, the novel whose conventions and omissions are the background to all she writes. She never condescends to the past, and yet her narratives include all those things at which English writers could only wink’

Michael Gorra, New Republic

 

‘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’ 

Chitra Ramaswamy, Scotsman

 

‘Life doesn't provide endings as tidy as Victorian novels do, but the clear-eyed, unsentimental Ms Summerscale has told a story as thrilling and complex as the best of them’

Alexandra Mullen, Wall Street Journal

 

‘Fascinating’

Andrea Wulf, New York Times 

 

‘Summerscale unspools the Robinsons’ tale with flair in Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace, but it’s her social history of marriage that’s really riveting. A’

Tina Jordan, Entertainment Weekly

 

‘It’s brilliant. Summerscale is a historian who writes like a novelist. A good novelist’

Lev Grossman, Time

 

‘Highly original and intimate… I won’t give away the ending to this explosive little tale’

Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, Washington Times

 

‘With intelligence and graceful prose, Summerscale gives an intimate and surprising look into Victorian life’

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 

‘Readers who complain that history is boring have never read Kate Summerscale’

Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor

EXTRAS
Kate Summerscale discusses Mrs Robinson's Disgrace

Official website © Kate Summerscale 2017. Background image: 1882 Reynolds map of London / Wikimedia Commons