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Although I finished the book last week I sat on this review for a few days. Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace is the type of book that needs to be digested slowly and given careful thought. Personally, I adore those kinds of books and am absolutely ecstatic I found this one.
My misery is a woman’s misery, and it will speak – here, rather than nowhere; to my second self, in this book, if I have no one else to hear me.Wilkie Collins; Armadale
The book opens in 1850 in Edinburgh, Scotland and introduces Isabella Robinson, the 36-year old wife of Henry Oliver Robinson. Isabella had remarried after the death of her first husband and was left with no inheritance as he willed everything to a son from an earlier marriage.
Isabella’s life with Henry was not a happy one (her only joy came from her three sons) and it was her unhappiness that led to her infamous diary.
‘Dreaming all night of absent friends, romantic situations, and Mr. Lane,’ ran another entry. ‘Oh! Why are dreams more blest than waking life?’
Edward Lane had been a family friend for quite some time before becoming the target of Mrs. Robinson’s affections. He and his wife are very close with Isabella and on multiple occasions their children stayed with Isabella and her own sons while the Lanes were away.
Over time, however, Isabella’s marriage rapidly weakened and her friendship with Edward developed into something more – at least on her part. The two would spend countless hours discussing philosophy or literature and, from what Isabella mentions in her diary entries, the two seemed very compatible.
One thing I loved about Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace was that the book doesn’t waste any time getting to the story. Things start happening from the very start and I think that would certainly help in keeping the attention of a reader who typically doesn’t go for non-fiction. Many times I’ve picked up a non-fiction book (although fiction definitely applies as well!) that sounded absolutely fascinating, only to be bogged down with technical jargon the average reader wouldn’t understand or to have the story start so slowly I’ve had to force myself to continue. I’m extremely pleased that this isn’t the case with Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace.
Oh, thought I, each of these roofs conceals human life with all its mysterious joys and sorrows. Doubtless, many a sojourner in these dwellings has a private history, thrilling, exciting, strange.
Not only does the book have a wonderful pace, but the writing is simply remarkable. At times I completely forgot I was reading non-fiction. Despite the lack of dialogue, I never once felt the story lacking. In fact, I feel I got to know the characters extremely well!
George argued that in women, as in men, ‘strong sexual appetites are a very great virtue…If chastity must continue to be regarded as the highest female virtue, it is impossible to give any woman real liberty.’
While Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace is Isabella’s story, there were a few other story lines woven in and it all came together beautifully. After struggling with his own issues, George Drysdale published a rather radical-minded book on sexuality. Phrenology and hydropathy were two courses of medicine very much in vogue. A new divorce court had made it much easier for couples to end their marriages. Each story line had its center-stage moments without losing focus of the main story and it was great.
All the guests were encouraged to walk in the park. ‘I strolled a little beyond the glade for an hour & half & enjoyed myself,’ reported Charles Darwin in a letter to his wife, ‘-the fresh yet dark green of the grand Scotch firs, the brown of the catkins of the old Birches with their white stems & a fringe of distant green from the larches, made an excessively pretty view. At last I fell fast asleep on the grass & awoke with a chorus of birds singing around me, & squirrels running up the trees & some Woodpeckers laughing, & it was as pleasant a rural scene as ever I saw, & I did not care one penny how any of the beasts or birds has been formed.’
One thing I was extremely surprised to discover was that Isabella was an acquaintance of Charles Darwin! I really enjoyed reading the chapters where he played a role. Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace largely took place before and during his theories on evolution and reading his thoughts through letters was interesting.
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