Not just a scandalous diary, but a portrait of the plight of women in the early Victorian era.
The excerpts from Isabella Robinson’s diary show a woman in a loveless, miserable marriage. Her desperate longings for love, or at least someone to talk to, fed her imagination and fired her writings with delusional tales of amour. Women living in the mid 19th century had no legal existence, so she couldn’t file a lawsuit, control her own money or even claim her own clothes and jewelry. Summerscale (The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective, 2008, etc.) may have set out to write about one woman’s fall from grace, but she also exposes the horrendous misery of even gently born women during the reign of Queen Victoria. It was during that period that the government at last allowed both men and women to sue for divorce without parliamentary approval. A man seeking to put away his wife could do so by implication only, but women needed to prove at least two incidents of adultery. Apparently, in Mrs. Robinson’s case, the fact that her husband had a mistress who bore him two children was not sufficient. At this time the use of insanity as a plea came into more common use, and Mrs. Robinson’s friends strongly suggested that she claim she was insane at the time she wrote things like “the happiness of loving” and “long, passionate, clinging embrace.”
A revealing portrait of the straight-laced Victorians who produced innumerable sex scandals, delved into new and sometimes bizarre health fads and generally dismissed anyone considered beneath them, like colonials and women.