Posts Tagged ‘stately’

Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace

November 7, 2012

Author:  Kate Summerscale

Title:  Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady

Genre:  Biography

Publication Date:  2012

Number of Pages:  291

Geographical Setting:  Scotland and England

Time Period:  Victorian Era, 1850-1859

Plot Summary:  Isabella Robinson was a 31 year-old widow with a young child when she met and married Henry Robinson in 1844.  The Robinsons subsequently had two children of their own, and the family became firmly ensconced in upper middle class society in Scotland and England.   Isabella ultimately grew unhappy with her aloof husband, and spent more and more of her time in the company of family friends and academics whom she admired.  After stumbling upon and reading Isabella’s private diary in 1857, Henry Robinson promptly sued his wife for divorce in the English courts on charges of adultery.   The resulting divorce hearings and trial erupted into in a scandal of massive proportion when The London Times printed a series of unedited excerpts from Isabella’s diary in which she described, in lurid detail, a series of intimate encounters with Edward Lane, a respected London doctor and friend to the Robinson family.  Was Isabella really a bold, unrepentant adulteress or simply a discontented wife who wrote unashamedly about her sexual frustrations and fantasies?  Why was Isabella subject to public scorn, while Dr. Lane was afforded greater sympathy?  Summerscale provides readers with a moving portrait of Isabella’s life, details of her relationship with Edward Lane and his family, and an informative look at the moral and cultural influences of the Victorian era.  This well-researched work includes excerpts from Isabella’s diary and letters, relevant court transcripts and news reports of the day, and excerpts from the personal letters of historical figures such as Charles Darwin and controversial phrenologist George Combe, both of whom were patients of Dr. Lane’s, and acquaintances of Isabella’s.  Overall, this work offers a fascinating examination of the role of women in the Victorian era, and the inequalities afforded them by society and the courts.

Subject Headings:  Robinson, Isabella (1813-1887)—Diaries;  Middle class women—Scotland—Edinburgh—Diaries;  Edinburgh—Scotland—Social life and customs—19th century;  Divorce—England—19th century

Appeal:  compelling, densely written, stately, atmospheric, dramatic, introspective, sophisticated, thoughtful, detailed, evocative, insightful, sympathetic characters, authentic, details of the Victorian era, complex, investigative, rich and famous, accessible, colorful, engaging, informative, journalistic, polished, well-researched

Three Appeal Terms that Best Describe this Book:  compelling, insightful, well-researched

Three Fiction Read-alikes:

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

In Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace, Isabella Robinson is aware of the scandal surrounding the publication of Madame Bovary in France in 1856, and the charges of obscenity which prevented its publication in Scotland and England.  Did the tale of Emma Bovary’s discontent and adultery influence Isabella’s behavior or simply spark her imagination?  Flaubert’s classic novel mirrors Isabella’s life with its theme of a passionate woman dissatisfied with her marriage and way of life.

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

Readers of Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace interested in its examination of the effects a scandalous affair can have on a woman’s reputation may also enjoy this fictionalized account of the relationship between architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his mistress of many years, Mameh Cheney.  Horan’s award-winning novel focuses on the impact their long-time affair had on Wright’s wife and family, and the public derision Cheney endured after she left her husband and children to make a new life with Wright.

Clara Callan by Richard Bruce Wright

Readers of Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace who enjoyed learning about societal expectations impacting women in a bygone era may also enjoy Wright’s novel about two sisters pursuing separate dreams against the backdrop of the political and social upheaval of the 1930’s.  Written as a series of letters and diary entries, Wright’s novel offers a vivid portrait of the lives of the two women, one pursuing a career in glamorous New York City, while the other struggles with the limitations of a more traditional life in her small Canadian town.  Interwoven throughout the story are real world events that shaped the era, including the effects of the Great Depression and the rising political tensions in pre-WWII Europe.

Three Relevant Non-Fiction Works:

Marriage, Feminism, and the Law in Victorian England, 1850-1895 by Mary Lyndon Shanley

In Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace, Isabella Robinson found herself a victim of society’s attitudes toward the role of women in Victorian era England, as well as antiquated and discriminatory divorce laws which afforded women few rights when a marriage was dissolved.  Out of the struggles of married women like Isabella, a feminist movement was born.  Shanley’s title examines the Victorian feminists’ battle for fundamental reforms to marriage law that ultimately transformed both the legal and social status of married women.

Hydotherapy:  Simple Treatments for Common Ailments by Clarence Dail and Charles Thomas

Edward Lane, the doctor who was the object of Isabella Robinson’s passion in Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace, was the proprietor of a popular health retreat that specialized in hydrotherapy, a relatively new and fairly provocative medical treatment at the time.  In addition to Isabella, his patients included upper class members of society, celebrities of the era, and historical figures such as Charles Darwin.  This title by Dail and Thomas examines modern-day beliefs surrounding the healing powers of water.

 Darwin:  Portrait of a Genius by Paul Johnson

As one of many famous patients to take treatment at Dr. Lane’s health retreat throughout the 1850’s, influential scientist Charles Darwin makes several appearances in Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace, with his opinion regarding the scandal surrounding Dr. Lane and Isabella reflected in his writings of the time.   Readers interested in learning more about Darwin will find much to enjoy in Johnson’s new biography, which details the life and times of the celebrated scientist, whose groundbreaking work Origin of the Species was published in 1859, just as the Robinson divorce case was reaching its conclusion.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

April 5, 2011

Author: Seth Grahame-Smith, Jane Austen

Title: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: the class regency romance now with ultraviolent zombie mayhem.

Genre: Horror, Romance

Publication Date: 2009

Number of Pages: 319

Geographical Setting: England

Time Period: 19th Century

Series: n/a

Plot Summary: Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters are trained in the art of killing zombies – a skill that comes in handy as a mysterious plague continues to overrun England and wrench the dead from their graves.  Elizabeth is determined to beat the plague, but just like this novel’s predecessor, Ms. Bennett is soon distracted by the proud and handsome Mr. Darcy.

Subject Headings:

Austen, Jane – Parodies, imitations, etc.

Bennet, Elizabeth – Fiction

Darcy, Fitzwilliam – Fiction

Zombies – Fiction

Appeal: stately, densely-written, dramatic, romantic, sarcastic, sophisticated, eccentric characters, well-developed characters, sympathetic, action-oriented, violent, rural setting, vivid language

3 terms that best describe this book: Witty, Character-centered, leisurely-paced

Similar Authors and Works 3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

  1. Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence.  This 2007 biography of Austen delves deeply into the author’s social, personal, and financial affairs which so closely informed her work.  Austen fans may find this biography a useful supplement to Austen’s own work.
  2. Moab is my washpot by Stephen Fry.  For readers who enjoy an English setting and reading about novelists this is a recommended read.  The author recounts his own coming of age story – a strong theme throughout Austen’s work – and how his own personal experiences affected his novels.
  3. Searching for Jane Austen by Emily Auerbach.  Auerbach gives Austen fans a readable portrait of the author.  She delves into Austen’s six published novels, her unpublished works, and modern pop culture references to give readers an in-depth look at who Jane Austen really was.  For literature fans, Auerbach also highlights Twain’s love/hate relationship with Austen.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

  1. Guardians of Eternity by Alexandra Ivy.  Readers who enjoyed Elizabeth Bennet as a zombie slayer may enjoy Abby Barlow – a woman caught in the battle between good and evil.  Like Elizabeth Bennet, she too falls for an unlikely hero.  This book is the first in a series.
  2. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters and Jane Austen.  This is another Austen parody, perhaps second in popularity to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  Readers who enjoyed Grahame-Smith’s take on Pride and Prejudice may also enjoy this novel – although it helps to read the original first.
  3. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.  This book is part of Fforde’s Thursday Next series in which the series title character works to stop a criminal from kidnapping various literary characters – in this case Jane Eyre.

Name: Liz Humrickhouse

An Education

June 16, 2010

Author: Lynn Barber

Title: An Education

Genre: Nonfiction

Publication Date:  2009

Number of Pages:  192

Geographical Setting: London, England; Oxford, England,

Time Period: 1940 – present

Series (if applicable): N/A

Plot Summary: This novel is a charming, funny, and candid memoir from award winning English journalist Lynn Barber, known for her role in the start-up of Penthouse Magazine and as a scathing interviewer with the nickname Demon Barber.  Originally written as short piece for literary magazine Granta, after garnering much interest, including movie producers, Barber expanded the story to encompass her childhood up to the death of her husband.  The memoir is roughly divided into 6 sections: an introduction about the history of the novel including its prior incarnation and the movie, her childhood and background, her May-December relationship, her experiences at college and meeting her husband, her work as a writer and journalist, and the death of her husband.  Barber gives an incredibly detailed and anecdotal sketch of her life which is touching, funny, and incredibly sad.  As stated in the first section of the memoir, the movie, of the same name, is based on the second chapter and was adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby.

Subject Headings:  Biography; Memoir; Coming of age; Family, Relationships, Journalism, Pornography, Feminism, Gender Roles, Parent-Child Relationship, Marriage, May-December Relationship, Death,

Appeal:  easy, leisurely-paced, stately, contemplative, humorous, introspective, unaffected, engaging, charming, details of journalism, direct, informative,

3 terms that best describe this book: graceful, witty, candid

Similar Authors and Works:


Talking Back: to Presidents, Dictators, and Assorted Scoundrels by Andrea Mitchell – A candid and revealing memoir from Andrea Mitchell, Chief Foreign Affair Correspondent for NBC over the entirety of her career as a journalist, with special interest paid to the role of her gender and personal relationships.

History of Men’s Magazines: 1960’s at the Newsstand vol. 3 by Dian Hanson – An annotated and illustrated history of men’s magazines in America and the rest of the world during the 1960s, including the start-up of Penthouse Magazine in England.

Younger Women Older Men by Beliza Ann Furman – A practical and straightforward book, written by a female, about the relationship dynamics between older men and younger women, including dealing with power and control issues.


Shopgirl by Steve Martin – The story of a lonely shopgirl at Neiman Marcus in LA and her romantic relationship with a man twice her age.  A humorous and introspective novel written with delicacy and charm.

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin – The fictional story based on historically accurate facts about Alice Liddel, the child who inspired Alice In Wonderland.  The novel is Alice reflecting on her life including Lewis Carroll’s seemingly inappropriate obsession with 10 year old Alice.  An engaging novel, rich in detail and frame.

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy – The fictional and yet semi-autobiographical story of a young American woman and recent college graduate who moves to Paris in pursuit of excitement and adventure in the late 1950s.  A very funny, charming, and clever novel containing a tremendous amount of historic and geographic frame.

Name:  Summer

The Turn of the Screw

November 4, 2009

Author:  Henry James

Title:  The Turn of the Screw

Genre:  Horror

Publication Date:  1898

Number of Pages:  87

Geographical Setting:  Essex

Time Period:  Contemporary

Series (if applicable): N/A

Plot Summary:  This story is told by an unknown narrator, which only adds to the eeriness of the tale.  It tells the story of a governess who has undertaken the task of caring for a young boy and girl (as their parents have passed away) on a large estate while their uncle is away.  The boy, Miles, has been expelled from school for reasons that are never disclosed to the reader.  That lack of certainty is carried out throughout the tale and it is that aspect that makes this such a chilling read.  The housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, tells the governess all she needs to know about caring for the children.  She does not, however, make her aware of Miss Jessel and her lover, Peter Quint, whom the governess sees around the grounds.  The governess begins to suspect that they are ghosts, and she learns that they died under suspicious circumstances.  She also suspects that the children are aware of the ghosts as well, though they refuse to admit it.

Subject Headings:  Essex; London; Ghosts; Orphans; Secrets

Appeal:  Complex, unknowing, densely written, stately, closely observed, family-centered, linear, detailed setting, rural, chilling, claustrophobic, dark, foreboding, psychological, austere, stark

3 terms that best describe this book:  Unknowing, Muted, Dark

Similar Authors and Works:

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

“Henry James:  A Life” by Leon Edel.  A biography depicting the life of the writer is always a great supplement to analyzing a work.

“Essex:  The Buildings of England” by James Bettley.  This modernized guide will teach all about the gothic architecture of the setting of James’ novel.

“Our Haunted Life:  True Life Ghost Encounters” by Jeff Belanger.  Whether or not the reader believes in ghosts and the afterlife, tales of haunting are always unsettling.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

“The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson.  Another tale full of subtle, psychological twists, the ghosts and foreboding estate are similar to “Turn of the Screw”.

“Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte.  This dark tale of passionate forbidden love with tragedy in the ending is like that of the love between Miss Jessel and Peter Quint.

“Grave’s End” by Elaine Mercado.  This tale of haunting makes the stretch of what might happen if a ghost or spirit took to violent actions.

Name:  Melissa