I read about Mrs Robinson's Disgrace only the other day on Elaine's blog, Book and Opera Lover. You can read her excellent review here. I requested it from the library, got it immediately, and swallowed it whole in less than 24 hours. It's that kind of book.
The story is true. Isabella Robinson was an unhappily married woman in the 1850s who wrote an exceptionally graphic diary. Nothing we would find very exciting today, but at the time it was shocking. She described her romantic attraction to other men, especially a young doctor who was the proprietor of a spa. She was close friends with his wife and mother-in-law and spent a lot of time with the whole family. She wrote of her attraction to Dr Lane and their eventual kisses (and perhaps more). Did this affair actually happen or was it just Isabella's fantasy?
When her vile (really vile) husband took and read her diaries while she was delirious with diphtheria (or some other unidentified fever) he decided to sue for divorce. He had to wait a couple of years until the Married Women's Act was passed and in 1858 the trial was Big News.
The legal approach of her lawyers and those of Dr Lane, who was name as the co-respondent, was to address his case first. The diaries couldn't be used in his trial, and there was literally no other evidence of a dalliance between the two. A disgruntled employee who testified that he had seen them cuddling in a summer house was worse than useless when he was shown to have been lying at the behest of Mrs Robinson's husband.
And if Dr Lane didn't commit adultery with Mrs Robinson how could she have committed adultery with him. The law was very new and the judges were making up the rules as they went along. Would they find poor Mrs Robinson guilty of adultery and grant Mr Robinson a divorce, or would she be found not guilty and merely be ruined in society and made nearly bankrupt?
The lawyers and judges came up with a now-unbelievable scenario. Hint: one of the judges was the barrister who defended M'Naughton.
2012 No 109