"The true story of an intimate diary and a scandalous trial that rocked Victorian England," Kate Summerscale's Mrs Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady has just been published to rave reviews. "Captivating ... instantly gripping," it tells the story of Isabella Robinson's infatuation for the married Edward Lane, and how her diary - discovered by her husband and used in evidence in the divorce court - was her downfall.
It was in Edinburgh that Mrs. Robinson met Lane, and as both lived just a stone's throw from my house, I did a bit of 'location shooting' this morning to give you a flavour of part of the book's setting. In the picture* top left and right is Moray Place, a very fine twelve-sided circus in the New Town, and the house with the blue door (middle right) is No. 11 where the Robinsons lived. Middle left and bottom is Royal Circus, a short distance away from Moray Place, and it was here on a November evening in 1850 that Mrs. Robinson met Lane, her feelings for him eventually causing her to be the object of the scandal of the day.
In that house with the white door just beyond the lamp-post (middle left), Mrs. Robinson attended a soireé given by Lady Drysdale who was Lane's mother-in-law and a renowned hostess. Dickens was a guest at a party there, and Edinburgh luminaries such as James Young Simpson, obstetrician and pioneer anaesthetist, and Robert Chambers the publisher were to be found at the gatherings in that elegant crescent, but that evening it was Lane Mrs. Robinson wrote of in her diary: he was "handsome, lively and good-humoured ... fascinating." She would chastise herself for being susceptible to a man's charms, 'but a wish had taken hold of her, and she was to find it hard to shake'.
Do visit the book's website to learn more about Mrs. Robinson's story and to see videos of Kate talking about various aspects of it; there is also a podcast. If you're already eager to get your hands on a copy, it so happens that I have one to give away, so pop your name in the hat by way of the comments, please, and tell us if you would whether you have ever kept a diary, and if so, what kind it was - a childhood one, for example, a simple engagements book, a gardening diary, a record of guests and menus perhaps, a repository for miscellaneous notes and observations, or one for your innermost secrets. If you've never kept one or would rather not say, that's fine, just leave a comment anyway. The draw is open to all, regardless of location, and the book promises to be an excellent read, so please do have a go.
*Click to enlarge.