gt;gt; Chapter One gt; gt;HERE I MAY GAZE AND DREAMgt; gt; gt;Edinburgh, 1850–52gt; gt; gt; In the evening of 15 November 1850, a mild Friday night, Isabella Robinson set out for a party near her house in Edinburgh. Her carriage bumped across the wide cobbled avenues of the Georgian New Town and drew up in a circle of grand sandstone houses lit by street lamps. She descended from the cab and mounted the steps to 8 Royal Circus, its huge door glowing with brass and topped with a bright rectangle of glass. This was the residence of Lady Drysdale, a rich and well-connected widow to whom Isabella and her husband had been commended when they moved to Edinburgh that autumn. gt; Elizabeth Drysdale was a renowned hostess, vivacious, generous and strong-willed, and her soirees attracted inventive, progressive types: novelists such as Charles Dickens, who had attended one of the Drysdales' parties in 1841; physicians such as the obstetrician and pioneer anaesthetist James Young Simpson; publishers such as Robert Chambers, the founder of gt;Chambers's Edinburgh Journalgt;; and a crowd of artists, essayists, naturalists, antiquaries and actresses. Though Edinburgh was past its glory days as the hub of the Scottish Enlightenment, it still boasted an energetic intellectual and social scene. gt; A servant let Isabella in to the building. Within the hallway, gas flamed in a chandelier, throwing its light on to the stone floor and the polished iron and wood of the banister bending up the staircase. The guests took off their outdoor clothes – bonnets, muffs and mantles, top hats and coats – and proceeded up the stairs. The ladies wore low-cut dresses of glinting silk and satin, with smooth bodices pulled tight over lined, boned corsets. Their skirts were lifted on petticoats, layered with flounces, trimmed with ribbons and ruffles and braid. Their hair was parted in the centre and drawn back over the ears into coiled buns sprigged with feathers or lace. They wore jewels at their throats and wrists, silk boots or satin slippers on their feet. The gentlemen followed them in tailcoats, waistcoats, neckties and pleated shirt fronts, narrow trousers and shining shoes. gt; Isabella came to the party eager for company. Her husband, Henry, was often away on business, and even when he was home she felt lonely. He was an 'uncongenial partner', she wrote in her diary: 'uneducated, narrow-minded, harsh-tempered, selfish, proud'. While she yearned to talk about literature and politics, to write poetry, learn languages and read the latest essays on science and philosophy, he was 'a man who had only a commercial life'. gt; In the high, airy reception rooms on the first floor, Isabella was introduced to Lady Drysdale and to the young couple who shared her house: her daughter Mary and her son-in-law Edward Lane. The twenty-seven-year-old Mr Lane was a lawyer, born in Canada and educated in Edinburgh, who was now training for a new career in medicine. Isabella was enchanted by him. He was 'handsome, lively and goodhumoured', she told her diary; he was 'fascinating'. She chastised herself later, as she had done many times before, for being so susceptible to a man's charms. But a wish had taken hold of her, and she was to find it hard to shake. gt; gt; * * * gt; gt; In the same month that she met Edward Lane, Isabella took a trip to the North Sea coast and sat on the beach meditating on her many flaws. A well-born Englishwoman of thirty-seven, she had, by her own account, already failed in every role that a Victorian lady was expected to fulfil. She listed her deficiencies in her diary: 'my errors of youth, my provocations to my brothers and my sisters, my headstrong conduct to my governess, my disobedience and want of duty to my parents, my want of steady principle in life, the mode of my marriage and my conduct during that marriage, my partial and often violent conduct to my children, my giddy behaviour as a widow, my second marriage and all that had followed it'. She had been guilty, she said, of 'impatience under trials, wandering affections, want of self-denial and resolute persistence in well-doing; as a parent, as a daughter, as a sister, as a wife, as a pupil, as a friend, as a mistress'. gt; She then quoted a verse by Robert Burns: gt; gt;Thou know'st that thou has made me With passions wild and strong; And listening to their witching voice Has often led me wrong.gt; gt; gt; Some of Isabella's ruthless catalogue of her faults can be mapped on to the recorded facts of her life. She was born in Bloomsbury, London, on 27 February 1813, and christened Isabella Hamilton Walker at St Pancras Church that May. Her father, Charles, was the second son of a former Accountant General to George III; her mother, Bridget, was the eldest daughter of a Cumbrian coal-mining heiress and a Whig MP. When Isabella was a baby her father bought an estate in the Shropshire village of Ashford Carbonel, near the English border with Wales. It was there, in a red-brick manor house by the River Teme, that she grew up, defying her elders and annoying her siblings. gt; Isabella's mother later portrayed their home, Ashford Court, as an idyll for children: there was 'a large pretty Garden', she told a grandchild, 'plenty of green Fields & pleasant walks & a long River, & a Boat upon it', as well as 'young Lambs & Cows & Sheep & big Horses, & little Horses; & Dogs & Cats & Kittens'. The house was set in 230 acres of meadows, pastures, paddocks, hop fields and orchards. A lawn sloped down to the banks of the river, with a view of hills crested with trees. Isabella's father, the local squire and a Justice of the Peace, owned all of the land in the village, and he gradually bought and leased further acres, of which he farmed a hundred and rented out the rest. gt; Isabella and her seven siblings were looked after by a nurse and then by a governess, in whose care the four sisters remained while the four brothers were sent away to boarding school. A governess typically taught modern languages, arithmetic and literature to her charges, but her main task was to turn out accomplished young ladies, proficient in dancing, piano-playing, singing and drawing. Isabella, the eldest of the girls, felt limited by this training. From her earliest years, she later recalled, she was 'an independent & constant thinker'. gt; In August 1837, a few weeks after Queen Victoria's accession to the British throne, Isabella became the first of the Walker girls to marry. The ceremony took place in St Mary's Church, half a mile up the hill from her house. Isabella was twenty-four and her bridegroom, Edward Collins Dansey, was a widowed Royal Navy lieutenant of forty-three. Her disparaging reference to the 'mode' of her marriage suggested that it was not a love match; she later said that she had married on impulse, propelled by 'headstrong passion'. It was none the less a mutually advantageous union. Edward Dansey was from an ancient local family, the former lords of the manor in which Isabella's father had purchased his estate. He brought £6,000 to the marriage, which Isabella almost matched with £5,000 settled upon her by her father. This capital would have yielded a comfortable income of about £900 a year. gt; After their wedding the couple moved to the nearby market town of Ludlow, where Isabella gave birth to a son, Alfred Hamilton Dansey, in February 1841. Early in the nineteenth century, Ludlow 'had balls in the assembly rooms', Henry James reported. 'It had Mrs Siddons to plays; it had Catalini to sing. Miss Burney's and Miss Austen's heroines might easily have had their first love affairs there.' The Danseys' house – built in 1625 and re-fronted with eight Venetian windows in the mid-eighteenth century – was next to a ballroom in Broad Street, a picturesque road that careered down to the River Teme. Isabella and her new family were installed at the heart of Shropshire society. gt; In December 1841, though, Edward Dansey suddenly went mad. Isabella's mother told a relative that 'Poor Mr Dansey' had become 'perfectly deranged' and 'required constant restraint & incessant vigilance'. She reported that Isabella's eighteen-year-old brother Frederick had gone to stay in the Danseys' house in Ludlow 'in order to attend to the poor sufferer & to console his sister under this most painful of all trials'. Five months later Dansey died of 'a diseased brain', aged forty-seven. gt; Edward Dansey had already settled money on Alfred, but everything he owned upon his death passed to his son by his first marriage, Celestin, a young lieutenant with the Royal Bombay Fusiliers. Isabella inherited nothing. She probably returned with her baby to Ashford Court. gt; Isabella lived as a widow for two years before she was introduced to Henry Oliver Robinson, an Irish Protestant six years her senior. The couple may have met through Henry's sister Sarah, whose husband was a solicitor and alderman in Hereford, twenty miles south of Ludlow. Henry came from a family of itinerant and entrepreneurial manufacturers. As a young man in Londonderry, the city of his birth, he had run a brewery and distillery that produced 8,000 gallons of spirits a year, and he was now in business building boats and sugar mills with a brother in London. Henry had since 1841 been an associate of the Institute of Civil Engineers, a body that regulated a relatively new, fast-growing profession; by 1850, there were about 900 engineers in Britain. gt; Isabella twice refused Henry's proposals of marriage, but when he asked for a third time she accepted: 'I suffered my scruples & dislike to be talked away by others,' she later explained in a letter, '& with my eyes almost open I walked into the bonds of a dreaded wedlock like one fated.' As a thirty-one-year-old widow with a child, she was not in a position to be picky. This marriage would at least offer her the chance to travel beyond the bounds of her corner of the country, to see new places and meet new people. gt; After a wedding in Hereford on 29 February 1844, Henry and Isabella moved to London, where their first child, Charles Otway, was born in a house in Camden Town just under a year later. He was christened Charles after Isabella's father, but there seems to have been no precedent for the name Otway in either of his parents' families. Isabella may have chosen it in tribute to the popular Restoration dramatist Thomas Otway, who wrote plays – dubbed 'she-tragedies' – about virtuous and afflicted ladies. Her pet name for this second and favourite son was Doatie, and she doted upon him. gt; Soon after Otway's birth the family moved to Blackheath Park, an expensive new estate just outside London. Their house was two miles south of Greenwich, from which a ferry regularly made the crossing to the Robinson iron works on the north bank of the Thames. Henry and his brother Albert designed and built steam-powered ships and sugar-cane mills at Millwall, amid the scrub and marsh lining the river east of the city. They turned out sheet metal, engines and parts in their manufactory, and employed several hundred men to construct boats and mills on site. In one project, which brought in £100,000, Albert designed five craft for the River Ganges, which were built and dismantled at Millwall, shipped to Calcutta (a four-month journey), and reassembled there under his supervision. In 1848 the Robinson brothers bought the iron yard for just £12,000 (it had been purchased for £50,000 more than a decade earlier). Their younger brother Richard joined the business, as did the pioneering naval architect and engineer John Scott Russell. The company, now known as Robinson & Russell, launched a dozen sea-going ships over the next three years, the first of them the gt;Tamangt;, an iron packet commissioned by the Russian government to ply the Black Sea from Odessa to Circassia. On the day of the gt;Tamangt;'s launch in November 1848, a large crowd gathered, many in steamboats and rowing boats, to watch the ship edge down the ramp, slowly at first, and then with a final, fast swoop into the river. gt; Henry's marriage to Isabella had secured him money as well as status. Just before their wedding, Isabella's father had settled £5,000 upon her 'for her sole and separate use', as he had done on her first marriage; this was a common means of circumventing the law that gave a man rights over all his wife's property. The interest from this fund – about £430 a year – was paid by the trustees (her father and her brother Frederick) into an account in her name at the banking house of Gosling & Co. in Fleet Street, London. Almost immediately after the marriage, though, Henry suggested that Isabella sign all her cheques and hand them over to him; he would then cash them as he saw fit, to pay for their domestic and personal expenses. Isabella assented. Henry was 'a person of very imperious temper', she explained later, and 'to prevent as far as possible any difference from arising' between them, she was willing to let him have his way. Henry gave Isabella cash to pay the tradesmen's bills and the wages of their female servants, as well as to buy household goods and clothes for herself and the children. He supplied her with some pocket money, and instructed her on how to keep accounts. The Robinson family's expenditure was about £1,000 a year, which placed it in the richest one per cent of the population and in the higher echelons of the upper middle classes. gt; Henry's appropriations did not stop there. When Isabella's father died at the end of 1847, leaving his eldest daughter an additional £1,000, Henry immediately withdrew the whole amount with one of the blank cheques that Isabella had signed, and invested it in his own name in London & North Western Railway stock. Though he arranged for the interest to be paid into Isabella's account – to which he in any case had sole access – he kept the capital. Isabella claimed that Henry also tried to suppress the surname of his stepson, Alfred Dansey, in order to make himself the heir to his legacy, and annexed £2,000 of the boy's settled property. In the face of Henry's greed, Isabella said, she was 'irresolute': 'chafing; yet still passive'. 'With every knowledge that my partner was mean & grasping,' she wrote, 'I made no stand against his encroachments, but suffered him to take from me one thing after another.' gt; In February 1849, Isabella gave birth to her third and last child, Alexander Stanley. At the time of his birth she was staying in a terrace in the seaside resort of Brighton, Sussex, two hours from London by the fastest train. She had probably taken lodgings there for the sake of her health. That year she tipped into a deep depression of spirits, accompanied by severe headaches and menstrual problems, and Dr Joseph Kidd in Blackheath identified these as signs of 'uterine disease'. Henry was away on business in North America for six months in 1849. Isabella began to keep a diary: a friend in loneliness and in sickness, a companion and confidant. gt; 'I know not where to turn for help,' she told her diary, 'and a dull load of dejection and nameless oppression weighs down my very soul. I have no sympathy, no love, for I do not deserve it. My darling boys are the only ray of comfort I possess.' Though she sometimes behaved badly towards her sons – striking them in anger, favouring Doatie over the others – her love for them rescued her from the darkest moods. She said that she shared with them a bond 'of gt;no commongt; strength'. gt; Isabella, like many nineteenth-century women, used her journal as a place in which to confess her weakness, her sadness and her sins. In its pages she audited her behaviour and her thoughts; she grappled with her errors and tried to plot out a path to virtue. Yet by channeling her strong and unruly feelings into this book, Isabella also created a record and a memory of those feelings. She found herself telling a story, a serial in daily parts, in which she was the wronged and desperate heroine. gt; gt; * * * gt; gt; The Robinsons chose to move to Edinburgh after Henry's return from America because the city was renowned for its liberal and moderately priced schools. Here, their boys could be well educated without having to board away from home. Henry rented a six-storey granite house for his family at 11 Moray Place, at a cost of about £150 a year. Moray Place was the most lavish development in the New Town, a twelve-sided circus of houses built on tilting ground; just to the north, the land sheered down to the Water of Leith, through pleasure gardens planted with rhododendrons and hazel. The heavy grandeur of Moray Place was not to all tastes. 'It has been objected,' noted gt;Black's Guide Through Edinburghgt; in 1851, 'that the simplicity of style and massiveness of structure which particularly distinguish these buildings, impart an aspect of solemnity and gloom repugnant to the character of domestic architecture.' The Robinsons kept four servants: a manservant, a cook, a maid and a nurse. gt; gt;(Continues...)gt; gt; gt; gt; gt;gt; gt;gt;gt; Excerpted from gt;Mrs Robinson's Disgracegt; by gt;Kate Summerscalegt; Copyright © 2012 by Kate Summerscale. Excerpted by permission of BLOOMSBURY. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.gt;Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.