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Divorce in the Victorian Age

Updated on July 19, 2012
Divorce court proceedings
Divorce court proceedings
A painting of the moment of discovery-adultery!
A painting of the moment of discovery-adultery!

Divorce, the legal act to end a marriage, was originally a legality for the rich in the Victorian age (1800's), however in 1858, Britain was the first countries to open the divorce proceedings to all classes. What happened was that demand was great and the courtrooms were flooded with divorce proceedings. A man had to prove adultery, a woman both cruelty and adultery.

The legal case of Robinson vs. Robinson and Lane somehow caught the attention of England because of the scandalous, riveting, accounts Isabella Robinson kept in her diary, which was admitted into the courtroom testimony. Her husband, Henry, was a well known engineer. The couple was married in 1839, and soon, the family had three boys. This is where the story could be one of today. As time passed, the couple had little to discuss, little in common (except the children) and Isabella was horrifyingly bored and in her diary, only her kids provided a "ray of sunshine". Time moved on and so did Isabella. Isabella wrote in her diary all the furtive passion, that today, would seem mundane- a shared ride in a carriage and walk with an Edward Lane, a Canadian lawyer living in England. Yet, her teasing details caught on like wildfire: " Suffice it to say I leaned back at last in silent joy in those arms I had so often dreamed of and kissed the smooth face, so radiant with beauty.."

Isabella wrote about sexual situations and seduction in a novel-like manner.Some passages were erotic for the time as they were read in the courtroom. All of these transgressions mesmerized this stiff and proper society that newspapers sensationalized. When her husband discovered the diary and read it had grounds for adultery. His attorney agreed. Much of the public agreed. Yet, at trial, the judges were not so sure. Was the diary fact or fiction? Was the diary just a woman's deep dark desire for love that was so absent in real life? Even her own attorney indicated the diary mirrored a novel.

Isabella, 41, was not a typical woman for that age. She was more a woman of the future, as she loved talking with men about science and philosophy and wanted to leave her own mark on the world. She even smoked cigars!

At trial, when the most sizzling passages were read, the judges cleared the courtroom because of their "scandalous" nature regarding sexual feelings and physical contact. One newspaper called them, " a most dangerous reading'. In 1895, after Oscar Wilde had read the diary, he was convinced it was something meant for publication, i.e., more fiction than fact.

Isabella won her case, yet, oddly, the couple remained married but separated. She continued to get alimony and visitation with her children. But, she had no friends because of the steamy diary of a woman who simply could not conform into Victorian society. Few associated with her.


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    • perrya profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thanks, I found the subject interesting as well and how society has so changed.

    • jolinabetts profile image

      Sunshine Diaz 

      6 years ago from Wichita, Kansas

      Hi Perry! I enjoyed reading this hub! from start to finish. This reminds me also of the time when Mary Astor and her ex Thorpe battling over divorce. It so happens that her diary became sensationalized because of her affair but the diary( which was stolen from her bedroom) was worn out and unreadable so the judge didn't pursue that as evidence.

      Thumbs up for interesting!


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