Kate Summerscale has done it again. Her rare combination of scholarly precision and novelistic skill, displayed in her award-winning account of a Victorian murder, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, are used to tremendous effect in this account of a scandalous divorce case. Once more her dark Victorian page-turner also reveals much about the age in which it took place.
By the 1850s England was in flux. New scientific theories and discoveries collided with established religion, and the increasing pressure for women’s rights was in conflict with legal precedent, social norms and the medical theories of the day. The generally accepted ideas about sex and gender in the 1850s were