Caroline Norton

Caroline Norton

A carte-de-visite portrait of the poet, novelist and social reformer Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Norton (1808-1877), whose unfortunate marriage did much to highlight the unjust situation suffered by many married women during the period.

Born Caroline Sheridan, the granddaughter of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, in 1827 she married the Honourable George Chapple Norton, but the union was not a happy one. Caroline left her husband in 1836, following which her husband sued her close friend Lord Melbourne, the then Whig Prime Minister, for criminal conversation (in other words, the alienation of his wife’s affections). Although the jury threw out the claim, Caroline was unable to obtain a divorce and was denied access to her three sons. Her marital misfortunes prompted her to publish many powerful and eventually influential pamphlets on questions of women's rights. Caroline’s intense campaigning led to the passing of the Custody of Infants Act 1839, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 and the Married Women's Property Act 1870.

Needing to earn some money, she had first published a book of poetry, The Sorrows of Rosalie in 1829, followed by a romance in 1830, and a novel, The Wife and Woman's Reward, in 1835, all with considerable success. She continued to write poetry and novels, in particular A Voice from the Factories (1836), which had as an object the improvement of the laws regarding the social condition of women and their right to hold property independently of their husbands. She published in 1845 The Child of the Islands, which was concerned with the rights of children. In 1877 she married the historian Sir William Sterling-Maxwell (1818-1878).

Her character and determination brought her both abuse and admiration. She is said to have been the inspiration for the heroine of George Meredith's Diana of the Crossways. She also modelled for the fresco of Justice in the House of Lords by Daniel Maclise, who chose her because she was seen by many as a famous victim of injustice.

Photographed by John and Charles Watkins of 34, Parliament Street, London.


Code: 125402
© Paul Frecker 2023