Virginia Lucas Poetry Scrapbook

Biography of Caroline Norton

     The politically-charged, passionate, and highly controversial life of Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Norton began in 1808 London where she was born into the Sheridan family. Her father, an actor and colonial administrator, died when Caroline was only nine years old, and his death left her mother to raise their three daughters alone. Being a British novelist, Caroline’s mother did not have a steady income and so her family remained poor throughout her entire childhood. Still, Caroline and her two sisters— Helen and Georgiana—were deemed “The Three Graces” for their beauty and how pleasant they were to be around.

     Caroline’s life completely changed when she married George Chapple Norton in 1827. Unsuccessful as a lawyer, George became domestically abusive to Caroline and turned to alcohol during his moments of rage. During this time, Caroline published her first book The Sorrows of Rosalie (1829). She then quickly became known for her no-holds-barred personality when she divorced her husband 7 years later. After the divorce, George kidnapped her children and took them to Scotland. Still angry about the divorce, George tarnished Caroline’s reputation when he accused her of having an affair with her friend (and then Whig Prime Minister) Lord Melbourne. After a nine day trial, Caroline’s case for blackmail was dismissed.

     For a long time Caroline held contempt for British divorce laws, so she began a campaign for divorce reform after her son William’s death in 1842. After falling off a horse and getting blood poisoning, William died under his father’s supervision. Angered by George’s neglect, Caroline pushed her campaigns until Parliament passed three acts that would protect women’s rights in marriage: the Custody of Infants Act (1839), the Matrimonial Causes Act (1857), and the Married Women's Property Act (1870).

     Not long after her initial successes with Parliament, Caroline was accused of being a politically radical woman. Taking offense to this, she released a statement in an 1838 issue of the British paper The Times, claiming that "The natural position of woman is inferiority to man. Amen! That is a thing of God's appointing, not of man's devising. I believe it sincerely, as part of my religion.”

     George died in 1875, and Caroline became ill and died three months after her only remarriage in 1877. 

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