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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing and forensically researched
This is an extraordinary book and an important story.

Had she been a man, Caroline Norton would be as renowned a social reformer as Wilberforce, but she was rarely written about. Until now...

Caroline Norton's intelligence, charm and her refusal to be crushed, either by her boorish and violently abusive husband, tedious drawing room life, grinding...
Published 20 months ago by Nicola Gooch

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Women's rights don't exist!
Rambles, with too many extraneous facts. Nevertheless it is an interesting story if the reader has the stamina to read it all.
It illustrates that in Mrs Norton's day women were nothing, had nothing, could expect nothing especially from their husbands.
Published 2 months ago by A


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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing and forensically researched, 17 Aug 2012
By 
Nicola Gooch "tap queen" (London, uk) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton (Hardcover)
This is an extraordinary book and an important story.

Had she been a man, Caroline Norton would be as renowned a social reformer as Wilberforce, but she was rarely written about. Until now...

Caroline Norton's intelligence, charm and her refusal to be crushed, either by her boorish and violently abusive husband, tedious drawing room life, grinding poverty or the self-seeking roues drawn to her beauty, led to a change in the constitution which laid as important a foundation stone to the liberation of women as the vote and the contraceptive pill.

Norton's is both a shocking and entertaining story which Atkinson has forensically researched and brought to vividly to life. Atkinson writes with Dickensian relish for celebrity gossip, breathtaking hypocrisy and deluded eccentrics. Norton's society life was populated by pompously seductive and careless politicians, wild-eyed adventurers, thigh slapping lesbians and a man with an inconvenient obsession with buying brown horses set alongside a stultifying and dangerous marriage to an inadequate and controlling man.

A fantastically good and engrossing read, the book feels as epic and universally relevant as a Greek tragedy. Ultimately though, Norton's storm-tossed life benefitted the lot of us and hopefully this book will lead to greater recognition of that fact.

A fabulous book and a wonderful piece of work. It should be on the National Curriculum.

'
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, tragic and a tale for our times, 29 Sep 2012
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This review is from: The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton (Hardcover)
This is a terrific book. Diane Atkinson depicts the society of the 1830's with scholarly verve and remarkable immediacy - you can practically see the gentry falling out of their cabriolets and into bed with each other, while desperately sending sealed letters across London, attending the theatre and going to glittering balls.

Amid all of this moves the figure of Caroline Norton - beautiful, clever, connected but doomed thanks to an ill choice of husband.

The story of how Mrs Norton changes the law for custody of children and indeed seeks to change the entire perception and position of women in British society is so important it should be on the history syllabus, and this clever, funny and VERY readable book at the heart of it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Crim/con, 29 Jan 2013
This review is from: The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton (Hardcover)
I am always drawn to Diane Atkinson's books because of the interesting subjects she chooses but then find them rather dry and hard going, I found this much more readable, the early chapters concerning the colourful Sheridan family, especially so. Like the other reviewer I would have liked to have read more of Caroline's own words, because at times her personality becomes rather lost in the events surrounding her. All in all this is a readable biography of a women who fought against the odds and achieved something worthwhile. Atkinson never overstates this achievement.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Women's rights don't exist!, 22 Jan 2014
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Rambles, with too many extraneous facts. Nevertheless it is an interesting story if the reader has the stamina to read it all.
It illustrates that in Mrs Norton's day women were nothing, had nothing, could expect nothing especially from their husbands.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Through a glass, darkly., 27 Dec 2012
This review is from: The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton (Hardcover)
Oh dear. Rabbi Lionel Blue once said that when you die, you go to heaven, God sits you on his knee, and tells you what your life was really all about; this is surely also the task of the historical biographer. Sadly with this book we have an enormous amount of historical research used without selection or analysis, and I was left at the end of four hundred pages unsure as to why the author had thought that the wrangles of Caroline Norton, her bone-headed and duplicitous husband, and rather disappointing children were worth re-airing. That Caroline is an important voice in the struggle for for women's and children's rights there can be no doubt; that she was a financially successful novelist, reviewer, and poet also deserves our recognition, yet everywhere we are prevented from meeting the real human being behind this achievement and hurried on to another paraphrase of an acrimonious personal letter or a brief description of one or other of her relatives.

The inside dust-jacket blurb portrayed Caroline as an early pioneer in gaining legal recognition for women. I would have liked to have seen more analysis of her contribution within the context of the earliest beginnings of the feminist movement. I would have liked to have seen longer excerpts from her letters, and a sense of understanding the real woman behind the story. I would have liked to read some excerpts from her fiction - part of a single poem is reproduced late on in the book, by which time I was becoming increasingly impatient. A typical sentence reads: 'her interest in the bill was not contingent on her own "misfortunes" and "would not end with them", and she would always feel it was a "gross injustice" for a mother to be denied access to a sick or dying child...' (p261). Reading prose full of inverted commas is uncomfortable and I am left with the feeling that the author is being overly selective - what is she trying to hide?

The closing sentence is sadly, not about Caroline at all, but of her unpleasant husband '...there have been many George Nortons since, and this kind of behaviour persists'. Is the book meant to be about Caroline at all? Or is it about her marriage? Or her legacy? I would have welcomed a guiding authorial voice that selected from the material available to provide a coherent narrative. Sadly is was not to be.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Unknown heroine, 3 Feb 2013
This review is from: The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton (Hardcover)
Caroline Norton, grand daughter, of the infamous Regency playwright Sheridan, was a social butterfly, writer and campaigner for married women's rights. Despite the romanticism of her life, the harsh reality was starkly different. She married a Tory MP and magistrate, who was abusive and denied her access to her children. Her campaign to gain access to her children changed the law and triggered various changes in the law, which ultimately led to women' suffrage movement.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Long, rambling, unstructured, 12 May 2013
This review is from: The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton (Hardcover)
I was given this book by my mother in law for Christmas and I thought that the subject matter was appealing. However, the author's style makes this a tedious read. Very long chapters. In fact, after trying I have given up about half way through. Difficult to remember who is who and I feel little empathy with anyone.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, 13 Sep 2013
By 
Shazjera (Bournemouth) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
The prologue begins with a newspaper article from 25 June 1836 detailing the excitement that Caroline's trial is causing. She was caught up in the politics of the day, her husband using her to try and oust Lord Melbourne. It seems bizarre with our modern day laws, that a husband would sue for damages (of almost a million pounds in today's value) for the loss of his enjoyment of his wife's body but in 1836, this was a very real law that affected real people's lives. In the past, the men would have been able to sort their differences by duelling (it makes me think this would probably have been a far better way than everything being made so public) but having been outlawed in 1815, this was George's only recourse.

In the account of the trial, we learn about the real people involved (Charles Dickens was one reporter) and the real places they visited for refreshment (coffee stalls, pie shops, street vendors). We come to understand how important servants were in cases because they knew everything that went on behind closed doors. This really brought the past to life for me. With my great, great grandfather moving to London in 1832 I have no doubt that with this high profile case, it is highly likely that this trial would have been part of his conversations.

After the account of the trial we get to know Caroline and George as people. The family history is fascinating and I loved reading about the literary circles and the fashions (for example the wedding clothes in the late 1820's). As the picture builds of their married life we witness George's tendency towards domestic violence ... and how weak he is being ruled by his brother.

Although Caroline was found not guilty she could not divorce George. Estranged and living apart, she didn't have the right to even see her children. Using her contacts and her literacy skills, she was motivated to be involved in passing the Infant Custody Act of 1839 which was the first piece of feminist legislation. Caroline was still not allowed to have her children with her. It was a tragic accident that finally led George to agreeing for her to be a part of the children's lives.

The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton is beautifully written. With all the facts Caroline's story contains, at no point is this dull or boring. Social history comes alive - the politics and the way of life.

George put Caroline through deeply emotional trauma with his obstructions and trying to ruin her reputation publicly. Still she struggled on to gain rights for women. I think it is fabulous Diane Atkinson has brought to the public attention this story of a woman who was so important and yet I am guessing not many people know of the part she played in gaining women's rights.

I'll leave you with a quote from page 423:

"Caroline Norton is a heroine to every woman who has made a mistake in judging a man."

I would like to thank the publisher for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.
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The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton
The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton by Dr Diane Atkinson (Hardcover - 19 July 2012)
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