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The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton Hardcover – 19 Jul 2012
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"The liberating life story of the first feminist legislator" (Kathy Lette)
"Diane Atkinson has written the definitive account of one of the most important trials of the nineteenth century - that of Caroline Norton's fight to keep her children. The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton is an important and necessary book. It also happens to be beautifully written and extremely entertaining. Diane Atkinson has resurrected a nineteenth century heroine in the twentieth-first century." (Amanda Foreman)
"Caroline Norton took her fight to see her children to the highest court in the land and changed the lot of mothers for ever. Diane Atkinson tells her story with a clarity and wit that makes it a pleasure to read." (Joan Bakewell)
"Expertly researched and finely written... Mrs Norton’s journey from abused wife to passionate reformer is as moving as it is fascinating, and Atkinson’s richly detailed work does her subject the justice she deserves." (BBC History Magazine)
"Diane Atkinson’s captivating fifth book...pacy book that’s as bright and fascinating as its heroine." (Independent on Sunday)
Caroline Norton, born in 1808, was a society beauty, wit, poet, pamphleteer and blue stocking. Married to a boorish minor aristocrat at 19, who accused her, for his own political ends, of an affair, 'Criminal Conversation', with Lord Melbourne which ended in the 'Trial of the Century'. Pilloried by society, cut off and bankrupted by her family, she went on to be the most important figure in establishing womens' rights in marriage.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
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.
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.
Caroline was an incredibly strong woman with a cause. She was a beauty, a wit, she supported herself with her pen, and she had a host of friends and admirers. She was - when permitted to be - a devoted mother. I am filled with admiration for her and yet I found myself - despite very much wanting to - unable to warm to her. Primarily, I think, I believed, as the author does, that she did have an affair with Lord Melbourne. Now, I get completely that she couldn't ever admit to this because it would endanger her custody battle - because the good old patriarchal law thought adultery in a wife a heinous crime, while it turned a blind eye to adultery in a husband. So am I wrong to find her denial - I'm not sure what the word is - not hypocritical but something like. She painted herself in such a perfect light, it just got under my skin. Similarly, in many of her letters there was a decidedly self-pitying tone. Again, with great justification, she was treated abominably by her husband and her family - but she seemed so ungrateful for all the other help she got esleswhere, nothing was ever good enough for her. Was this a result of her singular beauty? There's a bit of me that thinks so, though another bit of me that thinks that's wrong of me to judge her. But there you go, I judged her. I simply didn't like Caroline. I thought she was an amazing woman, but she's not one I'd lik to have coffee with.
That aside, this is an excellent book if you're interested in the injustices of the law, which is one of my favourite topics. A case study that takes your breath away, and makes you wonder at all the many other women similarly suffering in silence.
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