Bitesize Biographies. Caroline Norton (1808-1877)
This lady was quite remarkable. Apart from being a writer, she was a campaigner for women’s rights, but not the usual suffrage we hear about in our history lessons at school. She was instrumental in her fight to get divorce and child custody law through parliament.
Caroline’s early life was not particularly happy.
Caroline Sheridan was born in London on 22 March 1808. She was of relatively high birth, being the granddaughter of the eminent playwright and Whig politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan, probably best remembered for his play “School for Scandal”.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Unfortunately her parents had fallen on hard times and, when her father died when Caroline was just eight years old, the family were in severe financial straits.
Being a single parent with no ready income, it was natural that Caroline’s mother needed to find a solution so, when George Norton, the Tory MP for Guildford, asked for Caroline’s hand in marriage just eight years later, when Caroline was 16, her mother gave consent. Caroline, despite her aversion to the idea, went along with it for the benefit of her family and eventually married Norton in 1827 at the age of 19.
The marriage was a miserable one. Caroline was consistently abused and beaten by her overpowering husband so, to make her life a little more bearable, she poured her heart out by writing poetry. The first poem that she had published was “The Sorrows of Rosalie” in 1829 (link below).
The following year she published “The Undying One” in 1830 (link below).
I urge you to read these beautiful heart felt poems. They’re written with incredible depth and feeling. They may be old-fashioned compared to some of our more modern poetry, but it’s easy to interpret the message that she’s trying to get across.
These verses were ultimately highly regarded and so Caroline found herself in the fortunate position of being approached by a ladies magazine publisher inviting her to become editor of “La Belle Assemblee” magazine which she grasped with both hands.
La Belle Assemblee
The magazine had considerable standing and ran from 1806 to 1832. In 1832 it became “The Court and La Belle Assemblee” until 1837 when it merged with “Lady’s Magazine and Museum” It then became known as “The Court Magazine and Monthly Critic” All of these magazines were aimed at the higher end of female society so, needless to say, produced a good income for Caroline, enabling her for the first time in her life to have some form of financial independence. The magazine was very much the forerunner to our women’s magazines today. It was a mix of articles relevant to ladies and, of course, what magazine would miss out on a section devoted to fashion.