UWE Research Student Paper Series 2012-13


Thursday 13th December 2012

‘Memoirs of a Scandalous Woman?  The letters of Caroline Norton’

Ross Belson (University of the West of England)

In the first two decades of the Victorian era Caroline Elizabeth Norton (1808-77) contributed very significantly to extending the rights of women. The 1839 Custody of Infants Act, which allowed mothers, against whom adultery had not been proved, to have the custody of children under seven, with rights of access to older children, was based on proposals in her pamphlets and steered through Parliament by Thomas Talfourd at her request and with her assistance. Clauses in the 1857 Matrimonial Causes and Divorce Act protecting the property and income of separated and divorced women were also based on her proposals. Yet in her lifetime and for a century after her death Norton was remembered for her literary importance as a poet and novelist and for her notoriety as an abused wife and ‘companion’ to high-profile politicians. Judgements of her private life until the present day have been based to a great extent on exposés in two well-publicised trials of the period which focused on her relationship with the Whig Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne. Her 2000 letters, which I have been collecting and transcribing, suggest a far more complex, gifted and distinguished figure with a very wide range of interests and correspondents. This illustrated presentation will explore how Caroline Norton’s epistolary memoir contrasts with traditional interpretations of her as a ‘scandalous woman’.

All papers will be held at 17.30 in the Lady Chapel, St Matthias Campus, UWE, Oldbury Court Road, Fishponds, Bristol, BS16 2JP. For directions to the campus see http://www1.uwe.ac.uk/comingtouwe/campusesmapsandtravel/stmatthiascampus.aspx.

For information about this event please contact Joanne Parsons (Joanne.Parsons@live.uwe.ac.uk).


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