An extraordinary and courageous woman

I came across a poet I had not heard of before, Caroline Norton, and what an extraordinary and courageous woman she was. She had a most unfortunate life; although her grandfather was the famous playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, her family circumstances were poor and her father died in 1816 when she was eight years old. She was only sixteen when George Norton, who was the MP for married her; the family were in such poverty that her mother persuaded her to marry to help them out of their situation. However, Norton sounds like an absolute monster, abusing Caroline and then once she left him persecuting her and denying her access to her three children. He tried to sue Lord Melbourne the home secretary for seducing Caroline, even though he had encouraged the friendship; he lost the case but Caroline’s reputation was in tatters.  Her protests against his behaviour and treatment were such Parliament introduced the Infant Custody Bill in 1839. Not content with the situation, Norton tried to take what she had made from her published writing – he sounds an absolute rotter. Caroline fought against this, and also wrote to the Queen, and in 1857 the Marriage and Divorce Act was passed… he had been persecuting her for over thirty years. Caroline remarried but died at the age of sixty-nine. What a great woman, how courageous!

Here is a sonnet by her:


To My Books
Silent companions of the lonely hour,
Friends, who can never alter or forsake,
Who for inconstant roving have no power,
And all neglect, perforce, must calmly take,
Let me return to you; this turmoil ending
Which worldly cares have in my spirit wrought,
And, o’er your old familiar pages bending,
Refresh my mind with many a tranquil thought:
Till, haply meeting there, from time to time,
Fancies, the audible echo of my own,
‘Twill be like hearing in a foreign clime
My native language spoke in friendly tone,
And with a sort of welcome I shall dwell
On these, my unripe musings, told so well.



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