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Norton, Caroline

Norton, Caroline (1808–77). Author and reformer. Caroline, a society beauty and granddaughter of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, married at the age of 19 the Hon. George Norton, brother of Lord Grantley. Her husband, an unpleasant bully, brought an action in 1836 for crim. con. (adultery) against Lord Melbourne, then prime minister, which was laughed out of court and formed the basis for Dickens's Bardell v. Pickwick. Norton continued to ill-treat his wife, preventing her access to her own children and trying to seize her literary earnings as poet and novelist. In her defence, Mrs Norton published, claiming the rights of mothers to custody and of wives to independent property. The Custody of Infants Act (2 & 3 Vic. c. 54) of 1839 gave the courts discretion to award custody of children up to the age of 7 to their mothers. The right of wives to independent property was introduced by successive Married Women's Property Acts in 1870, 1882, and 1893. Though Mrs Norton's literary reputation has faded, her position as a pioneer of women's rights is secure.

J. A. Cannon

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