Friday, August 6, 2010

Guest Post: Y.S. Lee on Notorious Victorians

Today I am honored to take part in a Traveling to Teens blog tour in honor of the release of Y.S. Lee's second book, The Body at the Tower. I loved the first book in the series and the second one doesn't disappoint. Read my review

Now I turn the floor over to Y.S. Lee :)

Welcome to the 4th installment in my series of Notorious Victorians, written to celebrate the publication of my second novel, The Body at the Tower. Yesterday, I talked about Charles Darwin as a reluctant revolutionary; today, I want to focus on Lady Caroline Norton, an author and society beauty who, despite her deeply conservative tendencies, became a high-profile campaigner for women’s legal rights.

Caroline Norton was born in 1808 to an aristocratic family with important connections but without a great deal of money. Despite this, Norton and her two sisters were much admired for their beauty and social accomplishments, and were nicknamed “the Three Graces”. (Norton’s sisters went on to make powerful marriages.) At nineteen, Norton married a well-connected barrister and Member of Parliament, the Hon. George Chapple Norton. This was a disaster: George Norton was jealous, violent, and a heavy drinker who abused her physically and mentally. Money was a constant problem.

After nine years, Norton left her husband. She earned enough through her writing (poetry and prose) to support herself, but despite their estrangement, George Norton successfully claimed all her money for himself. This was entirely legal: Caroline Norton was her husband’s property within the law, and everything she owned and earned belonged to him. Next, George Norton kidnapped their children and hid them with relatives. Again, Caroline Norton had no legal recourse against him and was denied access to her children for years. Finally, George Norton accused her of adultery with her good friend the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, and demanded a large payout. Melbourne refused and the case went to court. Although Caroline Norton and Melbourne were found not guilty, the scandal still destroyed their reputations and almost brought down the government.

Norton spent the next two decades campaigning for the extension of women’s legal rights – specifically, for mothers’ right to custody of their children, and the right of married women to inherit and control property. She was largely successful. While these were radical notions in themselves, Norton was never an advocate for equality. She opposed women’s suffrage (the right to vote) and believed that “the natural position of woman is inferiority to man”.
Norton’s activism clearly grew from her own experience; where her sufferings ended, so did her desire for political change. It’s easy to wish that Norton had had a less personal understanding of justice and equality. Yet the fact that she was politically active is itself remarkable. As a daughter of the aristocracy, raised to be a wife, mother, and society hostess, Norton’s life forced her to abandon the script. It’s fair to call her a revolutionary of sorts, even if a reluctant one

Thank you so much Y.S. Lee!

Follow the Notorious Victorians blog tour to A Reader's Adventure on August 9th (Monday). The tour stops on the weekend.
Check out the author's website. You can also follow her on twitter

This guest post was brought to you by Traveling to Teens blog tours. You can find a full schedule of all the stops here

1 comment:

  1. I loved the first tour and this one seems to go into even more unknown corners of history. Thanks for brining it to us.


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