The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton, Diane Atkinson

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Caroline Norton, born in 1808, was a society beauty, poet and pamphleteer. Her good looks and wit attracted many male admirers, first her husband, the Honourable George Norton, and then the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne.

After years of simmering jealousy, George Norton accused Caroline and the Prime Minister of a ‘criminal conversation’ (adultery) resulting in a trial referred to as ‘the scandal of the century’.

Cut off and bankrupted by George Norton, she went on to become one of the most important figures in changing the law for wives and mothers.

Publisher:  Arrow Books, June 2013

Reviewer: Terri Webster

A glorious read! To begin with, I liked the richness of the book cover, perfectly framing its historical background and hinting at content in the title. Next, there is a serene, but compelling suggestion in the gaze of the lady looking out which makes you want to know more.

The actual book is set to the backdrop of 19th century England, where ‘polite society’ and the influence of men on society as a whole – its morals and values, lead the times. There are many facets to the ‘story line’ which in fact is not a story line at all, but a retelling of one of the most fascinating court tales in the land. It is also a tale of a woman challenging laws which impacted on all women, and the right of women to have full legal status in law. An interesting analogy to the rights of people elsewhere also.

What I especially liked about the book were the copious amounts of historical information, beautifully and easily put into the story throughout. This cornucopia of revealing facts, both demonstrated. and highlighted prevalent patriarchal values and the general brutality of the times, all of which were seemingly hidden under a facade of politeness and manners.  Ultimately, this is a book which surpasses boundaries because of the character of the woman in the plot. Clever, witty, passionate, and creative in her endeavours. She is also literate, educated –
a lady of letters. I loved the style of this book. The writing is humorous, entertaining, and very well researched.

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