The Criminal Conversation of Mrs. Norton

The Criminal Conversation of Mrs. Norton
The Criminal Conversation of Mrs. Norton

The Criminal Conversation of Mrs. Norton

Victorian England's "Scandal of the Century" and the Fallen Socialite Who Changed Women's Lives Forever
By Diane Atkinson


496 Pages, 6 x 9.125

Formats: Cloth, PDF, EPUB, Mobipocket

Cloth, $29.95 (US $29.95)

ISBN 9781613748800

Rights: US

Chicago Review Press (Sep 2013)


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A fascinating feminist heroine is rediscovered

A forgotten heroine of the women’s rights movement is rescued from obscurity in this biography of Caroline Norton, a respected poet, songwriter, and socialite whose 1836 adultery trial rocked Victorian England. When George Norton accused his wife of having an affair with the British Prime Minister he sparked what was considered “the scandal of the century.” Though she was declared innocent, the humiliated George locked Caroline out of their home, seized her manuscripts, letters, clothes, jewels, and every penny of her earnings, and refused to let her see their three sons. This detailed account of the Norton “criminal conversation” trial sheds vivid light on the desperate position of women in male-dominated Victorian society and chronicles Caroline’s lifelong campaign to establish legal rights for married and divorced women, allowing them to inherit property, take court action on their own behalf, and in effect establishing them for the first time as full-fledged human beings before the law. Figuring into this fascinating story are Norton’s friend and confidante Mary Shelley, longtime admirer Charles Dickens, Lord Byron, Queen Victoria, and other literary and royal heavyweights of the day.


"Lively, entertaining, and filled with rivetingly weird details. . . . Atkinson's book pays tribute to a neglected heroine." —Sunday Times

"Important and definitive, this beautifully written and extremely entertaining book resurrects a nineteenth-century heroine for the twenty-first century." –Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

“It is a brave book, written with verve and veracity.” —The Times

"Expertly researched and finely written. . . . Mrs Norton’s journey from abused wife to passionate reformer is as moving as it is fascinating, and Atkinson’s richly detailed work does her subject the justice she deserves." —BBC History Magazine

“An impressive biography" and "a robust portrait…of a woman who refused to be circumscribed by the restrictive social mores and legal inequities of her time and place in history.” —Booklist

“Well-researched” and “recommended for women’s studies scholars, legal scholars, and academics.” —Library Journal

“This beautifully written and fascinating book is a window to the times and an important addition to women's history.” —Book News, Inc.

Author Biography


Diane Atkinson holds a PhD on the politics of women’s labor. She has worked as a lecturer and curator specializing in women’s history at the Museum of London. She is the author of Elsie and Mairi Go to War, Funny Girls: Cartooning for Equality, Love and Dirt: The Marriage of Arthur Munby and Hannah Cullwick, and Suffragettes in Pictures.