The person in this experiment is Caroline Norton, English author and social reformer, who successfully fought for the rights of women both within marriage and after divorce. Her efforts led to much greater protection for wives and their children during an age when they had almost none, and laid the groundwork for further advancements in equality later on.
Early Life and Marriage
Born Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Sheridan in London in 1808, Norton came from a landed Scottish family that had fallen on hard times, despite its aristocratic background.
Caroline’s father Tom Sheridan died of tuberculosis in 1817, and the Duke of York offered her mother Caroline Callender a “grace and favour” apartment at Hampton Court Palace, on the basis of his friendship with Tom’s father, famous Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Norton lived there with her mother and six siblings for several years.
Caroline and her two sisters were all considered unusually beautiful (as were her four brothers), and were referred to in society as The Three Graces. Norton was not only strikingly lovely, but was also witty, strong-willed and highly intelligent. Always inclined toward the literary, she became a published writer at the age of eleven, and gained many admirers in social circles as the years went by.
In 1823, at the age of fifteen, Caroline was sent to a boarding school in Shalford, Surrey. There she caught the eye of barrister George Chapple Norton, brother of Lord Grantley, who became smitten with her at once and vowed to marry her. He was forced to wait until Caroline turned nineteen, however, and they eventually wed in July of 1827.
Marriage and Separation
Sadly, the marriage was a total disaster from the outset. George was a shiftless and unsuccessful lawyer, who subjected his vivacious and outspoken wife to physical abuse from the honeymoon onward. They eventually had three sons together, but when yet another beating caused Caroline to miscarry her fourth pregnancy in 1835, she ran away and went home to live with her mother.
Having separated from her husband, Norton attempted to take custody of her three sons Fletcher, Brinsley, and William, but soon realized that she had no legal rights to them whatsoever. In Victorian society, women were considered to be one legal entity with their husbands, and had no claim to their children, income, or their own possessions: even those they had owned before the marriage. In the eyes of the law, a woman simply ceased to exist once she was married, and was absorbed into the person of her husband. Caroline set out to reform this unfair system.
The Melbourne Scandal and Politics
In revenge for his wife’s departure, George Norton accused Caroline of “criminal conversation” (a euphemism for adultery) with Lord Melbourne, who was Whig Prime Minister of England at the time. Although there was no clear evidence to support the accusation, and he had actually encouraged a friendship between the two of them, the trial that resulted was extremely notorious, and scandalized London society.
Caroline (who was not even granted the opportunity to defend herself in court) was eventually acquitted, but her reputation was destroyed for a number of years. George Norton took possession of all her property, including her clothing and jewelry, and tried to confiscate income from her writing as well. He demanded large sums of money in damages, and refused to pay spousal support. Caroline was denied all access to her children, due to her husband’s vengeful behavior.
At this point Norton was fed up, and she began to put her considerable literary talents to good use. A well-known poet and writer, she began composing letters to influential newspapers and to Parliament. In 1837 Caroline published her first political pamphlet, Observations on the Natural Claim of a Mother to the Custody of her Children as affected by the Common Law Right of the Father, and followed it the next year with Separation of Mother and Child by the Laws of Custody of Infants Considered.
Norton sought to change the fact that a wife had no legal identity of her own, and could not even fight for custody of her children in the courts. She appealed to Parliament to allow mothers who were innocent of adultery to keep custody of their children who were less than seven years of age.
The Infant Custody Bill was passed in August 1839, but ironically Caroline did not benefit from it personally, because George spirited the children away to Scotland, where the laws of England did not apply. Her youngest son William was fatally injured by falling from a horse, and died before Caroline was able to reach his side. Following this tragedy she was allowed to see her other sons, but her visits were always supervised.
Caroline continued to fight for the rights of married women for many years. Her passionate dedication to the issue led to the passage of the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857, and the Married Women’s Property Act of 1870. These bills revolutionized divorce laws, and gave married women an identity that was separate from their husbands for the first time in UK history.
Interestingly, while Norton fought hard for the rights of married women, she did not view herself as a feminist, or women as the equals of men. But her work laid the foundation for women’s equality in the future, and granted them rights and freedoms that had been sorely lacking in the past.
Later Life and Legacy
Caroline ran a literary and political salon in her later years, although she still avoided being associated with feminist groups. She was deeply saddened by the passing of her oldest son Fletcher from tuberculosis in 1859, however.
After the death of her husband George in 1875, Caroline was finally free to marry again, and she wed longtime friend Sir William Stirling-Maxwell two years later. Their friendship had endured for 25 years, and it was a loving union very different from her first marriage. Sadly, however, Caroline fell ill and died only a few months after the wedding, and her husband and last remaining son Brinsley also died a short time later.
In addition to her significant social and literary legacy, Caroline was the subject of many artistic and written works, on account of her legendary beauty and accomplishments. Her trial for adultery served as a theme in Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, and many other famous writers such as Alfred Tennyson and William Makepeace Thackeray used her turbulent life as a source of inspiration for their work. She posed as a model for many painters in her youth, such as George Hayter, Frank Stone, and Daniel Maclise.
Several readers correctly picked up on Caroline’s involvement with issues around marriage and children, and the fact that she had been separated from her own family – a tragedy that shaped so much of the course of her life as a result. Kudos to Colleen Pinckney for noting that the sadness from this loss led to Norton’s use of her writing skills to bring about significant social change. Lauri and Isabella Hoffmann very accurately picked up on these themes as well. Great job!
Mon correctly saw Caroline as both a victim of violence and an advocate for women who were in a similar situation. She did indeed feel trapped in her marriage, and used her personal situation to make life easier for those who followed after her. Norton was a complicated, headstrong, and fiery woman, which may help explain why some readers felt conflicted about her nature. Even for those who knew her well, she may have been a bit of a conundrum.
As Dorothy observed, Caroline operated somewhat outside of the social norm, despite the fact that she was very social, and loved to associate with intellectuals and notable politicians. She ran in wealthy circles and high society and loved to be around people (as Johanna pointed out), but always maintained her own individual ideals and nature, even when it cost her dearly. It was this independence that helped her to bring about significant change in the world, and for this fierce dedication in the face of injustice, she is remembered to this day.
We had a lot of very specific hits this time around, and I felt like many of you had a very clear sense of who Caroline was, so congratulations to you all!
How did you do with this one? Please let me know in the comments section below!
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Hey, I did ok with this one! I didn’t see this until the most recent email, but my immediate thought before clicking the link was that she was famous for her marriage, but not because of who she was married to. That there was something notorious about her marriage.
1. I picked up that she had 2 sisters.
2. I sensed that she had a few children, at least 3. (There are 4, and 1 died.)
3. I worked out that she had a bad temper.
4. I felt that she was a fighter for justice.
5. I sensed that she came from a financially comfortable back ground/child hood.
I simply got “happy to be here, grateful to be here!”, and will probably kick myself for saying this later, but…. “I’m so stressed and tired and ready to be out of here, don’t take ‘crap’ from anyone anymore!” kinda moods, that is what I got. I looked at the picture, then read about her. Even looking back on her picture afterwards I still feel the same. I personally feel sadness for her hardships, and grateful that a women fought for herself as a mother for her children against an abusive husband, she wasn’t fighting for women’s rights she was fighting for her rights! Everyone is different I’ve seen bad mothers and I’ve seen bad fathers, and the good ones are the ones that deserves their children, not the ones that deserves them out of a messed up justice system, and used the children to hurt the other one out of spite to hurt the other…but after reading her story, in my heart I still feel there’s way more then a few paragraphs and a picture of what history knows about her life. Just like anyone. You can’t read someone’s life in one ‘picture’. Everyone has their own ‘moments’ in life. Sometimes we’re so happy i.e…(birthdays/ celebrations) other times extremely sad.. i.e. (grievance/loss/ hardships)… In this woman’s case I feel extremely bored, tired, stressed, better things she could be doing, but also that “this seemed important to her, a good idea”, when she agreed to do it, at that time. I’m sorry I’m really not trying to discredit anyone, that’s just what I see, if I have any “special quality” maybe just that I can read people in person on the way they show themselves “in person”, their body language, what they say without saying it? “What are they hiding?” “What are they trying to hide” “what are they ready to let go of?” (Sorry I’m also a scorpio) I’ve also got a talent for bringing people/strangers to me (mind you I’m not a people person ‘scorpio’) out of nowhere and telling me their deepest secrets! Honestly I hate this type of thing, I hate secrets. I can’t hold my hold, but I can hold others, without question?! Feels like I’m always in confessionals or something. This has happened all my life. So I figure I’m an empath along with other things I haven’t said.. but I’m rambling, honestly and in conclusion the beginning of this…is what I got out of this picture, I’m guessing others opinions will vary depending on what gifts they have. A picture can say a thousand words, but that doesn’t include feelings does it?
I was right in the fact that she always put other people’s needs above her own, the sadness that you can see in her eyes and that there was some kind of tragedy that happened in her life
Why are there no comments yet? Lots of people did really well on this experiment!
Also anyone that mentioned Queen Victoria should be pleased with their effort, because Norton wrote letters to the Queen. These letters were a significant part of her social reform efforts to instate rights for women and children after divorce. A big intuitive hit!
Hi, I got some correct, I emailed it in. Have just copied what I wrote in the email that I feel was a hit or close too lol and left out the other bits. Found doing this really enjoyable and a learning curve. Will do again!
‘The lady I felt is strong, particularly after a personal tragedy. This propelled her to campaign/fight/lobby for changes.’
A compassionate lady and a proud woman. Sense of humour definitely and quite down to earth. Could mix with lower classes than herself, she was more interested in who people are than what status they hold. Pragmatic was a word that came in.
I feel I would have looked up to her and hold a lot of respect for her and who she was and what she does. Held her own ground and didn’t take prisoners! A stubborn lady which served her well in what she achieved.
Had a wide social circle but maybe not all close friends or family but acquaintances.
Felt she died over a matter of weeks or months rather than instant, being ill and slowly slipping away.
Had a support network, not mega rich but did not want for anything in the end. Middle classes.
My 10 yo daughter and I thought she was not someone we could be friends with. I thought she was Jewish , not a friendly person and troubled. I didn’t pick up on all the great work she did for women
Need to practice a bit more. That she is from England that was clear to me.
That she had tragedy in her life that was correct. That she was a lonely person because of her marital and political statue that seemed to be correct. That she died of natural causes (not being murdered) that was correct. That she worked with children (orphanages so I thought ) to better their lives that was correct. However it was more then just orphanages. That she had wealthy that was correct.
As far as being a friend to her, I thought I should use great caution, not sure why, because I felt a mix of emotions there. Maybe because working in high society is always associated with who you know not who you are as a person.
However she had a short life I was incorrect in that. She is not Queen Victoria that was incorrect and also not royalty as I thought.
Thank you for the experience of my first reading. It was fun and I can see where I need to improve and focus.
I love these experiments! Thank you for posting the answers so soon! I had a few hits.
My first impression was she was a sad and nervous woman. I had a heavy heart feeling and definitely needed to clear my energy after reading the photo . I had a strong sense of ego male energy which could have been her husband.
The next words that came to me were children, bee’s nest (stinging?), Duped, craziness around her, belittled!!
The word Shamrock appeared So I’m not sure what that is but Ireland’s right next to where she lived. And I also had thoughts/feelings of kitchen or cooking or plates…?
The next words I wrote down were “cry, pathological liar – that she was exposed to or lived with. Tryst – confusion”!!
I wrote something about a very stern mother/confusing. I don’t know if her mother was that way?
I knew she was married and I wrote that she was “distant from family and there was some Embarrassment and she was disowned!!
I was aware of depression and anxiety and a heavy heart feeling. There was too much drama and a dangerous lack of coping skills. She needed help yet did not get it soon enough”
I had a couple extra details which I’m not seeing the tie in but I’m pretty surprised at what I think I tapped into .
What came to me when I first saw this picture was the name Sarah. When I looked at what her full name is, Born Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Sheridan in London in 1808, I noticed that Sarah is one of her middle names. I am new to being intuitive. Had scary near death experience last year, since then my intuition has been heightened. She has the look of a kind soul!
This picture for me showed a strong woman who seemed to want justice of some sort. After reading the story I am completely sadden by Carolines misfortune but also inspired by her courageous nature to continue to live life. Caroline found love and was a fighter and never seem to be a victim. I think we can all get caught up in our own life’s disappointments, challenges, and struggles but we can also find peace and empathy in others journeys. For me Carolines story and journey teaches to love live and find beauty and purpose in all things. Amazing, Rest In Peace Caroline ????
Some right, some wrong. It looked like a 1800s photo but being skeptical I said early 1900s . I said maybe substance abuse but someone abused her. Sad. It was interesting to try to read her, easy to get mixed up with someone I know that looked similar to the photo of her.
Also her name Caroline I guessed her name was Ann or Ann in the name if you say Caroline you hear Ann in there. I was proud to say I would most likely be her friend. I think I can easily get drawn into a spirits emotion sometimes just what spirit unsure of at times but working at the cemetery it is easier to match up when you know the person and how someone died long story.
Reading about Caroline’s life makes me feel ashamed and deeply saddened by how she was treated by men of that time.
Of course there must have been some good men of the time as well, but it is heart rending to read of her story and brings tears to my eyes.
I can never understand why some men, even now, cannot see the inestimable worth of a woman strong with feminine love, conviction, intellect, and will.
I thought she was kind but very sad. I felt something about children and said maybe she had something to do with a ‘charity’ probably for childen.. But hard of hearing/deaf, was in my mind a lot when looking at her photo.. so I didn’t do that well..
I got imposter, coming up from a place of financial hardship to a place of wealth, that her husband did something shady for money, and children. Nothing much more specific beyond that.
I thought her name was Rosaline. . . and that she was widowed when her husband died. I thought she was a socialite and got all her money from her husband. . .
Haha kind of close I guess? This was my first time doing this so yeah. . .
Wow. So by the sounds of it her husband was a Narcissistic Psychopath