Observations on the Natural Claim of the Mother to the Custody of her Infant Children
Caroline Norton (1808–77), author and law reform campaigner, was the granddaughter of the playwright Sheridan and soprano Elizabeth Linley. Her disastrous, violent marriage in 1827 to the financially irresponsible Tory M.P. and barrister George Norton led her to seek escape in writing poetry. Anonymous autobiographical novels followed, exploring women's powerlessness in marriage, together with regular contributions to periodicals such as Macmillan's Magazine. Flamboyant, intelligent and temperamental, she secured her place in literary society, numbering Disraeli and Dickens among her friends. Ever jealous, her husband accused her of adultery with Lord Melbourne, but the case was unproven. In revenge, he refused his wife access to their sons, and it was this act which led to her determined campaign to improve the rights of women in marriage and divorce. This work, first published anonymously in 1837, was instrumental in the subsequent passing of the Custody of Infants Act (1839).