“Strange Unstable World”: Structure and Synthesis in the Final Narratives

  • Randall Craig


Norton’s readers from the 1830s and 1840s would surely have recognized her hand in the novels of the 1860s. Lost and Saved adapts numerous aspects of her first long poem, The Sorrows of Rosalie, and Old Sir Douglas returns to the familiar Scottish setting and symbolic landscape of pastoral north vs. urban south that features prominently in both The Wife and Stuart of Dunleath. Recurring themes, tropes, and modes, however, cannot disguise significant changes and evolving styles. Most notably, Norton introduces sensational plots and villains that accentuate the moral vision of melodrama—a change attributable in part to public taste. A survey of new fiction in 1863 concluded that a “book without a murder, a divorce, a seduction, or a bigamy, is not apparently considered worth either writing or reading.… [A] tale must needs be full of horror, excitement, and crime.”3 Norton’s shift in mode also reflects “an impatience of old restraints,” personal as well as artistic, and a search for a form that will enable her to combine more effectively different voices—plaintive and passionate, satirical and sentimental—within a single work.


Moral Vision Racial Stereotype Natural Love Public Taste Symbolic Landscape 
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  1. 6.
    Barabara Z. Thaden discusses Frank’s ambiguous legal status in The Maternal Voice in Victorian Fiction (New York and London: Garland, 1997), 80.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    On seamstresses and lace menders, see Helena Michie, The Flesh Made Word: Female Figures and Women’s Bodies (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 56, andGoogle Scholar
  3. Deborah Anna Logan, Fallenness in Victorian Women’s Writing: Marry, Stitch, Die, or Do Worse (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998), 32–35.Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    James Fitzjames Stephen, “Anti-Respectability,” The Cornhill Magazine 8 (September 1863), 282.Google Scholar
  5. 14.
    Norton’s heroine can be linked to Magdalene Vanstone in Wilkie Collins’s No Name. See Winfred Hughes, The Maniac in the Cellar: Sensation Novels of the 1860s (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), 30–31.Google Scholar
  6. 23.
    See Jennifer DeVere Brody, Impossible Purities: Blackness, Femininity, and Victorian Culture (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1998), 27–45.Google Scholar
  7. 25.
    Norton shared the view of Tennyson’s speaker about Nicholas I. See Otto Hans Rauchbauer, “Some Unrecorded Letters by Caroline Norton,” Notes and Queries 17 (September 1970), 338.Google Scholar

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© Randall Craig 2009

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  • Randall Craig

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