“Half a Life”: Narratives of Women and Politics

  • Randall Craig


Following the death of Lord Palmerston in 1865, Norton wrote a letter of condolence to his widow, Lord Melbourne’s sister. Lady Palmerston, the “doyenne of Cambridge House, herself successor to Lady Holland of Holland House and the Whig tradition of political entertaining,” was, according to K. D. Reynolds, the “woman against whose success all others were constantly measured.”3 Norton implied that her own accomplishment as a petticoat politician was comparatively modest and eloquently described the limits as well as the significance of women’s contributions to public life:

It was my dream when I thought to marry and live among the men who influenced their time, to be what I think you were, in this, the only reasonable ambition of woman, and though it may seem a light thing to speak of, in face of the solemnities of Death, it is not as light a thing as it seems, to have added so far to the happiness and security of a career of public usefulness and public elevation—beyond and besides the inner life of home, which all women have power over.4


Prime Minister Public Usefulness Political Career Early Thirty Great World 
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    Anthony Trollope, Phineas Finn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 1:58.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    K. D. Reynolds, Aristocratic Women and Political Society in Victorian Britain (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Justin McCarthy cites Lady Palmerston as epitomizing the lamentable influence of women in politics. “The Petticoat in the Politics of England,” in Victorian Women’s Magazines: An Anthology, ed. Margaret Beetham and Kay Boardman (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001), 155. Also seeGoogle Scholar
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    George Eliot, Felix Holt, the Radical (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1995), 328.Google Scholar
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    Norton herself had grown used to such comparisons, exemplified by the comment of Mrs. Frederick Sullivan: “Mrs. Norton, too splendidly, magnificently, furiously beautiful.… She had a Cleopatra head! I never saw anything so tormentingly beautiful”—an intimation of exotic excess echoed by Anne Thackeray, who remarked that her father’s acquaintance was “a beautiful slow sphinx” (Lyster, A Family Chronicle, 69). Hester Thackeray Ritchie, ed., Thackeray and His Daughter: The Letters and Journals of Anne Thackeray Ritchie, with Many Letters of William Makepeace Thackeray (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1924), 151.Google Scholar

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© Randall Craig 2009

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  • Randall Craig

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