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The Dandies Rout

During the hight of the dandymania, ca. 1818-1820, “a description of works, which, for want of a more appropriate generic term, we may designate Dandy Books, was in high popularity with nursery students” (“Living Literary Characters, No. II. The Honourable Mrs. Norton”, The New Monthly Magazine, February 1831, Vol. 32, No. 122, S. 181). In 1820, Caroline Norton (1808-1877) - then still Miss Sheridan and granddaughter of Richard Brinsley Sheridan – was inspired to write her own Dandy Book, “The Dandies’ Rout”, after perusing “The Dandies’ Ball”, illustrated by Robert Cruikshank and published by the same Mr. Marshall who distributed “The Dandies’ Rout”. Some sources quote Caroline’s sister Helen as co-author. The plates of Caroline Sheridan Norton’s book were designed by herself, according to the quoted article in the New Monthly Magazine. Some sources, however, credit Robert Cruikshank with it. As I was unable to locate a copy, it is impossible to decide on this question. Citing Cruikshank as illustrator does not seem too far fetched either, as he illustrated at least two other of Marshall’s dandy books, namely “The Dandy’s Perambulations” and “The Dandies’ Ball”.

“The Dandies’ Rout” is a similar production to the book that had inspired it. It’s a humorous poem with 32 couplets that are accompanied with 14 illustrations that sketch the preparations of various dandies for a ball. Indeed, this sounds very similar to “The Dandies’ Ball”. The description that Randall Craig gives of the book in his study “The Narratives of Caroline Norton” makes it look like a rip-off: identical storyline, and both narratives feature a dandy who is being laced up in stays, a Mr. Pink, false calves, and a dandy washing his shirt.

Caroline Norton was a remarkable woman. The 19 year-old Caroline was married to George Norton who physically abused her throughout their marriage. While Norton had early fallen in love with Caroline, she found her husband rather foolish. A divorce was not an option for Caroline, as her husband would have kept custody of their three children. About 1830, speculations arose of an affair between Caroline and Lord Melbourne that were fueled by George Norton. The latter denied Caroline access to their children who then openly attacked the system in her pamphlets ” The Natural Claim of a Mother to the Custody of her Children as affected by the Common Law Rights of the Father” and “A Plain Letter to the Lord Chancellor on the Law of Custody of Infants” that ultimately resulted in the Custody of Children Act (1839). The passing of the Marriage and Divorce Act in 1857 is also due to Caroline Norton’s influence, at least in part. George Norton, then, sent the children to Scotland to prevent their mother from seeing them. In 1842, the eight year-old William Norton died, which finally provoked Norton to allow the remaining two children to live with Caroline.

Socially, Caroline Norton was on friendly terms with some of the greatest writers of her time: Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Mary Shelley, and Benjamin Disraeli. She had published several poems before she was appointed editor of La Belle Assemblee and Court Magazine. Literary successes followed with later novels.