Over many decades I have been a biographer and literary-historical critic of the long eighteenth century. Some of my earliest work helped to promote women writers who, at that time, were largely obscure, writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Smith, Mary Hays, Frances Sheridan - and indeed Mary Shelley, who was not always known even as the creator of Frankenstein, let alone of her other historical novels.
Happily, times have much changed and these writers are now so appreciated that they form the basis of many university courses devoted to the literature of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. But far more obscure are the large number of other women who entered the scribbling marketplace during these years. They came in such a crowd that for a time they even outnumbered their male colleagues.
During my last years in academics I have been studying Austen’s life and novels - I am the general editor of the Cambridge edition of all her works and I have written and edited four volumes dealing with her fiction. It is from this close involvement that I can assert that Austen well knew her worth: she was tart in her comments on other less skilled but popular writers and very careful in the revision of her own novels. She is quite different from the Gothic and sensational authors mentioned above: for a start, they would never have been allowed to publish with the prestigious press of John Murray. In Jane Austen’s lifetime Murray brought out Emma and the second edition of Mansfield Park.
As in most periods when there is a flourishing press and great cartoonists, the royal family provided much entertainment. To ensure an easy succession to the British throne and despite his private marriage to a Catholic- a forbidden union in this Protestant country - the Prince had been persuaded to marry a German princess, Caroline of Brunswick in 1795. He took an instant and deep dislike to her. Over the next years he persecuted this unwanted and rather foolish lady who took to travelling with a motley entourage around Europe. Her husband sent emissaries to find enough suitable evidence of imropriety to allow him a divorce. The 'Delicate Investigation', as the late phase of the investigation was called, much concerned the Princess’s time in Venice and her relationship with the Italian Bartolomeo Pergami. The fat, squat Princess and the tall be-whiskered Pergami do not feature in my novel as characters but, as they amuse all of Europe, so they intermittently amuse my heroine!
Janet Todd has just retired from teaching, mainly in the US and the UK. Her last positions were as Professor of English in the University of Aberdeen and President of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. Her most recent published works have been introductions to the novels of Jane Austen and biographies of women writers from Aphra Behn to Mary Wollstonecraft. A Man of Genius is her first original novel.