I discovered Mary Robinson in 2006 when I read a review of Paula Byrne’s biography-one of three biographies of Mary Robinson to be published in Great Britain within a two-year window.
I was floored. Mary Robinson (1757-1800) was the most famous person I’d never heard of! Her life reads like a who’s-who of eighteenth-century arts and letters. As a fledgling poetess, the collection of verses that enabled her family to break free of debtors prison, was sponsored by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. She was mentored by David Garrick and Richard Brinsley Sheridan, becoming the brightest luminary of the London stage when she was still in her teens. She had love affairs with the Prince of Wales, the Whig firebrand Charles James Fox, and the American Revolutionary War hero known as the “scourge of the Carolinas,” rising Liverpool politician Banastre Tarleton. As a writer and editor, and—toward the end of life—an outspoken feminist, her path crossed those of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Godwin, and Mary Wollstonecraft.
Although Mary Darby Robinson was born into the burgeoning middle class, her life, like Emma Hamilton’s, was crammed with so many exciting events and so many connections to the era’s best-known personalities that her story begged to be immortalized in historical fiction. I was also drawn to Mary because she was a professional actress who became a bestselling novelist. I got the greatest kick out of incorporating Mary’s actual complaints about the publishing business, which she put into the mouths of some of her literary heroines in my own novel about her life. I’m still not sure whether I was delighted or dismayed to discover that some things never change.