Asked to name a major female author before Jane Austen, most people struggle. Charlotte Lennox (c 1729–1804), whose ‘independent mind’ is celebrated in this new, full, critical biography, deserves to be remembered as a novelist (her satire The Female Quixote was a favourite of Austen’s), translator, critic, dramatist, poet and editor of a periodical, The Lady’s Museum. The range and variety of her literary endeavours are impressive, although not untypical of the mid-18th century: Lennox’s friend and supporter Samuel Johnson and her acquaintance Oliver Goldsmith answer to much the same set of descriptions. Like them, Lennox had intellect as well as imagination, an appetite for knowledge and a more or less empty purse.
Johnson understood the difficulties a young woman faced entering the literary market – and Lennox was young when she started: by her early twenties she had already published a volume of poems and two novels, including the bestselling and most enduring of her works, The Female Quixote. Johnson