We tend to think of the life of the English population a century and a half ago as quaint, cluttered, and repressed. However they saw themselves on the frontier of a great social change. The aristocracy saw their social position and role in society challenged by a new and wealthy class of merchants and manufacturers. Reform Bills were hotly debated and then passed by the parliament increasing the size of the electorate. At the same time traditional gender roles were beginning to be questioned and challenged. It was an exciting time and it produced a feast for fiction fans, especially fans of the weighty tome stuffed with intriguing characters and spiced with surprising, and often ironic, twists of plot and phrase.