At around the time of her fifteenth birthday in 1767, Frances Burney made a bonfire of her juvenilia in the garden of her London home, intending "to extinguish for ever in their ashes her scribbling propensity". She was anxious that she might turn into an author, a profession incompatible - for a woman - with respectability. The purging bonfire failed: over the next fifty years Burney wrote four novels which made her the best-known author of her generation, seven plays and a voluminous diary which, with her correspondence, is regarded as one of the most revealing personal documents of the period.
Introduced early in life to London's intellectual elite, Fanny Burney became the friend of many famous men and women including Sheridan, Garrick, Burke, Reynolds and Dr Johnson. Against her will, she was appointed Second Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte in the 1780s, and lived at Court for five years during the time of George III's "madness". After an unexpected late marriage to a French refugee aristocrat she was detained for ten years in post-Revolutionary France. In middle-age she underwent, and memorably described, the fearful ordeal of a mastectomy without anaesthetic.
Scholarly, entertaining and illuminating, this is the fullest portrait yet of the extraordinary woman who thought of herself as a "mere scribbler" but whom Virginia Woolf hailed as "the mother of English fiction".
Shortlisted for the Whitbread Biography Prize.