The nineteenth century saw the first mass market for books and concomitantly the first serious bestsellers. Dickens and Twain, of course, made quite nice livings by writing, thanks very much, and Harriet Beecher Stowe had more than her fifteen minutes of fame. But however well these people did, the kind of DaVinci Code phenomenon never really hit the Victorian century.
That is, not until 1894 when George du Maurier came out of nowhere with the game changing novel Trilby. And, no doubt to the fury of a generation of would-be scribblers, he wasn’t even a proper writer.
Du Maurier was born in Paris of Anglo-French stock (his grandmother was Regency courtesan Mary Anne Clarke, on whom more next time) and for the better part of his life was chiefly known – well known, in fact – as an illustrator.