Born an aristocrat and surprised by literary celebrity, Lady Georgiana Fullerton led a charmed early life, suggesting the plot of a fashionable romance novel. Fullerton’s continual struggles to reconcile secular realities with her other-worldly religious devotion, however, endows her life story with a complexity and hybridity that—much like Fullerton’s fiction—belies easy categorization. Fullerton, a Catholic convert and a lay member of the Third Order of Saint Francis, would have preferred being remembered for her extensive works of charity rather than for her novels. Accordingly, Fullerton’s early biographers, hoping to bring about her official canonization within the Catholic Church, constructed hagiographies which emphasized Fullerton’s piety and altruism over her considerable literary accomplishments. These biographies have set the tone for subsequent critical appraisal of Fullerton; she has been remembered (or more often, forgotten) as a pious woman who also happened to be a “minor religious novelist.” Yet just as Fullerton’s austere black dress and ungloved hands (the half-crown for gloves was better spent on the poor, she claimed) belied in later years her true social standing, so also have literary historians overlooked the extent of her reputation and influence in mid-Victorian Britain. For not only were Fullerton’s first three novels reviewed prominently, and favorably, alongside those of Dickens, Thackeray, and Charlotte Brontë, but they also illustrate in vivid relief many of the same religious, spiritual, and moral concerns that preoccupied other female writers, both canonical and noncanonical, of her generation.
Born Georgiana Charlotte Leveson-Gower at Tixhall Hall in Staffordshire in 1812, Fullerton was the daughter of Lord Granville Leveson-Gower and his wife, Lady Harriet Cavendish. Georgiana was named after her maternal grandmother, the fifth Duchess of Devonshire, who was immortalized on canvas by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Although young Georgiana’s upbringing was, by her own recollection, rather austere and regimented by an overzealous governess,