In 1828, at the age of 19, Mary Novello married the 41-year-old writer and publisher Charles Clarke. He was a Shakespeare scholar, and the next year Mary embarked on a monumental task: to produce a systematic concordance of all Shakespeare’s plays. Today we are so used to machines doing all our clerical work that it’s hard to imagine the scale of her undertaking—and she probably had no idea what she was letting herself in for, either. At the start, she was an enthusiastic amateur, brought up in the company of the Regency literati. It took her twelve years to extract and order the data, then another four to check it against current editions and prepare it for the press. After sixteen years of toil—almost half her young ...

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