Sophie Gee is a literature professor with an Ivy League pedigree, but her imagination gives her erudition a run for its money in her first novel, The Scandal of the Season, a chronicle of the sexy, seedy side of 18th-century London.

What made you decide to write your first novel about Alexander Pope and “The Rape of the Lock”?

I’ve always really loved “The Rape of the Lock” when I’ve taught it. It’s the sort of story that then becomes the basis for a Jane Austen novel, a courtly romance between socially desirable people. I did some research and found that there was this true story that Pope had taken up as a mechanism to make his own name as a poet. It had everything I needed.

How do your students react to the poem?

Students always find the poem incredibly difficult. Lecturers usually start by saying, “You’re going to love it.” Then you hit it, and it’s incredibly hard, these dense rhymed couplets. Part of what I had in my mind when I was writing the novel is learning how to translate a dense and difficult poem into the idiom of social comedy.

What aspects of Pope’s London do you think might to be most shocking to today’s readers?

The first is that it was a period of far greater sexual freedom than people imagine. Back in the beginning of the 18th century, there was an enormous amount of promiscuity. It was a bawdy, sexually free period. The second thing is that London was just a really filthy city then. It was a kind of late medieval or renaissance city, although it had expanded enormously in terms of cultural sophistication.

Were you a historical fiction fan before you wrote this book?

I was. I especially loved it when I was a child. What I loved about historical fiction then was the way that the story sort of brought you into a whole imagined world that you had no idea existed, a kind of time travel. When I was thinking about writing Scandal, what I really wanted to communicate was that sense of being transported.

What historical era would you like to tackle for your next novel?

I’m still really attracted to the 18th century. It’s a wonderful historical analogue to the present. It was a society in constant transition, battling the question of what it means to think of itself as secular, enlightened and modern while on the other hand struggling with a kind of residual affection for the old habits of superstition and irrational belief.