Imagine yourself as a respectable married woman in 18th-century England, with a husband who regularly brings you home the finest chocolate. It’s probably just as well you don’t know that it is laced with mercury – a way of treating the syphilis which he fears he has passed on to you.

Or how about being a visitor to Venice in the 15th century and finding yourself guided though the canals by a black gondolier, one of a number of freed African house slaves in Renaissance culture in the years before the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade start to bite?

And then there is the experience of being a nun … And a particular convent in 19th-century Rome where favoured novices got to lie with their abbess who, having “initiated” them with her ministrations, reassured them any liquid that might have leaked between them was a sure sign of the holy spirit.

There has never been a richer moment for imaginative time travel. While popular culture is still largely fixated on those who…

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