Until Mary Cholmondeley published Red Pottage (1899), she was a popular novelist but not a celebrity figure. In the decade before her runaway best-seller, she had successfully serialized three novels – The Danvers Jewels (1887), Sir Charles Danvers (1889) and Diana Tempest (1893) – in Temple Bar and followed with hard-copy volumes published by Richard Bentley and Son that went into multiple editions. The reviews of this early fiction were strong, praising Cholmondeley for her clever and witty books, with Diana Tempest garnering special praise as the ‘cleverest’ of ‘Miss Cholmondeley's clever novels’. But her fourth novel, A Devotee (1897), also serialized in Temple Bar, went almost unnoticed – reviewed only in the Bookman, the periodical that did most to launch Cholmondeley to celebrity status and publicize her private life in relation to her professional career. That celebrity launch came with Red Pottage (1899), the Künstlerroman that, in Percy Lubbock's account, ‘created some scandal at the close of the [nineteenth] century’.
Cholmondeley's rise to celebrity was many faceted, though mostly unplanned – including extensive reviews in British, American and Canadian periodicals, commentary from English pulpits and in private drawing rooms, interviews (some largely invented) by the nineteenth-century version of the paparazzi, and biographical prefaces to new editions of her work. Lubbock recalls the ‘fine cackle of the public, rounds of warm applause, and in the midst of the applause some exhilarating notes of dissent, of disapproval and horrification’. Cholmondeley's response to this celebrity, to her newly achieved fame, was ambivalent. On the one hand, she tried to put a damper on the celebrity journalism that dominated fin-de-siècle literary culture; as J. E. Hodder Williams observed,
Miss Cholmondeley has always shunned and indeed refused publicity (she has never consented to be ‘interviewed’ in any English periodical), and her personality is certainly less known to the great outside public than that of any other popular author of the day.