She was born on 14 December 1961 in East Grinstead, Surrey, grew up in Crawley and studied for an undergraduate degree at what was then Queen Mary College. After graduating in 1985 with the best English first in London, she studied for a PhD at the University of Oxford on Victorian novelist Mark Rutherford, under the supervision of Terry Eagleton.
Professor Ledger's first academic post was as Caroline Spurgeon fellow at Royal Holloway, University of London, followed by lectureships in Victorian studies at the universities of Exeter and the West of England.
It was when she joined the Department of English and Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London, that she found a longer-term home and began to establish an international reputation. She went on to become head of the school in 2002, developing new programmes in creative writing, theatre studies and theatre directing, and in 2005 became professor of 19th-century literature. She was also a key figure in the Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies.
Professor Ledger's published work included The New Woman: Fiction and Feminism at the Fin de Siecle (1997), Henrik Ibsen (1999) and Dickens and the Popular Radical Imagination (2007). Her passion for Dickens was further evidenced by the annual conference she helped organise for the Dickens Fellowship in London and her vital role in the Dickens Project at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
In September 2008, Professor Ledger returned to Royal Holloway as Hildred Carlile professor of English, director of research and director of the Centre for Victorian Studies. At the time of her death, she was working on a project about the 18th-century roots of Victorian sentimentality and had recently spoken at Yale University and the Modern Languages Association in San Francisco.
Well known for her commitment to combining teaching, administration and research with a full family and social life, not to mention Chelsea Football Club, she inspired a generation of postgraduates.
Hilary Fraser, Geoffrey Tillotson professor of 19th-century studies at Birkbeck, remembers "an inspired head of school, and a wonderful teacher and supervisor", who was "warm, vibrant and energetic".
Her books on the fin de siecle and Dickens "helped redefine the way we look at a canonical writer. She was one of the major international figures in the study of 19th-century fiction. Her loss is felt locally and personally by many, but also across continents," said Professor Fraser.
Professor Ledger died on 22 January 2009 of a sudden brain haemorrhage. She is survived by her husband, the educationist Jim Porteous, and son Richard.