Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontës

Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontës

by Devoney Looser
Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontës

Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontës

by Devoney Looser


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For readers of Prairie Fires and The Peabody Sisters, a fascinating, insightful biography of the most famous sister novelists before the Brontës.

Before the Brontë sisters picked up their pens, or Jane Austen's heroines Elizabeth and Jane Bennet became household names, the literary world was celebrating a different pair of sisters: Jane and Anna Maria Porter. The Porters-exact contemporaries of Jane Austen-were brilliant, attractive, self-made single women of polite reputation who between them published 26 books and achieved global fame. They socialized among the rich and famous, tried to hide their family's considerable debt, and fell dramatically in and out of love. Their moving letters to each other confess every detail. Because the celebrity sisters expected their renown to live on, they preserved their papers, and the secrets they contained, for any biographers to come.

But history hasn't been kind to the Porters. Credit for their literary invention was given to their childhood friend, Sir Walter Scott, who never publicly acknowledged the sisters' works as his inspiration. With Scott's more prolific publication and even greater fame, the Porter sisters gradually fell from the pinnacle of celebrity to eventual obscurity. Now, Professor Devoney Looser, a Guggenheim fellow in English Literature, sets out to re-introduce the world to the authors who cleared the way for Austen, Mary Shelley, and the Brontë sisters. Capturing the Porter sisters' incredible rise, from when Anna Maria published her first book at age 14 in 1793, through to Jane's fall from the pinnacle of fame in the Victorian era, and then to the auctioning off for a pittance of the family's massive archive, Sister Novelists is a groundbreaking and enthralling biography of two pioneering geniuses in historical fiction.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781635575293
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 10/25/2022
Pages: 576
Sales rank: 55,928
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.80(d)

About the Author

Devoney Looser is Regents Professor of English at Arizona State University and the author or editor of nine books on literature by women, including The Making of Jane Austen. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Salon, The Washington Post, and Entertainment Weekly, and she's had the pleasure of talking about Austen on CNN. Looser, who has played roller derby as Stone Cold Jane Austen, is a Guggenheim Fellow and a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with her husband and two sons.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Two Sisters of Blazing Genius ix

1 Five Fatherless Porter Children (1779-90) 1

2 London's Covent Garden and Maria's Teenage Tales (1790-96) 19

3 Two Girls Masquerading as Society Gentlemen: Jane's and Maria's Early Fictions and the Caulfield Brothers (1794-97) 34

4 In Spite of the Prudish World: The Sister Novelists and the Great Historical Picture (1798-1800) 49

5 Cut My Heart: Jane and Maria's Rival Mentors (1798-1801) 68

6 Gone Theatrical Mad: Maria's Plays, Jane's New Romance, and the Enchanting Kembles (1801) 83

7 "The Fire! The Splendour!": Maria's Opera, Jane's Bestseller, and the War Hero, Sir Sidney Smith (1801-3) 117

8 Hearts and Darts: Maria's Sighing Soldier (1803-4) 135

9 How Wild Is the World: Celebrity Jane's Suitors and a Defense of Crim. Con. (1804) 153

10 Taking up a Rose with the Left Hand: The Porter Women Secretly Retrench, as Jane Is Nearly Buried Alive (1804-5) 175

11 Where the Scale Turns: Jane's Warring Passions and Robert's Russian Adventures (1805-7) 196

12 Finally in His Arms: The Return of Maria's Sighing Soldier (1805-9) 212

13 He Must Be Closed Up: The End of Jane's Henry (1807-9) 231

14 Champagne, Orange Juice, and the Margravine: Maria's Year of Luxury and Love (1809) 246

15 Family Misfortunes and Jane's Scottish Chiefs (1810) 276

16 Horror Princess: Russians in Britain, Maria's Recluse, and Jane's Redoubled Fame (1811-14) 288

17 Monstrous Literary Vampires: Jane and Maria, After Walter Scott (1814-16) 306

18 Beware of Imagination: Jane's Pastor, Maria's Two Novels, and Colonel Dan (1816-18) 320

19 Played by Kean: Jane's Dramas at the Drury Lane Theatre (1817-19) 338

20 Tortured for Others: Maria, Jane, and the Royal Librarian (1819-24) 351

21 Strange, Unworthy Brother: Jane and Maria Publish Together and William Writes Away (1824-31) 368

22 Separating Sisters: A Pitiless and Cold-Blooded Plan (1831-32) 390

23 Preserve and Destroy: Jane's Friends and Enemies (1832-40) 402

24 Her Younger Self Again: Jane and Robert Reunited (1841-41) 416

25 A Chair of One's Own (1842-50) 428

Coda: Three or Four Closely Packed Sea Chests: The Historic, Confused, and Unsorted Porter Correspondence (After 1850) 437

Acknowledgments 445

Major Works of Jane and Anna Maria Porter 447

List of Illustrations 449

Notes 452

Index 539

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