Sister Novelists

Looking at the lives and letters of Jane and Anna Maria Porter, this week's review positions the Porter sisters as pioneers of historical fiction and sources of inspiration for Romantic-era women writers.

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

Looser, Devoney. Bloomsbury, 2022
576p bibl index, 9781635575293 $30.00, 9781635575309

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

In this groundbreaking study, Looser (Arizona State Univ.) provides a double biography of sisters Jane Porter (1776–1850) and Anna Maria Porter (1778–1832), important authors whose place in literary history has been neglected. Whereas Walter Scott has been traditionally credited with inventing historical fiction, Looser demonstrates how the innovative Porter sisters first developed the genre and how their careers helped pave the way for later female authors. Drawing on the sisters’ unpublished letters, Looser constructs a compelling narrative of the Porters’ personal and professional struggles and triumphs. She highlights the difficult material realities for female authors and describes how these sisters, famous in their day, wrote for economic survival and learned to navigate the literary marketplace. Providing well-selected details and pertinent historical and cultural context, this book often reads like a gripping novel itself. This resemblance is surely no coincidence. Looser contends (in the prologue) that the Porters’ “letters proved a training ground … for practicing the craft of novel-writing,” and she convincingly argues for the importance of the sisters’ correspondence in providing a detailed, realistic, and captivating depiction of Romantic-era Britain. This significant study will be of great interest to those interested not only in the Porter sisters but also in Romantic-era literary history.

Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.
D. D. Schierenbeck, Immanuel Lutheran College
Interdisciplinary Subjects: Women’s & Gender Studies
Subject: Humanities – Language & Literature – English & American
Choice Issue: Jul 2023

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