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

by Devoney Looser

Devoney Looser participated in the Bellagio residency program in 2021. During this residency she worked on Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontës. Devoney is an American literary critic and Jane Austen scholar. She is Regents Professor of English at Arizona State University.

A few words with Devoney

“When I arrived at the Bellagio Center, I was undertaking final revisions and deep cuts to the (too long) manuscript. The most challenging part of the process was choosing which parts of the Porter sisters’ lives to omit or de-emphasize!

“While at the Center, listening to a presentation by Amalia Pica [a London-based Argentinian artist working across sculpture, installation and performance], in which she spoke about what she wanted people to come away from her art thinking about, was really helpful permission for me to step away from the biography and ask the same questions.”


The Porter sisters were among the most famous British novelists in the nineteenth century. So why have so few heard of them?

Having published 26 books between them over their decades-long careers, Jane and Anna Maria Porter achieved global fame, and pioneered the method for creating the modern historical novel. During the decades that Jane Austen’s posthumous fame was slowly rising – transforming her into an international icon – the Porter sisters’ once-great celebrity was just as gradually fading.

Sister Novelists re-introduces 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 pioneers in historical fiction.

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To find out more about Devoney’s work, you can visit her website or subscribe to her newsletter, Counterpoise. For more information about the book, you can visit the Sister Novelists’s website. Or you can simply follow Devoney on Twitter or Instagram.