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  • Writer's pictureHeather Moll

Book Review: Sister Novelists

Have you heard of Jane and Anna Maria Porter? Well, if you're a fan of nineteenth century fiction, you should.

The Porters—contemporaries of Austen—were brilliant, self-made single women of who between them published 26 books and achieved global fame, but their literary reputation gradually fell away.

Sister Novelists by Devoney Looser—Stone Cold Jane Austen, instructor of Great Courses's Jane Austen course, and author of The Making of Jane Austen—is a well-researched, in-depth look at the careers and personal lives of two prolific nineteenth-century authors whose influence and talent have been largely forgotten. Thankfully, their years of correspondence was preserved and only recently rediscovered.

The books of the Porter sisters came up in my reading about regency-era contemporary fiction, but I never grasped their reach of their renown until reading this biography.

Their letters are filled with a humor and clever insight that must have also come through in their fiction. I was floored to learn how their paths crossed with some of the notable characters of the late Georgian era and how their talents intersected with art, theatre, opera, and royalty. The way that their former friend Walter Scott sidelined them after clearly being influenced by their historical romances infuriated me.

Jane and Maria Porter paved the way for later female writers to be respected and admired in their field and to take control of their own careers. Women were supposed to be ashamed that they were paid for their work or had ambition, or even dared to publish under their own names. The sexism they faced in their personal lives and professional pursuits is both jarring and yet still relatable to any woman who reads about the Porter sisters today. One wonders what they could have produced if they hadn’t been constantly interrupted, preoccupied by their family’s debts, and compelled into the aid of others. As prolific and talented as they were, they could never earn enough to cover their expenses, and they and their mother were almost hatefully mistreated by their brothers who, in this society, had a moral responsibility to provide for them.

Devoney Looser’s curiosity, passion, and humor come through in this investigation. Anyone claiming to value nineteenth century female authors should know the Porter sisters, and Sister Novelists is a fantastic introduction to these talented and overlooked women.

4.5 stars. I received an arc from netgalley

Are you a fan of biographies or memoirs? I love them! They give me such insight not only into the choices people made, but into the daily lives and the values of the society they lived in.

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