Devoney Looser: Sister Novelists
Devoney Looser  
Paula Byrne

Author and ASU professor Devoney Looser presents her latest, Sister Novelists, a fascinating biography of the most famous sister novelists before the Brontës, ideal for readers of Prairie Fires and The Peabody Sisters. In conversation with Paula Byrne.


  • Masks are strongly encouraged.


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.

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.

Paula Byrne is the author of six bestselling biographies, including The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things (2013), which, according to the Times Literary Supplement, “explodes the old view of her subject” through “wide, deep and meticulous research” producing a “magnificent” portrait of the beloved author. Her debut study of Jane Austen and the theatre, shortlisted for the Theatre Book Prize, was lauded by The Spectator’s reviewer as “the best book on Jane Austen I have ever read”. It was updated and reissued as The Genius of Jane Austen: her Love of Theatre and Why She Works in Hollywood (2017). Perdita: The Literary, Theatrical, Scandalous Life of Mary Robinson (2005) was a selection of the Richard and Judy Book Club. Mad World (2009), Paula’s story of Evelyn Waugh and the origins of Brideshead Revisited, was serialised in Vanity Fair. Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice (2014) was a tie-in telling the true story behind Amma Asante’s award-winning movie about the life of Dido Belle. Kick: The True Story of JFK’s Sister and the Heir to Chatsworth (2016), was an international bestseller, now being optioned in Hollywood. Paula has also written two novels, most recently Blonde Venus (2020), a fictional retelling of the life of Marlene Dietrich, described by the London Times as “David Niven’s classic movie memoir The Moon’s a Balloon meets Game of Thrones … a whirl of banquets, massive jewels, backstabbing, sex and death.” The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym, her biography of the novelist whom many regard as a twentieth-century Jane Austen, was published in February 2021.

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Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontës By Devoney Looser Cover Image
ISBN: 9781635575293
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Bloomsbury Publishing - October 25th, 2022