Sibling Pioneers

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

I’ve begun reading Sister Novelists and am in a bit of shock. Years ago, My reading had turned to English novelists, particularly Charlotte Bronte who became my favorite, and Jane Austin who wrote delightfully. I studied the lives and writings of those incredibly creative, talented Bronte siblings. To understand the influences on those writers and how they generated fiction, I studied both earlier and contemporary story-tellers like Sir Walter Scott and Charles Dickens. My explorations led me to obscure good writers who have remained less known. My passions made me an armchair expert on early English novels.

Now here’s what’s shocking: I’d never heard of the Porter Sisters.

Devoney Looser, the author of Sister Novelists reveals the Porters as trailblazers. They published under their own names way back when English “authoresses” typically hid behind gender-ambiguous pseudonyms or remained anonymous. The eldest Porter, Jane, was born in 1776, and Maria two years later. The family was genteel, for the father was a military surgeon. He died in 1779, leaving his family with scant means.

Their mother supplemented a scant military pension by running a boardinghouse. The girls received little schooling but were avid readers and precocious writers. Maria’s first story collection, published when she was 14, encouraged the girls to hope for writing to become a means of survival.

Jane’s writing evolved slower than Marie’s. Jane essentially “created” the historical novel. In 1803, her tale about a Polish war hero, who becomes a refugee in England, mingled historical events, biography, and romance. Considered “a work of genius,” it was a bestseller. Afterward, both sisters wrote historical novels, and were the premier historical novelists of their day.

Looser theorizes that the sisters became obscure after the 1814 publication of Sir Walter Scott’s, Waverly, an historical novel. It became wildly popular. Scott refused to credit the sisters for inspiring his way of composing a historical novel. He was applauded for writing history in an excellent masculine way. The sisters’ approach to history became considered as feminine and thus faulty.

Well, a New Year’s gift to myself. Re-diving into then-times of emerging, wonderfully creative English novelists.

Dear Friends: All the way through it, I loved Lessons in Chemistry. Diana

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