Mastodon The Writing Desk: Book Launch Guest Post: The Making of Jane Austen, by Devoney Looser

1 June 2017

Book Launch Guest Post: The Making of Jane Austen, by Devoney Looser

New on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Just how did Jane Austen become the celebrity author and the inspiration for generations of loyal fans she is today? Devoney Looser’s The Making of Jane Austen turns to the people, performances, activism, and images that fostered Austen’s early fame, laying the groundwork
for the beloved author we think we know.

British women writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries fascinate me. And yes, there were hundreds of them publishing their work. It wasn’t only Jane Austen and Mary Shelley. From the way the two of them are dominating the conversation today, however, you might be forgiven for thinking they were the only females in all England who ever thought to put pen to paper. They’re in the news now because each author is about to celebrate an important bicentenary: Austen for her death in July 1817 and Shelley for Frankenstein’s publication in January 1818. 

So much has been written about Austen’s and Shelley’s lives and works. Surely all of the best ideas have been expressed and the most significant research has been completed? It would take audacity on the part of a writer to sit down at the keyboard and think she might have anything new to add. Yet that’s exactly what I decided to do when I embarked on my book, The Making of Jane Austen (to be published 27 June). Previous literary critics have written about how Austen became an icon in the decades after her death. What I wanted to know is whether we might have overlooked a few things in our recording what is, after all, an incredibly complicated story of her remarkable rise to posthumous celebrity.

I discovered that we’d missed a great deal. I’m excited to report that I’ve corrected a few errors in previous scholarship and have dug up some strange skeletons from the Jane Austen afterlife-closet. I like to imagine this book as a history not only of Austen’s changing public image in the decades after she died but as a collective biography of her earliest devotees, entrepreneurs, and fans. My book charts how Austen’s fiction and characters morphed into every successive new popular medium and how important that transformation was to her reputation. I look at how Austen’s nineteenth- and twentieth-century image was shaped by book illustration, dramatization, film, politics and activism, and teachers, students, and schools. We just haven’t looked as carefully at those popular aspects of her fame as we have at her critical history.

There have been some terrific previous accounts of Austen’s fame; they deserve their due. But most focus squarely on the big names who loved and hated her: Rudyard Kipling and Winston Churchill loved Jane Austen, Mark Twain and Charlotte Brontë hated Jane Austen, and so on. We’ve described her most important scholars and critics, including pioneering editor R. W. Chapman and celebrated critic George Saintsbury, the man who’s said to have coined the word “Janeite.” We quote Virginia Woolf and Rebecca West on Austen. Then we call it a day.

But it wasn’t just famous authors and establishment critics who catapulted Austen to immortality. There were many lesser-known people who were working with great care and no small success to popularize her stories and characters, long before Longbourn or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. My book shows that we can’t possibly understand how Jane Austen became an icon without learning about her popular innovators and their motivations and stories, too. Hundreds—thousands--of lesser-known writers, artists, actors, teachers, and fans shaped her image and told her history in new ways. They made Jane Austen. We’re still making and remaking her, as her stories inspire many to ask difficult questions, not only about who she was but about who we are or might be with her. That’s cause enough for celebration.

Devoney Looser
# # #

About the Author

Devoney Looser is Professor of English at Arizona State University. Her recent writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The TLS, The Independent, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Entertainment Weekly. Devoney grew up in Minnesota and now lives in the desert, near a fantastic roller rink, and teaches women's writings and the history of the novel. She says, 'I met my husband--also an English professor and Austen scholar--over a conversation about Austen, and together we're raising tween sons who find Austen tolerable but un-tempting.' Find out more at and find Devoney on Twitter: @devoneylooser and @Making_Jane.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for commenting