NAMED A PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST SUMMER BOOK (NONFICTION)
The Making of Jane Austen
by Devoney Looser
Johns Hopkins University Press; hardback, 304 pgs, 23 halftones; ISBN 9781421422824; 2017
$29.95 (hardcover); $19.95 (paperback).
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.
Here are the Austen influencers, including her first English illustrator, the eccentric Ferdinand Pickering, whose sensational gothic images may be better understood through his brushes with bullying, bigamy, and an attempted matricide. The daring director-actress Rosina Filippi shaped Austen’s reputation with her pioneering dramatizations, leading thousands of young women to ventriloquize Elizabeth Bennet’s audacious lines before drawing room audiences. Even the supposedly staid history of Austen scholarship has its bizarre stories. The author of the first Jane Austen dissertation, student George Pellew, tragically died young, but he was believed by many, including his professor-mentor, to have come back from the dead.
Looser shows how these figures and their Austen-inspired work transformed Austen’s reputation, just as she profoundly shaped theirs. Through them, Looser describes the factors and influences that radically altered Austen’s evolving image. Drawing from unexplored material, Looser examines how echoes of that work reverberate in our explanations of Austen’s literary and cultural power. Whether you’re a devoted Janeite or simply Jane-curious, The Making of Jane Austen will have you thinking about how a literary icon is made, transformed, and handed down from generation to generation.
WHAT REVIEWERS AND OTHER AUSTEN EXPERTS SAY
"Austen fans have another book to add to their libraries."
— Publishers Weekly
"Exuberant and unfailingly entertaining, The Making of Jane Austen challenges many pieties about the woman novelist and her fame. Looking beyond the elite caretakers of Austen’s reputation, Looser helps us better appreciate the multiple, surprising ways in which nineteenth- and twentieth-century audiences enjoyed, used, and adapted Austen’s books." — Deidre Lynch, Harvard University, author of Loving Literature: A Cultural History
"The Making of Jane Austen is a fascinating and often very funny account of how Austen became one of English literature's best-loved novelists. Devoney Looser has already made a reputation as one of her generation's foremost Austen scholars; here she takes her game to the next level." — Jenny Davidson, Columbia University
“A splendid and indispensable work for all readers interested in how Austen is not simply any old great author but a cultural icon who continues to evolve in fascinating and often conflicting ways.”
Claudia L. Johnson, Princeton University
"The Making of Jane Austen is beautifully written and replete with new information. Devoney Looser provides an incisive and thoroughly original account of how an obscure country clergyman’s daughter came to occupy a dominant position among the English novelists. In the bicentenary year of Austen’s death, this work will fascinate students, scholars and general readers alike." — Peter Sabor, McGill University, coeditor of Jane Austen’s Manuscript Works
"A potential game changer, full of force and originality. Looser's refreshingly democratic approach to Austen scholarship not only will add to our knowledge of this author's reception history and literary afterlife but will surprise even the most informed Austen scholar." — Janine Barchas, University of Texas-Austin, author of Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity
"This highly entertaining book makes clear that contemporary Janeites – with their cosplay, their clashing interpretations of much-loved novels, their wet-shirt Darcy, and their fiercely possessive relationship to their favorite author – are heirs to a tradition of Austen-love that stretches back to the early 19th century. Devoney Looser’s brilliant detective work introduces us to a cast of creative, courageous and eccentric women and men who helped keep Austen’s work alive and vital into our own time." — Deborah Yaffe, author of Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Devoney Looser is Foundation Professor of English at Arizona State University. She grew up in Minnesota, where postage-stamp sized backyards were transformed into winter ice rinks using garden hoses, and cold weather brought opportunities to snuggle up and read. Today she teaches Austen to students in the desert and has switched to roller skates. She married another Austen scholar, George Justice. Their teenage sons find Austen merely tolerable. Looser is the author of two previous books, Women Writers and Old Age in Great Britain, 1750–1850 and British Women Writers and the Writing of History, 1670–1820.
Is It right for your book club?
Yes, definitely! The paperback edition now includes a brief reader's guide with discussion questions. I'd love to hear from you if you're considering choosing it.
This book works best in clubs familiar with Austen's fiction OR its film adaptations. (You could read or watch Pride and Prejudice and then choose this book.)