This weekend I was pleased to discover the Chawton House Lockdown Literary Literary Festival. While my home life during lockdown keeps me very busy, I managed to squeeze in some time to watch a speech by Devoney Looser, Professor of English at Arizona State University and author of "The Making of Jane Austen". Professor Looser is an expert in early women's literature.
Her speech was very eye-opening and I would love to share some of the things I learnt from her today.
Did you know that
-During Jane Austen's lifetime, there was an almost equal number of male and female writers? This fact surprised me, as I had assumed the profession to be far more common amongst men, thinking that it was considered more acceptable for men to become authors. There were hundreds of other active women writers and, in fact, women were far more prolific fiction writers than men.
-Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility was likely to have been influenced by the writing of Jane West, a household name who was probably the most famous female writer at the time. Jane West wrote "A Gossip's Story", featuring two sisters, one of whom was more rational and the other more emotional, just like Elinor and Marianne - in fact, the more emotional of the two sisters was named Marianne. It would be fascinating to read "The Gossip's Story" and compare the two. Later on, Jane West rewrote Jane Austen's Emma in "Ringrove", which is another piece of writing that I would be keen to explore.
-A contemporary of Jane Austen and a well-known writer, Jane Porter, was born in the same year as Jane (1775). Jane Austen was approached by the Prince Regent's librarian, James Stanier Clarke, to write a historical romance dedicated to Prince Leopold. She never endeavoured to do this, famously saying that she preferred writing about things she knew well. However, Jane Porter took a similar offer eight years later, perhaps in the hope of royal pension, and wrote "Duke Christian of Luneburg".
Interesting literary connections and I can't wait to learn more!