The Latest from Devoney in Jane-world

How do you say, "I'm in Bellagio finishing a biography" in Italian?

Dear Jane-friends, non-fiction-book-friends, and new friends who’ve found their way here from the wonderful Modern Mrs. Darcy community:

Hello from Italy! It’s my first time in this beautiful country, and I’m here for work, if that makes you hate me any less?

You won’t hate me any less when I tell you that I’ve been living in the villa in this photo, on Lake Como, for the past month. I’m here on a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio writing residency, making cuts to the biography I’m readying to go to press, Sister Novelists: Jane and Anna Maria Porter in the Age of Austen (due out from Bloomsbury, Sept. ‘22). More on that work in a minute.

The first and most pressing question everyone wants answered when they learn I’m here is, “Where is George Clooney? Have you seen George?”

No, alas. I’m afraid this souvenir is the closest I’ve gotten to George. I didn’t buy it. I did, however, get this amazing container of Engine Gin, apparently the only gin in a can? I’d never seen anything like this before in my life. Would Jane Austen approve? Hey, it’s truly okay with me if she doesn’t! I know she has bigger, better things to disapprove of.

Speaking of: Did you catch Saturday Night Live’s cold open last week, which gave a sad but hilarious shout-out to Pride and Prejudice? It was in a bit that skewered moves to ban books in Virginia schools. A mock-school-mom (played by Heidi Gardner) suggested that Pride and Prejudice deserves to be banned because, although “prejudice is fine,” “pride is a term that has been co-opted by the gays by some sort of Lady Gaga-themed nudity parade.”

In all seriousness, the best literary news I’ve read this week is that Toni Morrison’s Beloved is enjoying a boost in sales, amidst renewed calls to burn books. Are we really back to suggesting the burning of books now? Consider my sunshine dimmed.

In happier news, just before I came over to Bellagio, I had the chance to attend the Jane Austen Society of North America’s Annual General Meeting in Chicago. It was amazing to be there among 500 masked, vaccinated Janeites, talking about all things Austen, Regency, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature and culture, and equity, diversity, and inclusion. There was a fun run! The very best costume was designed and worn by Baronda Bradley, who came as Jane Austen’s portrait. A genius as a genius!

I understand the talk I gave there is going to be made available as a video program to JASNA’s regions and will be published in print in Persuasions next year. I presented a series of linked stories about sisters in the arts, real and figurative, and ended with segments on Charles Austen’s so-called crushing the slave trade (with some new information) and thoughts on JASNA’s founders and diversity.

The work that’s been consuming me since then is readying the manuscript of Sister Novelists for its fall '22 launch. The book is the true story of the amazing lives and careers of two authors you’ve probably never heard of (but should know!), pioneering historical novelists, Jane and Maria Porter, Austen’s more celebrated contemporaries. I’ll share so much more about them in months to come, if you’re willing to come along for the ride, which I hope you will be.

The global paper and shipping crisis has put me in the position of needing to cut what was an admittedly too-long manuscript for Sister Novelists even further than I’d imagined having to. The wonderful director here at Bellagio refers to this process as a book “reduction,” and I think I prefer that to “cuts.” Here’s me looking happier about performing a reduction than what I really feel! But truly, it’s been amazing to do this work reshaping the book into a leaner (but not meaner) version, within an incredible community of writers, artists, and scholars, here in Bellagio, Italy.

Next time I write to you, it definitely won’t be from any place nearly as beautiful as this. Not possible. But I do hope there will be more good things to share, in good health and cheer for all, & c. (as they say). Until then, I’m always happy to hear from you, especially if there’s anything you think I should know about the world of history’s strong women. Drop me a line!

Your humble and obedient servant,

Devoney

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