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Connecting (from a distance) with Jane Austen

Image of books written by Jane Austen / Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels

March 19, 2020

Editor's note: To stave off the stay-at-home blues, Devoney Looser is also participating with other scholars and Janeites (including ASU alumna Amanda Prahl) in VirtualJaneCon, a free, online Jane Austen convention, this March 28–29. For more information, visit

It’s fitting in the 21st century that one can visit several time zones without leaving the comfort of one’s living room/recording studio to discuss an 18th-century author. Indeed, Devoney Looser, Foundation Professor of English at Arizona State University, has been gracing the airwaves with her knowledge of all things Austen as of late.

First, Looser followed up on her piece contextualizing the PBS Masterpiece adaptation of Austen’s unfinished “Sanditon” novel with a “bonus” appearance on Nerdcast, Arizona PBS’s new educational podcast. In the episode, Looser spent time talking through previous attempts by other writers, including Austen’s own niece, to complete “Sanditon.”

“Andrew Davies was not the first to do that,” Looser said in reference to the Masterpiece series’ director. “Although he is the first, I think, to give it this level of sexiness.”

The episode was posted on Feb. 24.

Next, Looser was featured on ZOOM, a podcast from Focus Features — no relation to the online conference tool now ubiquitous in remote teaching. Hosted by Amy Nicholson, a film critic for Variety magazine, each episode explores science, technology and history through modern-day film.

 / ASU photo

Devoney Looser

Looser and Nicholson delved into the social and cultural issues surrounding Austen’s “Emma,” which was rebooted by Focus Features in February. The discussion explored lesser-known aspects of the writer herself, including her wit and provocative views on women’s roles and social class, which Austen subtly injected into her novels. Looser had also debunked these and other common misunderstandings in her recent Washington Post column: “Five myths about Jane Austen.”

Coincidentally, this week NBC Universal announced — just in time for those of us practicing social distancing by staying home — that several of its films still in theatres, including “Emma,” will be available for purchase to stream beginning as early as March 20.

All this caps off a recent notice that Looser is the recipient of the highly prestigious Bellagio Fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation. Not surprisingly, the in-person residency has been put on hold. But when travel is normalized again, Looser will be at the Bellagio Center in Italy, where she’ll work on completing the literary biography, “Sister Novelists: The Celebrated Misses Porter in the Age of Jane Austen.”

Top photo: Image of books written by Jane Austen by Leah Kelley on Pexels

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