The opening line of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's “novel in verse” Aurora Leigh (1856) might be usefully modified to reflect the number of publications that have marked the bicentenaries of Jane Austen's major novels and her death: “Of writing many books [on Austen] there is no end.” Two hundred years after she died at the age of 41, Austen rivals, and arguably surpasses, the popular appeal and bankability of other author-inspired phenomena such as the Byronic and the Dickensian. Austen studies has often played catch up to a seemingly inexorable proliferation of Austen prequels, sequels, spin-offs, and mash-ups, not to mention Austen merchandise. The Making of Jane Austen, Devoney Looser's winningly accessible and superbly produced and illustrated book, does not seek to take stock of Austen's reputation over recent decades. For Looser, “past is prologue” (11); the novelist's current cultural ubiquity can only be understood by tracing the origins of...

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