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Porter family values

The Bronte sisters and Rossetti siblings are fairly well known, but another 19th century British family deserves wider recognition.

That is the view of Dr Thomas McLean (Department of English and Linguistics) who has been studying how three members of the Porter family – novelists Jane and Anna Maria and artist Robert – shaped 19th century literature and art.

McLean, whose research has been supported by the Marsden Fund, argues that the Porters influenced and altered some of the major literary and artistic movements of the British Romantic and Victorian eras.

He says that his research reveals Jane's importance in the development of the popular historical novel – before the likes of Walter Scott and Leo Tolstoy – including her long-forgotten best sellers Thaddeus of Warsaw and The Scottish Chiefs. He describes Robert as a pioneering war artist and an important figure – as a world traveller and collector – in archaeology and the development of museums.

While we often imagine the writer or artist as a solitary genius, McLean says the collaborations between the Porter siblings, and their associations with the wider literary and artistic world, illustrate the importance of family and global networks in the creation of cultural works.

McLean is writing a book on the Porter family, and he and postdoctoral fellow, Dr Ruth Knezevich, are editing a collection of Jane's letters. They also organised a recent symposium at the University of Otago on British 19th century literary and artistic family connections, and curated a related Special Collections exhibition.

Photo: Alan Dove
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