Jane and Dorothy: A True Tale of Sense and Sensibility by Marian Veevers
|Jane and Dorothy: A True Tale of Sense and Sensibility by Marian Veevers|
|Reviewer: John Van der Kiste|
|Summary: Although they were contemporaries, writers Jane Austen and Dorothy Wordsworth never met each other. This dual biography is an interesting study of two characters who had much in common, and tells us a certain amount about how women were regarded in such an age.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: June 2017|
|Publisher: Sandstone Press|
|ISBN: : 978-1910985779|
The idea of a dual biography of two contemporaries who never met throughout their lives is an intriguing one. However, there were several unifying factors, which makes it seem logical enough. Jane Austen and Dorothy Wordsworth were both renowned writers though one was much more famous than the other, and both were born just four years apart, in the 1770s.
It was the heyday of Georgian England, a world 'torn between heady revolutionary ideas and fierce conservativism', in which industrialisation and urbanisation were transforming the land and contemporary society. They had friends, family and many interests in common, and their work was influenced by the Romantic ideals of Dorothy's more famous brother William and his friends.
Surrounded by a large family which comprised six brothers, five older than her, as well as a sister, Jane emerges as the more private personality of the two. Despite falling in love at the age of twenty she never married the object of her affections, preferring to turn her back on what would surely have proved to be a loveless marriage. The experience nevertheless coloured her literary prowess and made her arguably a better writer. Dorothy, who also remained single throughout her life, was devoted to her brother to an extent where their relationship made some of those around them wonder whether there was an unnatural element involved. To her credit the author does not shirk the issue of incest, but examines the facts quite dispassionately, pointing out that if either of the siblings really came close to overstepping the boundaries it was William, who had already disgraced himself with one shortlived affair and the birth of a child. She hints that in Dorothy's ardent championing of Mary Hutchinson as a bride for William, in a manner of speaking she was perhaps helping to save him from himself.
To an extent, both women died somewhat unfulfilled. Jane spent much of her short life writing, and though she published five highly-acclaimed novels, all of which remain popular today, she passed away very young with probably 'many books left unwritten'. Dorothy published a few of her poems with her brother's work, her journals not being published until about forty years after her death. She lived to old age, but her last twenty years were clouded by either dementia or depression – or both. Jane too appears to have suffered from depression, long before such matters were properly understood and certainly well before there was any talk of 'the Prozac Generation'.
Ms Veevers concludes that neither Jane not Dorothy were 'simply products of their time', but were women who made choices in their lives which defined them, and that while they 'failed to fulfil the destiny that their society prescribed for their sex', they forged their own meanings from their lives. To some extent the book tells us a certain amount about how women were regarded in such an age, when they were generally regarded as only fit for settling down as wives, making their husbands comfortable and then childbearing. These two refused to conform to the pattern. The story of how and why they did makes for an unusual but interesting account.
For another biography (or close to it) with contemporary literary allusions, we also recommend The Immortal Dinner: A famous evening of genius and laughter in literary London, 1817 by Penelope Hughes-Hallett. If you are not averse to a little irreverent artistic licence, there is entertainment value to be had in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Jane and Dorothy: A True Tale of Sense and Sensibility by Marian Veevers at Amazon.com.
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