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Jane and Dorothy: A True Tale of Sense and Sensibility: The Lives of Jane Austen and Dorothy Wordsworth

Review

Jane and Dorothy: A True Tale of Sense and Sensibility: The Lives of Jane Austen and Dorothy Wordsworth

As biographer Marian Veevers asserts, when Jane Austen wrote about the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, in her novel SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, she could have been describing herself as Elinor, and Dorothy Wordsworth --- a woman she never met, but a contemporary with whom she had much in common --- as Marianne.

Dorothy was the sister of the famed poet William and was willing, it seemed, to subsume her own talents in favor of watching his flourish. Jane, by contrast, knew she had writing talent, almost compulsively pursuing it in an age when women simply did not have careers. Like Dorothy, she had limited means, never married, and lived in her later years by the largesse of a brother. Jane’s story is the better known, and Veevers, who works for the Wordsworth Trust and is better informed about Dorothy for that reason, has done her best to show the women in equal portion.

"The writing here is rich, the language redolent of the times, the 'sense and sensibility' worthy of the book’s heroines. Veevers has done a great service to Jane and Dorothy, and to readers who will gain new or renewed admiration for them."

Unlike Dorothy, Jane wrote prolifically, her novels recognized among the literati by her 30s. Dorothy, who also knew she could write, never completed a book but left a legacy of letters and journals. Still, her life was anything but prosaic. It is still easy to speculate, despite Veevers' careful parsing of the situation, that Dorothy and William were lovers. He gave her the wedding ring that was to belong to his bride, and the two domiciled together for much of their adult lives. Dorothy not only was the third wheel in William’s marriage, but also shared her brother’s admiration and affection for his friend and fellow writer, Samuel Coleridge.

Veevers has taken pains to compare these two women to the favor of each. Jane was sensible, withdrawn, proper, reacting to her failures in love by shutting off her feelings; Dorothy was, like Austen’s Marianne, “eager in every thing.” Jane may have been the more conventionally attractive of the two, but Dorothy was known for her bright eyes and her willingness to experience what life had to offer. She, too, was depressed, but the symptoms were obvious to those around her, while Jane chose to suffer in silence. Both women were victims of an unfeminized age. In the Georgian era, revolutionary giant steps were being taken by men, while women were still judged (by men) to be inferior, a circumstance that Veevers properly calls “suffocating.”

The writing here is rich, the language redolent of the times, the “sense and sensibility” worthy of the book’s heroines. Veevers has done a great service to Jane and Dorothy, and to readers who will gain new or renewed admiration for them.

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on April 6, 2018

Jane and Dorothy: A True Tale of Sense and Sensibility: The Lives of Jane Austen and Dorothy Wordsworth
by Marian Veevers

  • Publication Date: April 3, 2018
  • Genres: Biography, History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus Books
  • ISBN-10: 1681776782
  • ISBN-13: 9781681776781