8th June 2017
By marianveevers, Jun 8 2017 01:20PM
Today is the day! No, I'm not talking about the General Election which has been so very inconsiderately scheduled; I refer, of course, to the publication of my new book Jane and Dorothy: A True Tale of Sense and Sensibility. For the last three years it has occupied my thoughts – and now it is out there, in the hands of readers. This, as every author knows, is an odd, confusing day of triumph, anxiety and surprising anti-climax.
But today Jane Austen and Dorothy Wordsworth, the two talented women who never met in their lifetimes, but who have been brought together (perhaps a little surprisingly) between the covers of my book, continue to occupy my mind. Have I done justice to the remarkable lives of these two women who faced the same injustices and restrictions of Georgian life and battled, in their own ways, to find meaning and a degree of autonomy?
Jane was such a reserved person, it has not been any easier for a twenty-first century writer to get close to her than it was for her acquaintances over two hundred years ago when she confessed to her sister that she had difficulty in finding people 'agreeable'. In only two of her surviving letters do the strong feelings which are evident in her novels, break out. And those are the letters which she wrote about her delectable dancing partner, Tom Lefroy. It is the uncharacteristic exuberance of these two letters which helps to convince me that her passion for this young Irish law-student was highly important in her life. But research into the life and character of Mr Lefroy, left me in serious doubt as to their happiness together had they married. The man revealed in Tom Lefroy's letters is not a bit like the exciting, rather dangerous young man portrayed in fictions such as Becoming Jane. And I believe there was another, more important, reason for Jane's disappointed hopes than simply her lack of fortune.
Dorothy seems, at first, to be an easier person to understand. 'What is uppermost in my mind I must write,' she once told a friend, and promised to always share the secrets of her heart. Here, we might suppose, is a 'sensibility' to contrast with Jane's 'sense'. But, as I got to know her better, I found Dorothy frequently obscured her feelings; there is an obliqueness and confusion in her writing which hints at unhappiness. Speculation about the exact nature of the loving relationship she enjoyed with her brother William began during her own lifetime and still continues. My research revealed a heart-breaking complex of emotions, and one simple fact which may have impacted deeply on Dorothy's chances of happiness and made it impossible for her to live at peace with the man she loved.
So, have I done justice to Jane and Dorothy? This is publication day; and that question is no longer one for me to answer. It is for my readers to decide.