Thursday, April 5, 2018

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

I'm once again taking a day off and letting Sophia Rose step in. Today she's reviewing a non fiction about two iconic English authoresses.
Sophia Rose take it away!

Jane and Dorothy: A True Tale of Sense and Sensibility: The Lives of Jane Austen and Dorothy Wordsworth by Marian Veevers
Publisher:  Pegasus Books
Published: 4.3.18
ASIN: B074D4T148
Pages: 397
Rating: 4
Format: eARC
Source:  Net Galley
Sellers: AmazonBarnes & Noble - Kobo

An intimate portrait of Jane Austen, Dorothy Wordsworth, and their world—two women torn between revolutionary ideas and fierce conservatism, artistic creativity and emotional upheavals.

Jane Austen and Dorothy Wordsworth were born just four years apart, in a world torn between heady revolutionary ideas and fierce conservatism, but their lives have never been examined together before. They both lived in Georgian England, navigated strict social conventions and new ideals, and they were both influenced by Dorothy’s brother, the Romantic poet William Wordsworth, and his coterie. They were both supremely talented writers yet often lacked the necessary peace of mind in their search for self-expression. Neither ever married.

Jane and Dorothy uses each life to illuminate the other. For both women, financial security was paramount and whereas Jane Austen hoped to achieve this through her writing, rather than being dependent on her family, Dorothy made the opposite choice and put her creative powers to the use of her brilliant brother, with whom she lived all her adult life.

Though neither path would bring lasting fulfillment and independence, both women’s mark on literary culture is undeniable. In this probing book, Marian Veevers discovers a crucial missing piece to the puzzle of Dorothy and William’s relationship and addresses enduring myths surrounding the one man who seems to have stolen Jane’s heart, only to break it . . .


It has been my goal to increase my intake of non-fiction into my reading diet so I snapped up the opportunity to read two bios in one book.  Selecting Jane and Dorothy was not a real challenge, more of a dipping my pinky toe in because... full disclosure?  I will read pretty much anything about Jane Austen and the author is also Anna Dean, a historical mystery writer so this was a totally 'have her cake and eat it, too' pick.

But, that said, it was actually seeing Austen sharing pages with great English poet, William Wordsworth's sister, Dorothy that really grabbed my attention.  I am sadly lacking in poet love and know next to nothing about either Wordsworth so this was an opportunity to really expand my knowledge.

The author formatted the book in a familiar biographical fashion.  She started with the family history for both women who were born four years apart in different parts of England, but into the same class.  From there she compares and contrasts their earlier years right along to their deaths.   Behind the narration-style main body are appendixes with poems mentioned, a book list for those consulted our used in research, and finally, a helpful index.

The author leans heavily on her subtitle theme of Sense and Sensibility all the way through.  Jane is 'Sense' and Dorothy is 'Sensibility'.  As a reader, I learned to not get carried away with this dichotomy because many times Jane acted with sensibility and Dorothy with sense.  And, there are many times that the source data just does not give one enough to know more than they said or did something, but not the motivation or emotion behind it.  I thought the author was fair when she posed her own surmises.

I felt the book delved into the ladies' lives equitably and presented them as fully fleshed out people instead of goddesses on pedestals.  I've not read all that is out there on Jane Austen, but when I do, an author/scholar likes to take a specific approach and line up sources to back this up.  I found it refreshing to see an author hang more neutral and show that there is quite a bit of scope to the imagination, shall we say.  Austen is open and warm among her family and close friends, but generally manages to show a colder, even haughtier side, to others.  She loves family, but she isn't afraid to make her displeasure known.  As to Dorothy Wordsworth, this was my first encounter about her life, but I sensed the same cautious approach not to treat her as only this or only that.  She's an emotional lady who is more open among her family and friends, but is barely noted by outsiders as more than a nice lady.

And, that leads me to the fact, that I found this book engaging because tucked in among the familiar were neat little nuances (again, this is in respect to Austen with whom I'm familiar though its likely true of Wordsworth's side, too).  The author makes a point about Austen taking pot shots at people, but following it up with humor and wit so it soothes the sting.  I had to chuckle of an example brought out of how Austen presented her newly engaged brother with her recent finished story about three sisters all going for rich marriages (Edward, her brother is a prize as the Knight heir and his wife, Elizabeth is one of three sisters out seeking a brilliant match).  The author also spotlights and speculates about Austen's seeming cool relationship with her own mother like they are chalk and cheese.  In Dorothy's life, the author takes a stab at exploring a dark possibility that Dorothy and her beloved brother had an incestuous relationship.  For and against are presented through the testament of people at the time.  There is a discussion of what sort of health issue took up the end of Dorothy's life- was it severe depression or dementia?

A strong theme of women's history was not ignored.  A modern reader will shudder at some of the Georgian ideas about women at the time and have a whole new appreciation for what the pair of these women and others were up against when they defied convention in their lives and their literary work.  Dorothy acted out a more outwardly outrageous rebellion than Jane when she left the protection of her uncle's to join a scandalous brother, but Jane rejected perfectly eligible marriage proposals that would have instantly changed her status and financial situation likely for her stance about marrying for love and a strong inclination to write.

As to writing, Jane is a novelist and Dorothy is a poet and journalist.  Austen was published during her own lifetime while Dorothy only saw a couple poems published in with her brother's and the bulk of her work was published decades later.  There are nice discussions about their work and how their lives and environments played a role in their written work.

All in all, I wouldn't say I was riveted or always agreed with the author's direction, but I thought it was a fabulous job of pulling together source information, good decisions on what to include, and gave me a well-rounded picture of both women as people and as writers.  I would recommend it to those who want a good piece of women's history, historical bio, better knowledge of one or both ladies, or even for those who generally prefer historical fiction, but want a non-fic now and then.

I rec'd this book from Net Galley to read in exchange for an honest review.

Author Bio:
I am a writer. I write because I love stories, I love characters and I love words. I write because I am utterly miserable if I don't write.
I am fortunate enough to live in a small village in the English Lake District – one of the most beautiful places on earth (in my biased opinion). And for the last ten years I have had the ideal part-time job for a writer – working as a guide for the Wordsworth Trust at William and Dorothy Wordsworth's home, Dove Cottage in Grasmere. This has involved me in learning as much as I can about this fascinating brother and sister, their family and their friends – and sharing my enthusiasm with the many visitors who come to see the cottage and museum.
All in all I have spent rather a lot of my time in the Georgian period during the last few years, for when I am not at Dove Cottage I have been writing – under my pen-name, Anna Dean – the Dido Kent series of murder mysteries (published by Allison and Busby in the UK, MacMillan in the US), which are set in the early eighteen hundreds, in a social milieu which would have been familiar to Jane Austen.
I am a thorough-going Jane Austen enthusiast; though I find some of the film and television adaptations a little too sugary. Jane Austen was an intelligent and perceptive woman and I believe there is a complexity and, occasionally, a hard edge to her work which is sometimes lost in translation to the screen.
Spending time in the cold, stone-floored cottage where Dorothy Wordsworth once toiled away at the housework while providing emotional and secretarial support for her beloved brother has made me keenly aware of how very hard life could be for women in her time – and in Jane Austen's time. For Jane Austen and Dorothy Wordsworth were near contemporaries, born only four years apart.
It was this realisation – and an awareness of the contrasts and parallels in their lives – which made me determine to write my combined biography of these two remarkable women Jane and Dorothy: A True Tale of Sense and Sensibility (published by Sandstone Press, June 2017 in UK, Pegasus Books, early 2018 in US). It is a story of how two very different women responded to the injustices and restrictions of the age into which they were born; a story of two women's different journeys towards a partial, but hard-won autonomy. A story which I think is still relevant today.
So, in addition to being a writer, I am a feminist Janeite, a cautious Romantic, a passionate lover of the Lake District, the wife of a wonderful man who has never once – in nearly 40 years – suggested that I should give up writing and get a proper job; and finally, I am the owner of a cat. Although, of course I know, like all other cat-owners, that you can't own a cat.

Sophia’s Bio:
Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate.
Sophia’s Social Media Links:


  1. Enjoy your day off Debbie! What a great in-depth review Sophia Rose!

    1. Thanks, Cyndy! It was a huge book so I know I couldn't do a shorter review. Haha!

  2. Oh interesting! I don't think I know who the second author (person) is a but I love reading things about Jane Austen and comparing them to her work sounds kind of fun.

    1. I didn't know anything about Dorothy Wordsworth, either. It was neat learning more about Jane Austen and tons about Dorothy.

  3. Thanks Sophia Rose I loved learning more about Jane and about the totally unknown to me Dorothy too. This is going on my list!

    1. Yes, it was fun learning more about Jane and tons about Dorothy in a non-dry way.

  4. Interesting review, Sophia Rose! I didn't know anything about Dorothy!

    1. She was quite the lady for her time. I didn't know a thing about her, either, but now I would definitely welcome more about her and the others in their writing circle.

  5. Ack but non fic is so non-fic ish

    1. It really is, but this is the gentle approach for us fiction lovers. ;)

  6. Wonderful review Sophia. I don't think I know much about Dorothy. Now you have me curious.

    1. I didn't either, but she was actually a rather intrepid lady of her time sticking with a scandalous brother when it would have been prudent to take the family party line on things. Fascinating stuff!

  7. This is an amazing post, and you share such valuable information that I didn't know. I love getting the backstory because it gives me more trivia to learn. Hugs...RO

    1. Thanks, Ro! I really need to pick up more biographies and memoirs. People are so fascinating.

  8. Ahh that is a good one to dive into it seems. It sounds interesting and fun learning a new figure in a familiar-ish setting.

    1. Yes! I wanted to read a non-fiction and this one was a good choice to hold my interest. :)