Read My Heart: A Love Story in the Age of Revolution, By Jane Dunn

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The Independent Culture

Jane Dunn has excellent biographies to her credit, and is especially good on women, having written on Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, Antonia White, Mary Shelley, Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell. For the first time, she has chosen to profile a male as well as a female subject, though I think this biography of a couple is slightly more weighted in the woman's favour. Dunn is still very mindful of women and their relationship with power, as she charts the well-educated, serious and literary personality that was Dorothy Osborne, the daughter of ardent Royalists, and her attempts both to marry the man she wants and to consider a writing career. Her husband, William Temple, whose family were on the opposite side of the Civil War, was a good literary foil for her talents.

Their families, needless to say, were against this match, which began with an encounter when Dorothy and William were heading over to France. The couple nevertheless continued writing to each other for the next seven years, staying loyal through politically threatening times, as well as personally troubling ones, and only once considering ending the relationship.

When Dorothy's father died, the couple announced their engagement (to the consternation of Dorothy's possessive brother), but marriage brought a mixture of fortunes: they loved the countryside, especially in Ireland, and William's career as a diplomat for the Restoration court brought fame and fortune. But five of their children died as babies, and three who reached adulthood had tragic ends; the eldest, John, committing suicide at 34.

What makes their relationship remarkable is the epistolary aspect of it, the clearness and honesty of Dorothy's voice in particular, her strength and her sensitivity. The times weren't amenable to professional women writers, but Dorothy's literary abilities make one wonder just what she might have achieved.

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