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Read My Heart: A Love Story in England's Age of Revolutionby Jane Dunn
Synopses & Reviews
Can There Be a More Romance Story Than Ours?
All letters methinks should be free and easy as one's discourse not studied, as an oration, nor made up of hard words like a charm.
-DOROTHY OSBORNE to William Temple, September 1653]
as those romances are best which are likest true stories, so are those true stories which are likest romances
-WILLIAM TEMPLE to Dorothy Osborne, c. 1648-50]
The romance began in the dismal year of 1648. It was much wetter than usual with an English summer full of rain. The crops were spoiled, the animals sickened and cattle died of a murrain everywhere. The human population had fared no better. The heritage of Elizabeth I's reign had been eighty years of peace, the longest such period since the departure of the Romans over twelve centuries before. After this, the outbreak of civil war in 1642 had come as a severe shock. Few had remained unscathed. By the time the crops failed in 1648, the first hostilities of the war were over but the bitterness remained. The nightmare of this domestic kind of war was its indistinct firing lines and the fact the enemy was not an alien but a neighbour, brother or friend. The rift lines were complex and deep. Old rivalries and new opportunism added to the murderous confusion of civil war. Waged in the name of opposing interests and ideologies, the pitiful destruction and its bitter aftermath were acted out on the village greens and town squares, in the demesnes of castles and the courtyards of great country houses.
One of the many displaced by war was the young woman Dorothy Osborne. She was twenty-one and in peaceful times would have been cloistered on her family's estate in deepest Bedfordshire awaiting an arranged marriage with some eligible minor nobleman or moneyed squire. Instead, she was on the road with her brother Robin, clinging to her seat in a carriage, lurching on the rutted track leading southwards on the first leg of a journey to St. Malo in France, where her father waited in exile. Low-spirited, disturbed by the catastrophes that had befallen her family, Dorothy could not know that the adventure was about to begin that would transform her life.
Dorothy's family, the Osbornes of Chicksands Priory near Bedford, was just one of the many whose lives and fortunes were shaken and dispersed by this war. At its head was Sir Peter Osborne, a cavalier gentleman who had unhesitatingly thrown in his lot with the king when he raised his standard at Nottingham in August 1642. Charles's challenge to parliament heralded the greatest political and social turmoil in his island's history. And Sir Peter, along with the majority of the aristocracy and landed gentry, took up the royalist cause; in the process he was to lose most of what he held dear.
Dorothy was the youngest of the Osborne children, a dark-haired young woman with sorrowful eyes that belied her sharp and witty mind. When war first broke out in 1642 she was barely fifteen and her girlhood from then on was spent, not at home in suspended animation, but caught up in her father's struggles abroad or as a reluctant guest in other people’s houses. After the rout of the royalist armies in the first civil war, the Osborne estate at Chicksands was sequestered: the family dispossessed was forced to rely on the uncertain hospitality of a series of relations. Being the beggars among family and friends left Dorothy with a defensiv
The remarkable love story of Dorothy Osborne and Sir William Temple is set against the turbulent backdrop of seventeenth-century England and describes a unique intellectual and passionate partnership that survived political chaos, the plague, the Great Fire of London, and the deaths of their nine children. 20,000 first printing.
When Sir William Temple (1628–99) and Dorothy Osborne (1627–95) began their passionate love affair, civil war was raging in Britain, and their families—parliamentarians and royalists, respectively—did everything to keep them apart. Yet the couple went on to enjoy a marriage and a sophisticated partnership unique in its times. Surviving the political chaos of the era, the Black Plague, the Great Fire of London, and the deaths of all their nine children, William and Dorothy made a life together for more than forty years.
Drawing upon extensive research and the Temples’ own extraordinary writings—including Dorothy’s dazzling letters, hailed by Virginia Woolf as one of the glories of English literature—Jane Dunn gives us an utterly captivating dual biography, the first to examine Dorothy’s life as an intellectual equal to her diplomat husband. While she has been known to posterity as the very symbol of upper-class seventeenth-century domestic English life, Dunn makes clear that Dorothy was a woman of great complexity, of passion and brilliance, noteworthy far beyond her role as a wife and mother. The remarkable story of William and Dorothy’s life together—illuminated here by the author’s insight and her vivid sense of place and time—offers a rare glimpse into the heart and spirit of one of the most turbulent and intriguing eras in British history.
About the Author
Jane Dunn is the author of Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens; Moon in Eclipse: A Life of Mary Shelley; A Very Close Conspiracy: Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf; and Antonia White. She is Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and lives in Bath, England.
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