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An Audience of One

An Audience of One: Dorothy Osborne's Letters to Sir William Temple, 1652-1654

Carrie Hintz
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 280
  • Book Info
    An Audience of One
    Book Description:

    When first published in 1888, the letters of Dorothy Osborne to William Temple - written between 1652 and 1654 - created a kind of cult phenomenon in the Victorian period. Osborne and Temple, both in their early twenties, shared a romance that was opposed by their families, and Osborne herself was almost constantly under surveillance. Osborne's letters provide a rare glimpse into an early modern woman's life at a pivotal point, as she tried to find a way to marry for love as well as fulfil her obligations to her family.

    Combining historical and biographical research with feminist theory, Carrie Hintz considers Osborne's vision of letter writing, her literary achievement, and her literary influences. Osborne has long been overlooked as a writer, making a comprehensive and thorough analysis long overdue. While the nineteenth-century reception of the letters is testament to the enduring public fascination with restrained love narratives, Osborne's eloquent and outspoken articulation of her expectations and desires also makes her letters compelling in our own time.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7077-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction: Dorothy Osborne’s Letters
    (pp. 3-18)

    Dorothy Osborne is known less for her brilliant letters than for condemning her prolific contemporary Margaret Cavendish for seeking print publication. In a scathing aside to William Temple, her future husband, Osborne remarked of Cavendish: ‘Sure the poore woman is a litle distracted she could never bee soe rediculous else as to venture at writeing book’s and in verse too, If I should not sleep this fortnight I should not come to that.’¹ Osborne noted elsewhere that she was ‘sattisfyed that there are many soberer People in Bedlam ... her friends are much to blame to let her goe abroade’...

  5. Chapter One Dorothy Osborne’s Courtship
    (pp. 19-40)

    Not much is known of Dorothy Osborne’s early life. She was born in 1627, and likely spent most of her early life at Chicksands, her family’s estate in Bedfordshire. She also spent some of her youth on the island of Guernsey, and lived in St Malo, possibly from 1647 to 1649.¹ She makes no reference to her education - an unfortunate omission given her later fascination with reading, her gifts as a writer, and her sensitivity to literary, political, and cultural debates of her era.² Rosemary O’Day explains: ‘In the country houses of the time young boys followed a similar...

  6. Chapter Two An Audience of One: Dorothy Osborne as a Letter Writer
    (pp. 41-63)

    When she wrote her letters to Sir William Temple, Dorothy Osborne was not aiming at print publication, unlike her considerably more ambitious counterpart Margaret Cavendish, who sought perpetual literary fame and described her writings as ‘paper bodies’ as dear to her as living, corporeal beings.¹ When it seemed as though the unique handwritten copies of twenty of her plays might have been lost in a shipwreck en route to publication, Cavendish noted,‘I should have Died Twenty Deaths.’² Some of Osborne’s female contemporaries also wrote letters whose purpose extended beyond the concerns of the moment. Mary Evelyn, for example, copied out...

  7. Chapter Three Shared Privacies: Reading in the Osborne-Temple Courtship
    (pp. 64-86)

    Dorothy Osborne’s letters to William Temple are peppered with references to her reading, along with eager questions and comments about the characters, situations, and ideas she encountered in literary and theological texts. She consumed French romances, Jeremy Taylor’sHoly Living,memoirs(La Reine Marguerite),and the latest literary offerings of Margaret Cavendish, the duchess of Newcastle.¹ In chapter 2, I considered some of the powerful effects of Osborne's capacity to bring William Temple into a scene. The richness of the literary culture to which Osborne was exposed helps account for the quality and power of her written expression. Like most...

  8. Chapter Four Imagining the Couple: Triangularity and Surveillance
    (pp. 87-130)

    Osborne seemed to yearn to block out the myriad voices that surrounded her and listen to Temple’s voice alone. Although she was constantly under surveillance, she wished for a space where she could be alone with Temple, free of the wishes and interventions of others. In her letters to Temple, she established a haven of private communication, and used the letters to dignify and intensify the bond between them. However, Osborne’s letters also included the busy, teeming hum of social life and a number of possible love plots that distracted from the primary relationship between Osborne and Temple. The main...

  9. Chapter Five ‘Dearer to mee than the whole world besy’ds’: Illness and Emotional Attachment in Osborne’s Letters
    (pp. 131-154)

    In a courtship where many obstacles and pressures challenged Osborne’s autonomy, illness was yet another experience that undermined her sense of control over her own life. First, illness created significant bodily discomfort. Illness, particularly melancholy, often stemmed from mysterious causes, and some of its peculiar power lay in its indefinite nature. Osborne’s family seized on her illnesses as an opportunity to impose their will on her mind and body, through difficult and claustrophobic cures.

    Illness certainly had a strong impact on the lovers’ view of themselves and their partnership, and Osborne herself alternated between profound worry that illness might separate...

  10. Afterword: A ‘Round and Populous’ World
    (pp. 155-158)

    InAn Audience of One,I have considered Dorothy Osborne’s production of ephemeral literary documents that were not read publicly until long after her death. While such writing requires a different type of analysis from works given a public airing, Osborne’s letters are particularly valuable because they were written by an early modern woman who in many ways lacked control over her own life and used letters to her future husband to articulate a vision of a better shared future. The letters themselves were written under surveillance, with the threat of exposure giving them tremendous energy and concentration; the fragile...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 159-178)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 179-196)
  13. Index
    (pp. 197-203)