restricted access An Audience of One: Dorothy Osborne's Letters to Sir William Temple, 1652-1654 (review)
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Reviewed by
Carrie Hintz. An Audience of One: Dorothy Osborne’s Letters to Sir William Temple, 1652–1654 University of Toronto Press. ix, 204. $60.00

A recuperative approach to the correspondence of Dorothy Osborne to Sir William Temple has long been needed, both to counteract the retroactive application of modern standards to her attitude towards publication and to read her letters as the compelling achievement that they are. This valuable effort has now been undertaken – and signally accomplished – by Carrie Hintz. In examining this trove of letters, so rich in social history as well as personal psychology, Hintz is unfailingly sensible. Some scholars have wished to supplement the scanty facts of Osborne's life after marriage with speculation and fiction. Hintz prefers to focus on what we actually have: seventy-seven letters from a significant two-year period in the Osborne-Temple courtship. [End Page 414]

As Hintz's title emphasizes, Osborne's letters were truly private communications, intended for 'an audience of one,' the man she loved. Their courtship faced serious difficulties – first and foremost, each family's desire to marry its offspring to a bigger fortune. As a mid-seventeenth-century gentlewoman, one who did not wish to rebel against her family, Osborne was constrained from playing an active part in her own destiny; she could only react and attempt to shape her future subtly and indirectly. The letters that have been preserved record her diverse efforts to sustain her relationship with Temple through this prolonged time of adversity. Hintz quotes amply to illustrate Osborne's epistolary strategies, and she also engages a wide range of criticism from Virginia Woolf's impressionistic admiration to the analytic observations of numerous academic critics.

The external trials that Osborne endured in the form of other suitors and her brother's possessiveness constitute one ongoing subject of her epistolary dialogue with Temple; another, one that especially interests Hintz, is Osborne's attempts to influence her future husband to live up to an ideal conception of the role in a world where husbands had absolute power over wives and 'misogynistic visions of marriage' abounded. At the same time, Hintz observes, Osborne's letters were designed to construct herself as an appealing personality, a fitting spouse for an enlightened husband. Her project was to create a couple out of two individuals. Hintz writes memorably, 'The solitary beauty in which Osborne found herself needed to be transformed into a shared garden, and the letters allowed the space for that imaginative transformation.'

Hintz examines the letters under a number of illuminating rubrics that reveal Osborne's concerns and her means of addressing them. 'Triangularity' is her term for the presence of third parties whom the lovers had need of as go-betweens: Osborne's companion Jane Wright, for example, was 'both a blessing and a curse,' a helpful facilitator for the couple who was also resented by Osborne for her freedom to act independently towards Temple – as Osborne herself could not. Hintz concludes that Osborne employed the triangularity brought about by the presence of other people such as Wright to energize the courtship, turning 'a formerly disempowering situation' to her advantage. Elsewhere, Hintz identifies Osborne's constant effort to overcome an unpalatable situation and use it to increase her lover's commitment as 'the lasting legacy of the letters.' As the world knows, there was, finally, a happy ending to the long and frustrating courtship: Osborne became, in Jonathan Swift's words, 'the best companion for the best of men.'

Louise Barnett

Louise Barnett, Department of English, Rutgers University