TWO world famous literary figures, Jane Austen and Dorothy Wordsworth, were born over two centuries ago within just four years of one another, writes JANE RENOUF. Despite being contemporaries whose lives both centred on the written word, the women never met.

Intrigued and inspired by their two very different temperaments, Langdale writer Marian Veevers, better known as period mystery writer Anna Dean, has temporarily abandoned fiction for her first non-fiction work, Jane and Dorothy – A True Tale of Sense and Sensibility.

Within its pages, she finally brings these two female figures side-by-side in a fascinating comparison of their lives. First there is worldly-wise Jane Austen, with her sharp and often sardonic commentaries on contemporary 18th century society and the importance it attached to wealth and a financially beneficial marriage. In contrast is the romantic, free-spirited Dorothy Wordsworth, who set aside her own considerable talent as a writer to dedicate her life to serving her brother William’s poetic creativity, feeding his inspiration and even painstakingly copying out his work for him.

Both women chose to remain single, rejecting advantageous marriage as the path to a comfortable financial future. Both lacked independent means, but earning a living was not an option open to females of their class and without marriage partners, both remained dependent on the generosity of male relatives for subsistence. In respect of threatened impoverishment, they had much in common. However, most similarities end there, and Marian’s richly detailed comparison of their two lives is as compelling a story as any work of fiction.

Becoming a biographer is a complete departure from Marian’s alter ego as Anna Dean, the creator of Regency-period sleuth Miss Dido Kent, a crime-solving spinster. Marian’s own life was far removed from Regency manners, murders and marriages, having been born in Eskdale where her father was one of the first instructors at the Eskdale Outward Bound Mountain School. Although the family moved to the Midlands when Marian was just four, the Lake District was the place she always wanted to be. Marriage to Peter Cheung, a primary teacher who trained at Charlotte Mason College, brought her back to the Lakes and in 1984 they moved to Little Langdale, where she also ran Little Langdale’s community sub-post office for 20 years.

Writing became central to Marian’s life almost from infancy:

“At school when we learnt to read and write, I assumed that ‘learning to write’ meant writing books. So I started when I was five and I’ve been writing ever since.

“I’m a storyteller, and although Jane and Dorothy is a change from fiction to fact, I thought there was a story in there that I very much wanted to tell,” she said.

Marian, who has also been writer in residence for Cumbria’s Archive Service, has worked at the Wordsworth Trust for ten years, also supported in her book-writing research by its unique resources. During that time, she has written four highly successful Dido Kent mysteries, and is also known to many as a creative writing tutor: “I enjoy what people bring to the business of creative writing and try to give them the space and encouragement to write - and it’s amazing what they come up with.

“I have a passion for stories, and I hope I infect people with that,” she added.

Jane and Dorothy is published by Sandstone Press.