It is sometimes difficult keeping a book within the prescribed limits. Exceeding that length can create excessive expense for the publisher, and make it less easy to convert to large print. Most books benefit from cutting, making it tighter and more polished. Duchess of Drury Lane was no exception to this rule, but there is the odd scene we take out with some reluctance. Here is one of them which shows a turning point in her early life. Had this suitor been more appealing, or more persistent, her life might have taken an entirely different course, and history would have changed.
By the summer of 1780 the Dublin theatres closed and the company went on tour, including a visit to Waterford, the place where I received my second proposal of marriage. Charles Doyne was a young army lieutenant who sat in the gallery every night before declaring his love for me, and I confess that when he did so I had a great urge to giggle.
‘But you do not know me,’ I gently scolded him. ‘You love only what you have seen on stage where I am playing a part. I am not at all like Lucy or Phoebe, or any other character I play. I may be a bit of a tomboy but I’m also rather shy underneath all that showing off. I can hide on stage, under these make-believe personas, and forget myself, do you see?’
‘I know all that, but you are sweet and lovely and I adore you, Dolly. I assure you my intentions are entirely honourable. Will you walk with me, so that we may become better acquainted?’
We walked in the summer sunshine. We talked and exchanged our views on life, and I grew quite fond of him, deciding that in many ways we might well be perfectly suited. He was indeed a most pleasant young man, well educated, and a gentleman no less. When he finally made a formal offer of marriage, Mama made judicial enquiries about the family. She was not impressed. She even sought advice from Mr Owenson, a character actor in the company who advised Grace that I, her beloved daughter, was ‘a treasure to be nurtured’.
‘Marriage would be a waste for her, madam,’ he insisted. And having suffered badly from matrimony herself, Mama heartily agreed. She set about talking me out of the match, although I swear I had no strong feelings on the matter.
‘Are you in love with this fellow, Dolly?’
‘I do not know,’ I freely admitted, wondering whether these feelings I had inside when he took my hand or kissed my cheek could be so described. ‘He is genteel and polite, and he makes me happy.’
‘But you are so young, with all your life and possibly a dazzling career before you.’
I scoffed at this latter notion. ‘I doubt I will ever dazzle anyone.’
‘How can you say that? You will not stay at Crow Street forever. Once you have gained some experience the world is your oyster, dearest. I have made some enquiries and the family is not a rich one. He may be a gentleman but he has little to offer you, and remember that marriage does not always turn out to be quite as wonderful as we might hope. Do you really wish to sacrifice your art for a child each year and genteel poverty?’
Recalling Mama’s own experience of that state, and not feeling quite ready for child bearing, I politely declined his offer. Dear Charles declared himself heartbroken before going in search of another bride.
It felt like a turning point in my life, a commitment of sorts to the stage, setting it above such trivialities as personal happiness, yet like any girl I still nursed a secret desire for marriage and children. We returned to Dublin for the new season, Ryder declaring he was so delighted he wasn’t about to lose me that he would pay me three guineas a week. I gave little credence to this generous offer as the twenty shillings had never quite materialised, more like fifteen at best, but it felt good to have money in our purse again, if not as much as we would have liked.
Review by Booklist:
If Dolly Jordan’s sister Hester didn’t come down with a severe case of stage fright, Dolly never would have become a star. When Hester couldn’t face a Dublin audience, Dolly was forced to go on in her place and, much to her surprise, discovers that she loves acting and has a flair for comedy. As she learns to deal with lascivious managers and fellow actors, Dolly, who adopts the stage names Dora and Miss Francis, is soon playing to packed houses on Drury Lane. Among the audience is the Duke of Clarence (the future King William IV), with whom Dolly becomes involved in a romantic relationship that will last two decades. But while the plays in which she stars almost always have happy endings, Dolly will find that, in life that is not always the case. In her latest richly detailed historical novel, which will definitely speak to fans of Rosalind Laker, Lightfoot fictionalizes the rags-to-riches-to-rags tale of real-life actress Dora Jordan, whose tragic life was filled with more drama than any play in which she starred.
Hardcover ISBN 978-0727882462
Kindle Edition 1 March
Paperback 30 June