The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth: A Life [NOOK Book]

Overview


Described by the writer and opium addict Thomas De Quincey as “the very wildest . . . person I have ever known,” DorothyWordsworth was neither the self-effacing spinster nor the sacrificial saint of common telling. A brilliant stylist in her own right, Dorothy was at the center of the Romantic movement of the early nineteenth century. She was her brother William Wordsworth’s inspiration, aide, and most valued reader, and a friend to Coleridge; both borrowed from her observations of the world for their own ...
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The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth: A Life

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Overview


Described by the writer and opium addict Thomas De Quincey as “the very wildest . . . person I have ever known,” DorothyWordsworth was neither the self-effacing spinster nor the sacrificial saint of common telling. A brilliant stylist in her own right, Dorothy was at the center of the Romantic movement of the early nineteenth century. She was her brother William Wordsworth’s inspiration, aide, and most valued reader, and a friend to Coleridge; both borrowed from her observations of the world for their own poems.William wrote of her, “She gave me eyes, she gave me ears.”

In order to remain at her brother’s side, Dorothy sacrificed both marriage and comfort, jealously guarding their close-knit domesticity—one marked by a startling freedom from social convention. In the famed Grasmere Journals, Dorothy kept a record of this idyllic life together. The tale that unfolds through her brief, electric entries reveals an intense bond between brother and sister, culminating in Dorothy’s dramatic collapse on the day of William’s wedding to their childhood friend Mary Hutchinson. Dorothy lived out the rest of her years with her brother and Mary. The woman who strode the hills in all hours and all weathers would eventually retreat into the house for the last three decades of her life.

In this succinct, arresting biography, Frances Wilson reveals Dorothy in all her complexity. From the coiled tension of Dorothy’s journals, she unleashes the rich emotional life of a woman determined to live on her own terms, and honors her impact on the key figures of Romanticism.



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Editorial Reviews

Dwight Garner
[Ms. Wilson's] written a succinct yet roomy book, one that moves along with novelistic buoyancy and grace. She gets the facts-to-fancy ratio, always a difficult one for a biographer to weigh, exactly right. She lays out the essentials of Dorothy Wordsworth's life like a well-orchestrated banquet, leaving no doubt that the resonating years 1800-3 are the bravura main course.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

This sensitive and elegantly written life of Dorothy Wordsworth (1771-1855), sister of the poet William Wordsworth, centers on four small notebooks, her so-called Grasmere Journals. These journals reveal how William functioned as Dorothy's male muse and how she, more traditionally, was his. What is most untraditional, and certainly peculiar, is the not-quite-stated true relationship between brother and sister. Commentators and biographers describe Dorothy Wordsworth as having virtually no inner life, existing solely for and through her brother. Yet, Wilson relates, the opium-eater De Quincey found her a most sensuous creature; she was a big part of William's friendship with Coleridge as well. First teasing out Dorothy's truly rich interior life through careful examination of the journals and other writings, Wilson (Literary Seductions) then uncovers the nature of Dorothy's emotional connections to William, his work, his wife and even the French mistress he had as a younger man. Most controversial in the Grasmere Journals are several blotted lines regarding William's wedding ring-which Dorothy wore to sleep the night before the wedding. These lines, as well as Dorothy's visionary tendencies, her migraines and trances, almost of an epileptic nature, and a long depressive decline are scrupulously analyzed. 31 illus. (Feb. 24)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Wilson continues her examination of the fraught terrain where sex and literature meet (Literary Seductions, 2000, etc.) in a bleak biography of the celebrated poet's unmarried sister. Dorothy Wordsworth (1771-1855) shared the home, the vision, the language, the life and-at least upon occasion, it seems-the bed of her brother William (1770-1850), devoting herself to his art and comfort. Wilson begins with one of the oddest moments in literary history, the morning of William's 1802 marriage, when he went into his sister's bedroom to retrieve the wedding ring she had worn all night. The author will return to this incident from a new perspective in the final pages, but initially she moves back to proceed in fairly chronological fashion, quoting liberally from the principals' papers and commenting on the Wordsworths' relationship with others, principally Samuel Taylor Coleridge. (Wilson sees an almost psychic connection between Coleridge and Dorothy, both of whom William in a sense betrayed.) The text focuses largely on Dorothy's Grasmere Journals, kept during her sojourn in the Lake Country with William from 1800 to 1803, which Wilson judges as evidence that the poet's sister was "one of our finest nature writers." William's marriage to Mary Hutchinson was traumatic, but Dorothy honeymooned with the couple and lived with them for the rest of her days, which were darkened from the 1830s on by mental illness. Wilson veers occasionally into uncertain terrain. Though it might be wiser to eschew contemporary medical and psychological analyses of 200-year-old somatic illnesses and relationships, the undaunted author quotes Oliver Sacks on migraines and diagnoses elderly Dorothy with "depressivepseudodementia." Wilson frequently summarizes the research of others, then declares it inadequate, wrong, biased. Scholars will find it difficult to locate documentation for such assertions or simply to check contexts for quotations: The author provides no endnotes, just an appended "bibliographic essay." Still, much of her well-researched text is graceful, perceptive and poignant. An often lyrical ballad with some superfluous, unmelodious stanzas.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429959254
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 2/17/2009
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 336
  • File size: 983 KB

Meet the Author


Frances Wilson is the author of Literary Seductions: Compulsive Writers and Diverted Readers and The Courtesan’s Revenge: Harriette Wilson, the Woman Who Blackmailed the King. She lives in London with her daughter.
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