The Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth

journals-of-dorothy-wordsworth-grey-pony

The cover of my copy of Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journals

The spinster sister of the immortal poet William Wordsworth was present at the creation of his and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1799 Lyrical Ballads, which gave birth to the Romantic movement in English literature. She was also present throughout her famous brother’s adult life. Brother and sister, among the five Wordsworth siblings orphaned and separated at an early age, would rejoin when Dorothy Wordsworth was 24 and William 25, and they would live under the same roof until William’s death 55 years later.

Theirs was an extraordinarily loving relationship, and Dorothy’s prose is credited with influencing her brother’s poetry by the keen observations on nature she recorded in the journals William encouraged her to keep. An example from Dorothy’s journal:

One leaf on the top of a tree—the sole remaining leaf—danced round and round like a rag blowing in the wind. 

From her brother’s poem Cristabel:

The one red leaf, the last of its clan,
That dances as often as dance it can,
Hanging so light and hanging so high,
On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky.

The first of her journals, The Alfoxden Journal 1798, takes up less than ten percent of my volume from Oxford University Press. Of more importance are The Grasmere Journals 1800-1803 because they record Dorothy Wordsworth’s observations of the Lake District which her brother and Coleridge made famous.  Dorothy and William moved to Dove Cottage in Grasmere the last month of the eighteenth century. Two years later William married Mary Hutchinsons who, along with her orphaned siblings, had been close to the Wordsworth orphans for many years. There is no jealousy on Dorothy’s part toward the woman with whom she would share the brother she had lived alone with for the previous seven years.

Perhaps that is because as Mary busied herself with mothering the five children she bore William, Dorothy remained William’s companion on their legendary walks throughout the Lake District.

These journals, which are copyrighted by the Dove Cottage Trust, give those of us reading them two centuries later a feel for the minutia of their everyday life: the ringing of distant sheep bells, haystacks in the fields, baking day. Surprisingly, to Dorothy, plodding through the frost of a cold January day was pleasant, but summer heat could send her to bed for days.

For the author of  English-set historicals, these journals are an invaluable source for descriptions of the English countryside—its plants, birds, and other creatures—in every season of the year. This little volume is a keeper.—By Cheryl Bolen, whose latest release is Ex-Spinster by Christmas, a House of Haverstock books.

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Top British Authors’ Homes (of the past)

On her last trip to the United Kingdom, Cheryl Bolen wandered through the lovely grounds at Wordsworth's Rydal Mount in the English District.

On her last trip to the United Kingdom, Cheryl Bolen wandered through the lovely grounds at Wordsworth’s Rydal Mount in the English Lake District.

Those of us who love the Regency era would probably select Jane Austen’s house in Chawton as our favorite literary site in Great Britain. While it did make the cut in the recent 90 Places You Must See in Britain published by British Heritage, some of the choices are surprising.

Abbotsford is Sir Walter's Scott's newly refurbished home in -- where else? Scotland.

Abbotsford is Sir Walter’s Scott’s newly refurbished home in — where else? Scotland.

The British Heritage booklet is sort of a top 10 compilation. There are the top 10 gardens, top 10 castles, top 10 stately homes, etc.  British Heritage claims these must-see sites are selected by their editors. Anglophiles may take issue with some of their picks.

Though I don’t consider myself an expert on literary sites in Great Britain, I was surprised that the top pick under literary sites was D.H. Lawrence’s Birthplace in Eastwood, a Nottingham suburb. Because I have never visited Lawrence’s Birthplace, nor ever heard much about it, I cannot claim the expertise to pass judgment. But. . .

What about Stratford-upon-Avon, for pity’s sake? The city Shakespeare put on the map comes in at paltry sixth on the list.

For many years I’ve made it a point to visit authors’ homes when I travel in England. Of course I made the pilgrimage to the Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage in the Lake District, which fills the number 4 spot on the Literary Sites list. Outside of Stratford-upon-Avon (where I visited the bard’s birthplace as well as Anne Hathaway’s Cottage), the only other author residence on the top 10 list that I had visited was the Dickens House Museum in London’s Bloomsbury, which was the ninth pick.

Thomas Hardy's Cottage is one of the Top 10 Literary Sites in Great Britain, as selected by the editors of British Heritage.

Thomas Hardy’s Cottage is one of the Top 10 Literary Sites in Great Britain, as selected by the editors of British Heritage.

Two more homes that made list are high on my list of wanna-sees. They are Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford (5) and Rudyard Kipling’s Bateman’s in Sussex (7), both purchased after these two enormously successful authors made their fortunes writing.

The other sites rounding out the British Heritage list were Thomas Hardy’s Cottage in Dorchester, Dylan Thomas’s Boathouse in Laugharne, Wales, and the Writers Museum in Lady Stair’s former Edinburgh home. That museum honors Scotland’s three most noteworthy authors: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Conspicuously absent from the list was the Bronte Parsonage in the West Yorkshire moors – which has always been high on my want-to-see list.

I am chomping at the bit to see one of the latest literary houses to open to the public: Agatha Christie’s Greenway near the South Devon coast. It just opened to the public in 2009. I will see it on my upcoming trip to Great Britain.

Greenway - Agatha Christie's home near the South Devon coast is now open to the public.

Greenway – Agatha Christie’s home near the South Devon coast is now open to the public.

Authors’ places I’ve enjoyed include Thomas Carlyle’s home in London’s Chelsea, Ruskins’ Museum in the Lake District as well as Wordsworth’s Rydal Mount, also in the Lake District, and Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm, also in the Lake District.

I spent a fascinating couple of hours at Keats’ House in Hampstead. That wasn’t really Keats’ house since he was a boarder there, but the home is now used as a museum to honor the poet. He was engaged to marry the daughter of the house before he was claimed by tuberculosis at age 25.

I have also visited Dr. Johnson’s house in London’s old City and Churchill’s Chartwell in Kent, where he penned his bestselling non-fiction.

Discussing Britain’s literary associations is a whole other topic, which would fill a book. In fact, I possess that book. I highly recommend the The Oxford Literary Guide to the British Isles, touted as an A-Z of literary Britain. I got my copy at an Oxford University Press book store in the U.K. Mine is a 1980 paperback containing 413 encyclopedia-style pages, listed by locale rather than the author. In addition, it offers a map appendix.

Here is just one little sampling in the voluminous section on London:

St. George’s Church, Hanover Square is an early 18th-c. church where the following were married: Shelley and Harriet Westbrook in 1814 after a ceremony in Scotland following their elopement, Disraeli to Mrs. Wyndham Lewis in 1839, Marian Evans (George Eliot) to John Cross in 1880, and John Galsworthy to Ada Galsworthy in 1904.

If my home were in flames and I could save just one book from my extensive library, The Oxford Literary Guide would be that one book. – Cheryl Bolen, whose lighthearted romantic mystery Falling for Frederick (Book 1 in the Stately Homes Murders) is now available in print – and is available internationally for the first time