Dorothy Wordsworth

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Dorothy Wordsworth
Drawing of Dorothy Wordsworth in middle age
Dorothy Mae Ann Wordsworth

(1771-12-25)25 December 1771
Died25 January 1855(1855-01-25) (aged 83)
near Ambleside, Westmorland, England
Occupation(s)Author, poet, and diarist

Dorothy Mae Ann Wordsworth (25 December 1771 – 25 January 1855) was an English author, poet, and diarist. She was the sister of the Romantic poet William Wordsworth, and the two were close all their adult lives. Dorothy Wordsworth had no ambitions to be a public author, yet she left behind numerous letters, diary entries, topographical descriptions, poems, and other writings.


She was born on Christmas Day in Cockermouth, Cumberland, in 1771. Despite the early death of her mother, Dorothy, William and their three brothers had a happy childhood. When in 1783 their father died and the children were sent to live with various relatives, Dorothy was sent alone to live with her aunt, Elizabeth Threlkeld, in Halifax, West Yorkshire.[1] After she was able to be reunited with William, firstly at Racedown Lodge in Dorset in 1795 and afterwards (1797/98) at Alfoxton House in Somerset, they became inseparable companions. The pair lived in poverty at first, and would often beg for cast-off clothes from their friends.[2]

William wrote of her in his famous Tintern Abbey poem:

Of this fair river; thou my dearest Friend,
My dear, dear Friend; and in thy voice I catch
The language of my former heart, and read
My former pleasures in the shooting lights
Of thy wild eyes ...
My dear, dear Sister!


Wordsworth was primarily a diarist, and she also wrote poetry though without much interest in becoming an established poet. She almost published her account of traveling in Scotland with William and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1803, Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland, but a publisher was not found,[3] and it would not be published until 1874.

She wrote a very early account of an ascent of Scafell Pike in 1818, climbing the mountain in the company of her friend Mary Barker, Miss Barker's maid, and two local people to act as guide and porter. Dorothy's work was used in 1822 (and later in 1823 and 1835) by her brother William, unattributed, in his popular guide book to the Lake District – and this was then copied by Harriet Martineau in her equally successful guide[4] (in its fourth edition by 1876), but with attribution, if only to William Wordsworth. The account was quoted in other guidebooks as well. Consequently, this story was very widely read by the many visitors to the Lake District over more than half of the 19th century.[5][6]

She never married, and after William married Mary Hutchinson in 1802, she continued to live with them. She was by now 31 and thought of herself as too old for marriage. In 1829 she fell seriously ill and was to remain an invalid for the remainder of her life. She died at eighty-three in 1855 near Ambleside, having spent the past twenty years in, according to the biographer Richard Cavendish, "a deepening haze of senility".[2]

Her Grasmere Journal was published in 1897, edited by William Angus Knight. The journal eloquently described her day-to-day life in the Lake District, long walks she and her brother took through the countryside, and detailed portraits of literary lights of the early 19th century, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sir Walter Scott, Charles Lamb and Robert Southey, a close friend who popularised the fairytale Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

The Grasmere Journal and Dorothy's other works revealed how vital she was to her brother's success. William relied on her detailed accounts of nature scenes and borrowed freely from her journals. He drew inspiration from Dorothy's journal entry of the sibling's encounter with a field of daffodils:[7]

I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing.

— Dorothy Wordsworth, Grasmere Journal (15 April 1802)[8]

In his poem, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," William describes what appears to be the shared experience in the journal as his own solitary observation. Dorothy's observations and descriptions have been considered to be as poetic if not more so than those of her brother.[9] In her time she was described as being one of the few writers who could have provided so vivid and picturesque a scene.[7]

Critical reception[edit]

Dorothy Wordsworth's works came to light just as literary critics were beginning to re-examine women's role in literature. The success of the Grasmere Journal led to a renewed interest in Wordsworth,[10] and several other journals and collections of her letters have since been published. Scholar Anne Mellor has identified Wordsworth as demonstrating a "model of affiliation rather than a model of individual achievement",[11] more commonly associated with Romanticism.[12]

Selected works[edit]

Major works[edit]

Other works[edit]


  1. ^ MacLean 1932, p. 7.
  2. ^ a b Cavendish, Richard (January 2005). "Death of Dorothy Wordsworth: January 25th, 1855". History Today. Vol. 55, no. 1. Retrieved 27 March 2024.
  3. ^ De Selincourt 1933, p. vii.
  4. ^ Martineau, Harriet (1855). "Ascent of Scawfell". A Complete Guide to the English Lakes. Windermere: John Garnett, London: Whittaker and Co. pp. 158–159.
  5. ^ "Dorothy Wordsworth on Scafell Pike".
  6. ^ Westover, Paul (2013). "Introduction to "Excursion up Scawfell Pike"". Romantic Circles.
  7. ^ a b Wordsworth, Christopher; Searle, January (1853). "Memoirs of William Wordsworth". The Quarterly Review. Vol. 92. London. p. 213. Retrieved 15 April 2024.
  8. ^ Wordsworth, Dorothy (1802). "Excerpt from Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere Journal, 15 April 1802". Romantic Circles. Archived from the original on 5 September 2017. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
  9. ^ Ellacombe, Henry Nicholson (1884). "Daffodils". The Plant-lore & Garden-craft of Shakespeare (2 ed.). London: W. Satchell and Compant. pp. 75–76. ISBN 978-1-54-862741-6.
  10. ^ Polowetzky, Michael (1996). Prominent Sisters: Mary Lamb, Dorothy Wordsworth, and Sarah Disraeli. Westport, CT: Praeger. p. 66. ISBN 0-275-95716-0.
  11. ^ Mellor, Anne K. (2013). Romanticism and Gender. Taylor & Francis. p. 186. ISBN 978-1-13-604030-6.
  12. ^ Gilbert, Jeremy (2014). Common Ground: Democracy and Collectivity in an Age of Individualism. London: Pluto Press. pp. 32–33. OCLC 868914828.
  13. ^ Mason, Nicholas (2023). "Overview of the Rydal Journals". Romantic Circles. Retrieved 15 April 2024.


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