Dorothy Wordsworth

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Dorothy Wordsworth

Born: December 25, 1771
Cumberland, England, Kingdom of Great Britain
Died: January 25, 1855
Occupation: writer

Dorothy Wordsworth (December 25, 1771 – January 25, 1855) was an English poet and diarist.


  • 1 Biography
  • 2 The Grasmere Journal
  • 3 Bibliography
  • 4 External links


She was born in Cockermouth, Cumberland, the sister of the poet William Wordsworth. Despite the early death of their mother, Dorothy, William and their three siblings had a happy childhood. In 1783 though, their father died and the children were parcelled off to various relatives. Dorothy was sent alone to live with two aunts. After she was able to reunite with William in adulthood, they became inseparable companions. Wordsworth 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 they wild eyes [...]
My dear, dear Sister!

Dorothy Wordsworth was a diarist and poet but had little interest in becoming a famous writer like her brother. "I should detest the idea of setting myself up as an author," she once wrote. "Give Wm. the Pleasure of it." She almost published her travel account with William to Scotland in 1803 Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland, but a publisher was never found and it would not be published until 1873.

Dorothy never married and lived with William most of her life. Her last decades were marked by extended physical and mental illness.

The Grasmere Journal

For nearly a century, Wordsworth was relegated to a footnote in her brother's life. Then, in 1931, Dove Cottage, the Lake District home where Dorothy and William lived for several years, was bought by Beatrix Potter, author of Peter Rabbit and other children's books. In the barn, Potter found a bundle of old papers and realized that they were Dorothy's journals.

Potter's discovery was published in 1933 as The Grasmere Journal. 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 popularized the fairytale Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

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, and several other journals and collections of her letters have since been published.

Also, the Grasmere Journal and Wordsworth's other works revealed how vital she was to her brother's success. William relied on his sister's detailed accounts of nature scenes when writing poems and borrowed freely from her journals. For instance, compare lines from one of William Wordsworth's most famous poems "I Wandered as Lonely as a Cloud,"

...All at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee

To this entry from Dorothy's journal:

When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side. We fancied that the lake had floated the seeds ashore and that the little colony had so sprung up. But as we went along there were more and yet more and at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. 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. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here and there a little knot and a few stragglers a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity and unity and life of that one busy highway.


Additional sources of biographical information and a compilation of Dorothy's writings can be found in de Selincourt's volumes. Levin, Alexander, and Mellor have all published books which focus on or include criticism on Dorothy's work. See also The Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals, published by Oxford World's Classics.

See also: List of English language poets

  • WorldCat Identities page for 'Wordsworth, Dorothy 1771-1855'
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