Monday, June 8, 2009

Dorothy Wordsworth

I don’t like winter. A heavy frost in Wellington this morning. Despite full sunshine the day remained chill. There were two comforting things. Wax-eyes having a ball over the suet we’d hung in an onion bag on the fence; and Dorothy our 16 year old cat after her morning ablutions outside retreated to sleep on my dressing gown lying on a chest of drawers with the sun streaming through the windows – the warmest spot in the house. Cats know what’s good for them.
Dorothy, along with her deceased brother William was named after the Wordsworths. He whined a lot and she bustled busily around. When we got them as kittens we had just returned from a trip to Britain which included a visit to the Lake Country. On Anne’s birthday in 1994 we stayed at a bed and breakfast right behind Rydal Mount which was the Wordsworth’s home for more than forty years. For a present I bought her a coffee table book, Dorothy’s Illustrated Lakeland Journals.
For her birthday this year amongst other books I gave her The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth, a biography written by Francis Wilson. I had read a very favourable review in The New York Times. I have just started reading it. This Dorothy was born on Christmas Day 1771. After the early death of their mother the children were separated and it was not till her early 20s that she was reunited with William. Thereafter, the two lived together and became inseparable. In his famous poem Tintern Abbey he speaks of her as his dearest Friend.
Earlier biographies tend to portray her as a self-effacing spinster giving her full attention to looking after her brother. That’s not Wilson’s interpretation. She sees her as a central figure in the so-called Romantic Movement. She was her brother’s confidant, inspiration and aide. He and Coleridge got inspiration from her journal, her record of their rambles together in all hours and all weathers. Indeed, William’s well-known poem about the daffodils, is in many respects a straight lift from the journal.
Dorothy wrote ‘there was a long belt of them along the shore. … I never saw daffodils so beautiful. … [They] 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.’
He wrote. ‘They stretched in never-ending line/ Along the margins of the bay.’ And ‘The waves beside them danced; but they/ Out-did the sparkling waves in glee.

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