Dorothy Wordsworth and her influence on the life and work of William Wordsworth with particular emphasis on the "Grasmere Journal 1800-1803"

Seminar Paper, 2012

14 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Preface

2. Dorothy Wordsworth

3. The Grasmere Journals and their influence on the work of William Wordsworth

4. Dorothy’s importance for William in General

5. Conclusion


1. Preface

[…] Where’er my footsteps turned,

Her voice was like a hidden bird that sang;

The thought of her was like a flash of light

Or an unseen companionship, a breath

Or fragrance independent of the wind.

With these words the poet laureate William Wordsworth describes the role of his sister Dorothy in his life (Wordsworth:738). Dorothy Wordsworth had never intended to be published, praised as a writer or seen as more than the loving companion to the genius William. In 1799, William and Dorothy moved to Grasmere to live together in their little Dove Cottage. In 1800, Dorothy began to take down her observations of nature, the incidents happening in and around Grasmere and her everyday life with her brother. For the next three years, Dorothy proved her unique ability of observing and describing her surroundings in nature precisely.

In this seminar paper, the importance of Dorothy Wordsworth’s writing and its influence on the works of her famous brother will be examined. Following this preface, Dorothy’s biographical background will be presented. The largest part of the paper will be the examination of the importance of the Grasmere Journal for the compositions of William Wordsworth, followed by the fourth chapter, which is about the general influence Dorothy had on her brother. In the end, a conclusion will sum up the findings. Due to the large number of findings in literary studies, which analysed this topic, the seminar paper will show just the major examples of Dorothy’s influence on William and her role in his literary productions.

2. Dorothy Wordsworth

Dorothy Wordsworth was born on 25 December 1771 in Cockermouth, Cumberland. Dorothy had four brothers, two elder ones, Richard and William, and two younger, John and Christopher. Ann Wordsworth, Dorothy’s mother, died when Dorothy was six years old, and five years after, John Wordsworth, Dorothy’s father, died, as well. Even before that, Dorothy was brought to her aunt to live with her. In the following years, Dorothy was sent to several relatives to live with them. Although she very much missed her brothers throughout the years, Dorothy had hardly lived with one of them until she was 23 years old. In 1795, Dorothy’s wish became true and for the first time in her life she lived together with her brother William, whom she loved the most (cf. Wu:584). Though this living together in Dorset only lasted for a short period the contact between the two intensified in the following years. Dorothy went to Germany together with William and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1798 and shortly after settled with William at Dove Cottage in Grasmere on 20 December 1799 (cf. Wu:584).

To show the extent of their close fellowship, the following anecdote can be used. On 6 June 1800, Dorothy has been waiting for a couple of days for William’s return from his journeys. In her diary entry from that day Dorothy recalls her mood from the previous night. She had been lying in bed and listening to every noise outside, hoping that it was William coming home (cf. Woof:8). When William finally returns Dorothy is full of joy. “I did not leave home in the expectation of Wm & John, & sitting at work till after 11 o clock I heard a foot go to the front of the house, turn round, & open the gate. It was William - - after our first joy was over we got some tea. We did not go to bed till 4 o clock in the morning […]” (Woof:8). Considering the diary entries before 7 June and reading on after this date, the impression conveys that Dorothy doesn’t feel complete without her elder brother William. Before William is back, Dorothy is in a state of melancholy sometimes (cf. Woof:2ff.) and the days and weeks after William’s return, the diary entries become shorter, which is an indication for Dorothy having less time than before because she spends a lot of time with her beloved William. This observation is being made by Pamela Woof, as well: “When Wordsworth was away, and often when he was asleep […] entries were more sustained, and sentences longer” (Woof:xviii).

3. The Grasmere journals and their influence on the work of William Wordsworth

Dorothy started to write her diary on 14 May 1800. The famous work which we know as Grasmere Journal was begun on a Wednesday: “Wm & John set off into Yorkshire after dinner at ½ past 2 o’clock - cold pork in their pockets” (Woof:1). When Dorothy moved to live at Dove Cottage in Grasmere together with William, a highly productive period started for her brother. As it will be examined further down, Dorothy did not just influence her brother by offering him themes and motifs, but very often she was also the first reader of William’s poems and therefore his greatest critic. Dorothy’s diary has gained a significant importance for today’s literary studies in terms of understanding and categorising it. As Pamela Woof claims, William “might have forgotten, had not Dorothy’s prose taught him to see again, the leechgatherer or the shore of daffodils” (Woof:xvi).

Dorothy wrote her journal for a period of three years. For her writings she used five notebooks, one of which has been lost through the years. The first notebook dates from 14 May to 22 December 1800. The second notebook which covers the time from 23 December 1800 to 9 October 1801 has been lost, which is a great loss in the understanding of such a genius poet’s mind as William Wordsworth was. The third notebook dates from 10 October 1801 to 14 February 1802. The fourth notebook covers the period between 14 February to 2 May 1802 and the fifth and last notebook of the ones forming the Grasmere Journal dates from 14 May 1802 to 16 January 1803.

What was Dorothy’s intention when she began to take down her everyday life? The reasons to write the journal are clear-cut to Dorothy. She wants to entertain her elder brother and “give Wm Pleasure by it when he comes home again” (Woof: 1). The diary has never been meant to be published or even be read by others than the author herself and her brother William, and Jonathan Wordsworth approves this fact: “She has no thoughts of publication […]” (J.Wordsworth:11).

In this section, the cooperation and literary relationship between William Wordsworth and Dorothy Wordsworth shall be examined by some major examples taken from Dorothy’s Grasmere Journal.

On 10 June 1800, a Tuesday, Dorothy describes a begging situation from 27 May. In the journal entry, some of the beggar’s characteristics are described, for example does she wear “a very long brown cloak, & a very white cap without Bonnet […]” and her face is described as “excessively brown, but it had plainly once been fair” (Woof:9). After giving the woman a piece of bread, Dorothy goes for a walk to Ambleside and sees two young boys, obviously the begging lady’s children, playing on the road. Dorothy wants to pass by the two boys. They begin to beg and whine but Dorothy claims that she has already given their mother something to eat. The little beggars deny being that woman’s children but Dorothy is sure of this and therefore walks on after the two boys ran away. The incident from the year 1800 was transformed into a poem by William Wordsworth almost two years later on 13 March 1802: “William finished Alice Fell, & then he wrote the Poem of the Beggar woman taken from a Woman whom I had seen in May - (now nearly 2 years ago) when John & he were at Gallow Hill - […]” (Woof:77). In William’s poem Beggars, composed on 13-14 March 1802, and published in 1807, striking parallels to Dorothy’s journal entry from May 1800 are obvious. Some former mentioned characteristics of the beggar woman are processed, such as the woman’s height, her white cap, and the brown skin. Even Dorothy’s encounter with the boys is tIm Anhang ist der Sachverhalt zur geschlossenen Volkswirtschaft im Gleichgewicht, zur Verdeutlichung, in der Abbildung A 4 two stanzas of Beggars shall work as an example (Wordsworth:223):

They dart across my path - but lo,

Each ready with a plaintive whine!

Said I, ‘not half an hour ago

Your Mother has had alms of mine.’

‘That cannot be,’ one answered - ‘she is dead:’ -

I looked reproof - they saw - but neither hung his head.

‘She has been dead, Sir, many a day.’ -

‘Hush, boys! you’re telling me a lie;

It was your Mother, as I say!’

And, in the twinkling of an eye,

‘Come! Come!’ cried one, and without more ado

Off to some other play the joyous Vagrants flew!

In this case, Dorothy’s experiences worked as negative image, which William just had to transform into a poetic language. Just few of the facts, that Dorothy had noted in 1800, are changed or left out by her brother. There are far more parts in Dorothy’s journal which fit to William’s compositions.

A diary entry from 30 January 1802 can work as an evidence for the fact that William used Dorothy’s journal as a source of his poetical creations: “Wm slept better but he thinks he looks ill - he is shaving now. He asks me to set down the story of Barbara Wilkinsons Turtle Dove” (Woof:60). Although no evidence has been found that William later on really used the set down story of the turtle doves, we can guess that he intended to do so. William seems to have an idea for a poem’s topic and asks Dorothy to give him information about this. This little anecdote proves that Dorothy was a help for William in this part of his work, as well. One can say that Dorothy did some of the preparatory work for William.

The following four lines mark the beginning of the probably most famous poem ever written by William Wordsworth (Wordsworth:219): I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Either called I wandered lonely as a cloud or referred to as Daffodils, the poem is a prime example of how William and Dorothy were closely linked in terms of production of literature.


Excerpt out of 14 pages


Dorothy Wordsworth and her influence on the life and work of William Wordsworth with particular emphasis on the "Grasmere Journal 1800-1803"
University of Würzburg
First Generation Romantics: Blake, Wordsworth and Coleridge
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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389 KB
Englisch, Anglistik, Wordsworth, William Wordsworth, Dorothy, William, Dorothy Wordsworth, Literaturwissenschaft
Quote paper
Hendrik Geisler (Author), 2012, Dorothy Wordsworth and her influence on the life and work of William Wordsworth with particular emphasis on the "Grasmere Journal 1800-1803", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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