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William Wordsworth shares the limelight with Dorothy

Dove Cottage
Dove Cottage, the Wordsworths' former home in Grasmere

The poet, William Wordsworth, is still, quite rightly, seen as the county's biggest literary name. But increasingly in the last few decades some of the limelight has been shared by his sister, Dorothy. Her journals about her life with William show that she was a talented writer in her own right.

Early years

The four Grasmere journals, covering the early years at Dove Cottage (1800-1803), are held nearby at the Wordsworth Trust's museum. She decided to start writing the journals after William and their brother John left Grasmere temporarily. She wanted William in particular to be able to catch up with what had happened when he came back. She then continued writing the journals for a while afterwards and so William features in them himself.

Dorothy Wordsworth's journal
Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere Journal, showing the description of daffodils at Ullswater.

The pages in the little notebooks are yellow and the writing is faded but her words conjure up their life very vividly. The writing is quickly done with a few scribblings out here and there. She talks about their daily routine, the walks they went on, their friends and neighbours, the flowers in the garden at Dove Cottage and of course her brother William and his working methods as a writer.

Wonderful writer

The curator at the Wordsworth Trust, Jeff Cowton, says she was a wonderfully descriptive writer and that there are many memorable passages in the journals including when she and William came across those famous daffodils when they were walking near Ullswater. She describes them in glowing terms and it is clear that William used that when he wrote the famous poem a year or so later.

She also writes about the day that William married his wife Mary. Until then William had really been the centre of Dorothy's world and we can only guess at her feelings that day. She did not go to the wedding and the relevant passage in the journal was scribbled out. Jeff Cowton says he is not sure whether Dorothy did that or if it was someone else at a later date.

Cottage life

John Coombe who works at the Trust as a visitor services assistant has read the journals and thinks they give a really good picture of life at Dove Cottage . Although he says William seems to have had piles a lot if the journals are anything to go by!

A visitor at the museum on the day I was there said she was jealous that the Wordsworth family had such a wonderful reminder from their past and wished she had a similar document in her family.

Too modest

Jeff Cowton
The curator at the Wordsworth Trust, Jeff Cowton

Dorothy stopped writing the Grasmere journals in 1803 just after William's marriage and no one is exactly sure why. But Jeff Cowton says that he thinks that she may have decided she had come full circle and that there was nothing more that she wanted to say about their life in Grasmere.

Dorothy wrote other journals and letters but never saw herself as a great writer. Jeff Cowton says she was being far too modest and that the Grasmere journals are good evidence of her writing talents.




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