Monday, April 4

The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth-A Life

by Frances Wilson

I believe I have been skirting around the writing of this post. For I don't know at all what I feel about
this book...about Dorothy Wordsworth...about William Wordsworth...about the author....

There is always a danger when reading a biography, that one's illusions will be shattered. I still, at first, shy away from the shattering, and have been doing so with this book. But after a few weeks away from it I am glad I read it and open to reading other interpretations of Dorothy's life (and all those around her-what an interesting time it was!). This one left me confused and depressed, tho' I was engrossed with the book, especially the first half. 

Before I read this biography, Dorothy's journals were something I valued for the simple and observational beauty they hold and the way of life they seem to express. Long, long walks in the Lake District, the planting and tending of the kitchen garden, the baking and cooking in the cottage, the everyday trials of illness and moods, the reading and writing...

Now, all of that is overlaid with the mysterious events, complicated and often disappointing relationships and choices made by Dorothy, William, Coleridge and the very real hardships described in the book (Dorothy's dementia for the last twenty years of her life being the hardest for me to learn of-too close to home).

I was also sometimes visited with frustration by the hypothesizing and speculation about Dorothy's writings, feelings, is natural, I suppose, in a biography with only so much actual fact to go on. But it leaves me with the same feeling that I used to get in high school when we would "analyze" a poem. Sometimes the heart of something is lost when you pick it apart or plumb too deeply.

Of course, the true heart is the truth that we cannot entirely know. So I will probably keep revisiting Dorothy's writings and her brother's and friend's to find glimpses of it....will probably read other biographies, too, in the hopes of understanding just a little bit more.

In the meantime, here are a few passages I marked:

"Dorothy implores her "dear, dear Mary," who William says has become too thin and weak, to

seek quiet or rather amusing thoughts. Study the flowers, the birds and all the common things that are about you. O Mary, my dear Sister! Be quiet and happy. Take care of yourself-keep yourself employed without fatigue, and do not make loving us your business, but let your love of us make up
the spirit of all the business you have."

"The money would enable her to pay her own way in the household, buy a few books, and take a journey now and then, things which, "though they do not come under the article of absolute necessities, you will easily perceive that it is highly desirable for a person of my age and with my education should occasionally have in her power."

"Put on with speed your woodland dress," William had written for Dorothy on the first fine day of Spring in 1798...