Literary Networks in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries Class Exhibit: Dorothy Wordsworth

On December 9th at 9:05am, Dr. Kristin Pond’s English 3351: Literary Networks in the Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Centuries course will be presenting their Great Exhibition. This is a class project which requires students to explore what artifacts, including original letters, manuscripts and books, photographs, and actual objects exist at the Armstrong Browning Library related to each student’s assigned author.

The exhibition will be on display in the Hankamer Treasure Room for the entire morning December 9th, 2019.

To prepare for the exhibition, students wrote a short biography of their author and practiced analyzing an artifact for what it reveals about their author. A sample of one student’s preliminary research follows.


Dorothy Wordsworth

Early Life

Dorothy Wordsworth was born in 1771 on December 25th in Cockermouth Cumbria. She was the third and only girl out of five children in the family. She was only two years younger than her brother, William Wordsworth. When her mother died at a young age, Dorothy and her brothers continued to live a happy childhood. However, the death of their father happened unexpectedly, leaving them in financial instability and forcing Dorothy and her siblings to live with various relatives. Dorothy was sent to live with her aunt Elizabeth Threldkeld in Halifax, West Yorkshire. At age 25, she was finally able to reunite with her brother William, at Racedown Dorset in 1795.

Poetry and Writings

In 1797 Dorothy and William moved together to Alfoxden House in Somerset, located near Samuel T. Coleridge’s home. The three formed a close friendship. Dorothy started to write about her life with William and Coleridge in her journals, the first being titled The Alfoxden Journal. The journal entries were utilized by William and Coleridge on their collaborated work, Lyricall Ballads. The poems drew heavily from the descriptions of nature Dorothy reported in the journals. However, Dorothy wrote in her journals for her own pleasure, and never aspired for them to be published or to be a famous author like her brother. William’s dependency on Dorothy’s journal entries continued for the rest of his career, as she was able to provide detailed description of nature.

Having been close friends with Coleridge, the three traveled to Germany in 1798-1799. Dorothy recounts their trip in a journal titled, Journal of Visit to Hamburgh and of Journey from Hamburgh to Goslar. In 1799, both William and Dorothy moved into Dove Cottage of Grasmere. Four volumes of journals titled The Grasmere Journal (1800-1802) is known to have the best of Dorothy’s writing. The journals contain entries of the life she lived at Dove Cottage, and the relationship between her, her brother and fellow poet, Samuel Coleridge.

During their time at Dove Cottage, the three would take long walks in the woods, composing poems, and letters. Supposedly, the three would walk among the hills, and lay on the ground pretending they were dead as if in a “trance-like” state.

Later Years

The relationship between Dorothy and her brother was undoubtedly very close. However, when William married Mary Hutchinson in 1802, it is noted Dorothy wore Mary’s ring the night before the wedding ceremony. She gave it back to William in the morning, but did not attend the ceremony. She secluded herself in the attic of Dove Cottage, and not long after, stopped keeping up with her diary entries. Later, historians claimed she was filled with anxiety of being the replaced companion of her brother.

Dorothy never married or intended to get married as she felt too old for her age of 31 years. Instead, Dorothy stayed at Dove Cottage with her brother and Mary for the next 20 years helping them raise their children. There, she wrote books and poetry for the children.

In 1813 the family moved to Rydal Mount where Dorothy continued to travel, write letters, journals, and poetry. In 1829 she fell seriously ill to fever and her health declined from then on. In her last years, its noted she slipped in and out of hallucinations, but was capable to recite Williams poetry. She died at the age of 83 in 1855.



  • Letter to Joshua Watson

This particular letter was written many years after Dorothy’s time in Grasmere, in 1820. At the time she was at Rydal Mount, still living with William and his family. The letter suggests Dorothy’s dependency on William, as she mentions he is the reason she is writing it. She writes about William and how he has been doing, as if she was catching up with an old friend. However, Dorothy does not mention herself or give any personal life update. Only that she is glad to hear from Mr. Watson and his brother.

“My Brother feeling himself stronger and more comfortable this morning than he was yesterday said to me “I think you should write to Mr Watson—and I very much wish to know how he is himself — It is with great pleasure that I avail myself of my Brother’s hint, as an excuse for troubling you a second time.”


  • Letter to Samuel T. Coleridge

A letter was written to Samuel T. Coleridge, in later February of 1799. At this time, Dorothy, William, and Coleridge were traveling in Germany. In the letter, it seems that Coleridge traveled to Gottingen Germany, on his own, leaving William and Dorothy back in the town of Goslar.

In this letter, Dorothy recounts the walk her and William took through the Hartz forest. She describes the trees and natural scenery with lengthy description, recalling minute details. The vivid details she provided was probably utilized for Coleridge and his poetry. She updates Coleridge of their time Goslar, as though they were great friends. She also mentions how excited her and William were once they received letters from him.

What’s interesting, is that Dorothy does not sign her name at the end of the letter, highlighting that her and Coleridge were on a friendly basis without the need for formality.

“Some of the pine trees are extremely beautiful. We observed that when they seemed to be past maturity, and perhaps sooner in a close situation their boughs from which had before ascended, making an acute angle with their trunk, descend till they shoot out horizontally or make an obtuse angle with the upper part of the tree.”


  • The Grasmere Journal Entry-Monday October 4th, 1802:

This journal entry, recounts Williams marriage to Mary Hutchinson and Dorothy’s feelings. It is clear that Dorothy is uncomfortable with the fact her brother is getting married. She wears the brides ring to sleep the night before they wed and decided not to show up to the ceremony. This suggests Dorothy almost feels replaced by Mary to her brother. She copes with her feelings by retreating to the attic of their house and shortly after their marriage, Dorothy stops writing in her journal.

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