cover image Dorothy and William Wordsworth: “All in each other”

Dorothy and William Wordsworth: “All in each other”

Lucy Newlyn. Oxford Univ., $34.95 (360p) ISBN 978-0-19-969639-0

Oxford professor Newlyn (Reading Writing and Romanticism) investigates the lifelong “creative collaboration” between the poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy. After the early death of their parents, Dorothy and William grew up almost entirely apart. But after reuniting on the cusp of adulthood, they lived together for their entire lives, with Dorothy joining William’s household until the end. Best known today for her lyrical journals recording travels with her brother, Dorothy was central to William’s creative process, to the extent that William called her one of “the two Beings to whom my intellect is most indebted.” Newlyn argues for seeing much of Wordsworth’s poetry as a kind of gift-exchange with his sister, asserting the therapeutic value of their creative community in overcoming early bereavement and poverty. Dorothy’s prose and William’s poetry were reparative, Newlyn claims, as the two cultivated shared memories, community, and an enduring bond with their environment. Along with close readings of their respective works, Newlyn provides useful contextual detours into theories of gift economy, 18th-century medicine and nostalgia, as well as themes in critical theory and eco-criticism. Though the book’s level of detail is best suited to specialists, Newlyn offers a valuable corrective to existing Wordsworth criticism and a moving testimonial to the power of creativity and community. 8-page b&w plate section. (Dec.)