The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth: A Life

Frances Wilson, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $26 (316p) ISBN 978-0-374-10867-0

This sensitive and elegantly written life of Dorothy Wordsworth (1771–1855), sister of the poet William Wordsworth, centers on four small notebooks, her so-called Grasmere Journals. These journals reveal how William functioned as Dorothy's male muse and how she, more traditionally, was his. What is most untraditional, and certainly peculiar, is the not-quite-stated true relationship between brother and sister. Commentators and biographers describe Dorothy Wordsworth as having virtually no inner life, existing solely for and through her brother. Yet, Wilson relates, the opium-eater De Quincey found her a most sensuous creature; she was a big part of William's friendship with Coleridge as well. First teasing out Dorothy's truly rich interior life through careful examination of the journals and other writings, Wilson (Literary Seductions ) then uncovers the nature of Dorothy's emotional connections to William, his work, his wife and even the French mistress he had as a younger man. Most controversial in the Grasmere Journals are several blotted lines regarding William's wedding ring—which Dorothy wore to sleep the night before the wedding. These lines, as well as Dorothy's visionary tendencies, her migraines and trances, almost of an epileptic nature, and a long depressive decline are scrupulously analyzed. 31 illus. (Feb. 24)

Reviewed on: 10/13/2008
Release date: 02/01/2009
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 336 pages - 978-1-4299-5925-4
Hardcover - 286 pages - 978-0-571-23047-1
Paperback - 344 pages - 978-0-374-53734-0
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