Dorothy Wordsworth

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Dorothy Wordsworth

Dorothy Mae Ann Wordsworth (born December 25, 1771 in Cockermouth , Cumberland (now Cumbria ), England , † January 25, 1855 in Rydal Mount near Ambleside , England) was an English poet and diary writer. She was the sister of the romantic poet William Wordsworth , with whom she was closely associated for life. Dorothy Wordsworth was less distinguished by her literary work than by her letters, diaries and short stories, which were only published posthumously and have documentary value in English literature .


Dorothy Wordsworth was the third of five children of lawyer John Wordsworth and Ann Cookson of Penrith . The mother died in 1777 when Dorothy was six years old, the father only six years later, in 1783. The father left no will and so the children were sent to various relatives. At the age of 15 Dorothy came to live with her grandparents in Penrith, where she saw her siblings again for a short time. From the age of 17 to 22 she lived with her uncle William Cookson in Norfolk, where she spent a happy time, practicing reading and writing and teaching herself French. From the winter of 1793/94 stayed in different places. Around 1795 she shared a house in Dorset with her brother William . It was probably around this time that an intense sibling love developed. The two spent the first few years together in poverty and often begged for discarded clothes from friends. In Alfoxden , Somerset , the Wordsworths made friends with the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and traveled with him to Germany . On the way Dorothy began to keep a diary, in which she listed her expenses and made notes of everyday necessities. From 1798 to 1799 they found accommodation in Goslar , while Coleridge studied at the University of Göttingen . Back in Alfoxden, Dorothy began to write more detailed journals , mostly about trips and short excursions with William and Coleridge.

A. Heaton Cooper: Dove Cottage , 1905
Family grave of William, Dorothy and Mary Wordsworth in Grasmere

Like Coleridge, William used Dorothy's thoughts and notes as inspiration for their own works. Coleridge remarked, “Even though we were three people, we were like one soul.” In 1799, Dorothy and her brother moved into Dove Cottage in Grasmere in the Lake District . In 1802, William married his childhood sweetheart Mary Hutchinson, who was also his sister Dorothy's best friend. The wedding was a joyful event, just not for Dorothy, who was getting too hysterical to attend the ceremony. Days before the wedding, she had written (presumably to her brother): “I have long loved Mary Hutchinson as a sister and she was to me too, and you will guess that I look forward to the bond between us with complete joy. but happy as I am, I am half afraid that the accumulation of all the delicate feelings from past, present and future will overwhelm me on the morning of the wedding. ”At 31, Dorothy already felt that she was“ too old to marry ". Even after the marriage of William Wordsworth and Mary Hutchinson, Dorothy continued to live with the two of them in Grasmere and in 1813 moved with them to Rydal Mount , a house near the Cumbrian town of Ambleside, where she would live until her death.

Dorothy Wordsworth remained unmarried. In 1829 she became seriously ill and would remain obsolete for the rest of her life. In 1835 she fell ill with arteriosclerosis and suffered increasingly from dementia over the last 20 years of life . She died almost five years after her beloved brother William at the age of 84 on Rydal Mount - in "a deep haze of senility" as her biographer Richard Cavendish wrote. Dorothy, William and Mary Wordsworth are buried in a family grave in Grasmere.


For almost a century Dorothy Wordsworth appeared only as a footnote in her well-known brother's biography. Only once, in 1803, did she try to publish her experiences of a trip with her brother to Scotland, but could not find a publisher. Her travelogue Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland did not appear posthumously until 1874. Her Grasmere Journal was first published in 1897 by the publisher William Angus Knight , but went largely unnoticed. In 1931 children's book author Beatrix Potter bought Dove Cottage in the Lake District , where Dorothy and her brother William had lived for many years. In the cottage barn, Potter found a wad of old paper and discovered that it was Dorothy Wordsworth's diary. Potter's Fund was published as The Grasmere Journal in 1933 . The journal reports extensively on everyday life in the Lake District, tells of long walks with the brother through the area and draws detailed portraits of the so-called Lake Poets or Lakists , such as the local writers Samuel Taylor Coleridge , Charles Lamb , Sir Walter Scott and Robert Southey with whom the Wordsworths were close friends, were also called. The actually radical writer Southey was best known in England for his writing of the Grimm fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears ("Goldilocks and the Three Bears") .


Dorothy Wordsworth's writings and their documentary value for women's literature were being rediscovered at a time when feminist critics and writers such as Virginia Woolf were increasingly concerned with the role of women in literature. Woolf, herself a meticulous diarist, preferred to use Dorothy Wordsworth's notes in her essays . Since the success of the Grasmere Journal , numerous other letters, diaries and notes have been published by Dorothy Wordsworth. All of the works show how much she contributed to her brother's literary success: William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge freely adopted their detailed landscape descriptions for their own work.



  • Alan G. Hill: Letters of Dorothy Wordsworth. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1985, ISBN 0-19-818539-1 .
  • Robert Gittings, Jo Manton: Dorothy Wordsworth. Oxford University Press, 1985, ISBN 0-19-818519-7 .
  • Catherine Macdonald MacLean: Dorothy and William Wordsworth. Haskell, 1982, ISBN 0-8383-1403-1 .
  • Ernest De Selincourt: Dorothy Wordsworth: A Biography. The Clarendon Press, 1933.
  • Erich Zauner: Romantic women - romantic women? Literary feature articles on William Wordsworth and Samuel Tayler Coleridge as well as their muse Dorothy Wordsworth. VÖN, Vienna 1992.
  • Margarete Balensiefer: Dorothy Wordsworth as a female figure of the English Romanticism in its meaning for the life and work of the poet Wordsworth. Marburg 1945.

Web links

Commons : Dorothy Wordsworth  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files


  1. a b Dorothy Wordworth ( memento of March 3, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) at (accessed January 23, 2008)