Introduced by Lucy Newlyn
Illustrated by Georgie Bennett
An exquisite edition of Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal, famous for its nature writing and invaluable insight into the lives of the Romantic poets.
The Grasmere Journal (here in the edition edited by Ernest de Sélincourt) reveals not just the vital role Dorothy played in the composition of brother William’s poetry but also the inner emotional life of a woman whose complex bond with her brother remains the subject of great speculation. Lucy Newlyn, Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University, has written an introduction that examines the importance of this unusual document, and Georgie Bennett has provided a series of beautiful ink and watercolour sketches.
Courtesy of BBD&P Awards
Dorothy Wordsworth began her journal at Dove Cottage, Grasmere, in the Lake District, in May 1800, and she wrote in it almost daily for the next three years. During this time, her brother William was at the height of his poetic powers and Dorothy was at her happiest, sharing life with her beloved brother. She records their daily life – the walks, the weather, boating on the lake, taking down William’s poems and their famous visitors, especially Samuel Taylor Coleridge. But her journal is much more than a daily record: Dorothy was gifted nature writer, an original and sensitive observer of life at Dove Cottage, and in her hands the everyday becomes miraculous.
‘I went and sat with W and walked backwards and forwards in the Orchard till dinner time – he read me his poem. I broiled Beefsteaks.’
For all the domestic detail and insight into the Romantic poets, this journal is truly a chronicle of Dorothy’s unique voice. She notices many things others would miss – the glitter of light on a sheep’s fleece or the dancing of daffodils by the lakeside – and her depth of feeling for the wild nature of their surroundings crystallised into moments that William would mine for his own work. As he wrote of her, ‘she gave me eyes, she gave me ears’.
Artist Georgie Bennett travelled to the Lake District to visit Dove Cottage and observe the landscape as Dorothy once did. She has created a series of beautiful ink and watercolour sketches that capture the tiny details of the landscape that pepper this edition: birds, plants, teacups, the interior of the cottage itself – details that bring a vanished world to life. The endpapers feature a panoramic view across Lake Grasmere to the fells beyond, and Bennett has also contributed a beautiful hand-drawn map of the village.
August 30th, Saturday Morning. I was baking bread, pies and dinner. It was very warm. William finished his Inscription of the Pathway, then walked in the wood; and when John returned, he sought him, and they bathed together. I read a little of Boswell’s Life of Johnson. I had a headach and went to lie down in the orchard. I was roused by a shout that Anthony Harrison was come. We sate in the orchard till tea time. Drank tea early, and rowed down the lake which was stirred by breezes. We looked at Rydale, which was soft, chearful, and beautiful. We then went to peep into Langdale. The Pikes were very grand. We walked back to the view of Rydale, which was now a dark mirror. We rowed home over a lake still as glass, and then went to George Mackareth’s to hire a horse for John. A fine moonlight night. The beauty of the moon was startling, as it rose to us over Loughrigg Fell. We returned to supper at 10 o’clock. Thomas Ashburner brought us our 8th cart of coals since May 17th.
Dorothy Wordsworth (1771–1855) was born in Cockermouth, on the edge of the Lake District, the third of five children. Their mother’s death in 1778 separated Dorothy from her brothers, and from 1783 they were without a family home. The sympathy between William (her poet brother) and Dorothy was strong; she understood him as no one else could and provided the ‘quickening influence’ he needed. When in 1795 he was lent a house in Dorset, they made a home together there. Two years later, they set up home again at Alfoxden, Somerset, where she enjoyed with Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge a companionship of ‘three persons with one soul’. Their constant exchange of ideas and exploration lasted barely a year but was integral to the composition of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, 1798. During this time Dorothy kept her first journal, known as The Alfoxden Journal.
She went with William and Coleridge to Germany (1798–9), and in December 1799 she and William settled for the first time in a permanent home of their own, Dove Cottage, Grasmere, in the Lake District. It was here that she began her Grasmere Journal, a record of the creative, intellectual and loving life she shared with William. It was never intended for publication; she was writing for him only, to ‘give Wm Pleasure by it’, as she described it. She remained at Dove Cottage after her brother’s marriage in 1802 and moved with the family to Rydal Mount in 1813. Walking tours, travel, caring for her nieces and nephews, journal-keeping and letter-writing punctuated the years of a busy family life. In 1829 she fell dangerously ill and thenceforth was obliged the lead the life of an invalid. Her ill health affected her intellect, and during the last twenty years of her life her mind was clouded.
Lucy Newlyn is Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University, with a particular interest in English Romantic literature. She has published widely in this area, most recently William and Dorothy Wordsworth: All in Each Other (2013), a study of William and Dorothy’s creative collaboration. As well as an academic, she is a published poet and anthologist. Her first poetry collection, Ginnel, was published in 2005, and a second, Earth’s Almanac, in 2015.
Georgie Bennett graduated from Norwich University of the Arts in 2014 with a first-class honours degree in Illustration. Over the course of her degree she consolidated her love of reportage and narrative-based projects. She works with watercolour, pen and graphite and is inspired by landscape and her family’s background in the arts. Drawing and researching on location forms an integral part of her process and her work centres around documentation and maintaining a sense of authenticity.
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