Rated: 2 stars
Read: 9 September – 10 September, 2018
‘It is a breathless grey day that leaves the golden woods of Autumn quiet in their own tranquility, stately & beautiful in their decaying, the lake a perfect mirror’
Dorothy’s journals were on the suggested reading for my Romantic Victorians module. I have never read them in their entirety, only briefly analysing some for my Wordsworth course last year. They record her life with William, giving an insight into the daily life of the poet and his friendship with Coleridge. They are remarkable for their ‘spontaneity and immediacy, and for the vivid descriptions of people, place, and incidents that inspired some of Wordsworth’s best-loved poems’.
I read from the Oxford World’s Classics edition of ‘The Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals‘, which I would recommend if you’re looking for a detailed insight. They have an extensive notes section and a lengthy introduction. The Grasmere Journals began in May 1800 and was kept for three years, and the Alfoxden Journals was written during 1797 to 1798. Dorothy wrote pretty much everyday, addressing the most mundane activities of her day. It definitely isn’t a read for everyone.
I’ve always been quite fascinated by Dorothy. I believed she played a fundamental role in Wordsworth’s poetic success. Without her, I wonder if some of the poems would exist today? For example, if you read Wordsworth’s ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ beside Dorothy’s journal entry from April 1802, you’ll see a lot of similarities. Because Dorothy jotted down the most insignificant things – really, she jotted down everything – he relied on them to get his poems just right.
I wasn’t impressed by them all, though. They were interesting, but also very mundane and monotonous. It’s frustrating because when she wanted to be, Dorothy could be so poetical. She wrote so beautifully if she put the effort in. It was the long and descriptive entries that I enjoyed the most. However, many of them were quite boring, making it difficult to read. It was a constant trail of ‘Wm & me walked today. Met C on the way. Baked bread & pies’, bla bla bla. I craved variation.
I did, however, like how she spoke so often of nature. As a nature lover myself, I appreciated the detailed insights into her daily walks and commutes. She wrote at her best when amongst trees, lakes and fells. The Lake District is a place I’m very familiar with, so I could easily imagine the places and routes she was describing. I think this added to my enjoyment of the book, as without it I doubt I would have carried on reading it.
All-in-all, a very insightful read. Dorothy had a very close relationship with her brother, and it was interesting to delve more into that. I know the word incest has been thrown about – she frequently calls him her ‘beloved’, they sleep in each other’s bed, Dorothy wasn’t happy on his marriage night, etc. It’s still quite ambiguous, but the journals definitely shed some light on it.
Have you read any of Dorothy’s journals? Do you like William? I’d love to discuss them with you!
Thanks for reading, Lauren X