From Publishers Weekly
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)
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*Starred Review* Wilson investigated such intimate writerly alliances as the marriage of Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley in Literary Seductions (2000) and now returns to the realm of the Romantic poets in this highly charged and forthright biography of Dorothy Wordsworth, sister and muse to William. Speculation runs high regarding the true nature of the intense bond between these unconventional siblings known for their epic country walks during which William composed the poetry Dorothy put to paper. Reunited after a harsh childhood separation in the wake of their mother’s early death, they lived and traveled together even after William married Mary Hutchinson (Dorothy even accompanied them on their honeymoon). Wilson emphasizes Dorothy’s heightened response to nature in her writing, especially the oft-studied Grasmere Journals, analyzing both her rhapsodic passages and “crisp forensic objectivity,” and surmises that Dorothy suffered from migraines and anorexia. Wilson then squarely addresses the incest question, arguing that Dorothy and William’s closeness was spiritual, not carnal, and that the two writers needed each other to feel whole. A “perpetual third party,” Dorothy Wordsworth finally steps out of the shadows in this assured and involving reclamation of an intriguing, literary figure. --Donna Seaman