Study Guide

Dorothy Wordsworth

Dorothy Wordsworth Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Dorothy Wordsworth was the only sister of William Wordsworth, the English Romantic poet. She was separated from her brothers at the age of six, upon the death of her mother. While living at Halifax with her mother’s cousin, Elizabeth Threlkeld, she attended a day school, except for one six-month stay at a boarding school. In 1787 young Dorothy went to live with her maternal grandparents, her education at an end. Life with her grandparents was unhappy, especially as they made her four brothers unwelcome as visitors. The following year, her maternal uncle, the Reverend William Cookson, married and took his niece into his household until 1794. In 1795, through a legacy and the loan of a house, Wordsworth was finally able to live with her older brother William. From that time to his death in 1850 she was seldom separated from him, living amicably in his household even after he was married.

In 1798, while Dorothy and William were living at Alfoxden to be near Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Dorothy began the first of her journals, from which both Coleridge and her brother drew descriptions for some of their poems in Lyrical Ballads. This practice continued for William; often in later years he depended upon his sister’s descriptions of people and natural scenes to furnish him with poetic material. She wrote her journals for her own pleasure and her brother William’s, none of the journals being published until after her death, although she did allow some of the manuscripts to circulate among their friends. Living in his home and acting as a second mother to his children, Dorothy was a constant companion to her brother, except for her brief periods of travel and visiting with friends.

This happy existence was shattered when she was stricken by illness in April, 1829. She was not expected to live, but she recovered. However, she no longer had sufficient vitality for the activities she loved: walking, mountain climbing, traveling, and writing her journals. Her mind began to fail, and she became like an excitable young child. She died five years after her brother’s death at Rydal Mount, where she and William had lived for more than half a century.

Dorothy Wordsworth Bibliography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alexander, Meena. Women in Romanticism: Mary Wollstonecraft, Dorothy Wordsworth, and Mary Shelley. Savage, Md.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1989.

Ellis, Amanda M. Rebels and Conservatives: Dorothy and William Wordsworth and Their Circle. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1967.

Gittings, Robert. Dorothy Wordsworth. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1985.

Hughes-Hallett, Penelope. Home at Grasmere: The Wordsworths and the Lakes. London: Collins & Brown, 1993.

Levin, Susan M. Dorothy Wordsworth and Romanticism. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1987.

Polowetzky, Michael. Prominent Sisters: Mary Lamb, Dorothy Wordsworth, and Sarah Disraeli. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1996.

Thomas, Annabel. Dorothy Wordsworth: On a Wander by Ourselves. London: New Millennium, 1997.

Wilson, Frances. The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth. New York: Farrar, 2009.

Worthen, John. The Gang: Coleridge, the Hutchinsons, and the Wordsworths in 1802. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001.