Dorothy Wordsworth Criticism - Essay

Harper's New Monthly Magazine (review date December 1874)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Editor's Literary Record.” Harper's New Monthly Magazine 50 (December 1874): 137.

[In the following excerpted review, the anonymous author assesses Wordsworth's Recollections of a Tour made in Scotland, making special note of the preface written by the journal's editor.]

Not the least interesting part of Dorothy Wordsworth's Recollections of a Tour made in Scotland, a.d. 1803 (G. P. Putnam's Sons) is the preface by the editor, Principal J. C. Shairp. Those readers who recall De Quincey's graphic and gossipy account of Wordsworth and his sister will read with peculiar zest, heightened by this glimpse of the poet's simple life, Principal Shairp's brief biographical sketch; and all who delight to visit personally and familiarly those whom they have learned to love in and through literature will only regret that the visit he permits us to make is so short. Of Dorothy's character we get a very pleasant picture, and rejoice to add her name to the great host of comparatively unknown women whose influence and aid have contributed so much to make the world's great men great. She seems to have kept house for her brother; she was his amanuensis, transcribing his manuscripts for the press; her poetic spirit often suggested the thoughts which he clothed in poetic forms. She lived in and for him, and his marriage did nothing to lessen the sympathy between them. The record of their tour through Scotland was not intended for publication, and needs to be read by loving, sympathetic hearts. To the cold critic it may seem diffuse and even tedious, but to all who have that love for Wordsworth that will make a ramble through Scotland with the poet and his sister delightful it will possess a peculiar fascination.

The Literary World (review date 19 February 1887)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Review of Dorothy Wordsworth.The Literary World (19 February 1887): 54-55.

[In the following review, the anonymous author praises Edmund Lee's biography of Dorothy Wordsworth for its unusually full appreciation of Wordsworth's intellect and personality.]


In the literary annals of later England the name of Dorothy Wordsworth holds an honored place, and yet to the majority of readers she who bore the name has been little more than a gracious satellite shining in the glory of her famous brother. Wordsworth himself spoke of her in no doubtful way, likening her to the spring that went before his...

(The entire section is 762 words.)

Robert Con Davis (essay date winter 1978)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Davis, Robert Con. “The Structure of the Picturesque: Dorothy Wordsworth's Journals.” The Wordsworth Circle 9, no. 1 (winter 1978): 45-49.

[In the following essay, Davis finds that Wordsworth's journals investigate some of the philosophical implications of the picturesque.]

Essentially an eighteenth-century aesthetic, the picturesque was eventually rejected by most Romantic poets. Relying heavily on the picturesque in the Alfoxden-Grasmere journals, Dorothy Wordsworth raised two important questions about its meaning. What does the picturesque say about man and nature, about the phenomenal world? And, why does it collide with Romantic...

(The entire section is 2714 words.)

Alan Liu (essay date spring 1984)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Liu, Alan. “On the Autobiographical Present: Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere Journals.Criticism 26, no. 2 (spring 1984): 115-37.

[In the following essay, Liu asserts that Wordsworth is a master at representing the self as part of its present occupation, a relationship he paraphrases as “I work therefore I am.”]

A genius of the journalistic is Dorothy Wordsworth, who in 1801 became the keeper of William's memorial genius. Writes Dorothy to Coleridge on May 22, 1801:

Poor William! his stomach is in bad plight. We have put aside all the manuscript poems and it is agreed between us that I am not to give them up to...

(The entire section is 9549 words.)

James Holt McGavran, Jr. (essay date 1988)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: McGavran, James Holt, Jr. “Dorothy Wordsworth's Journals: Putting Herself Down.” In The Private Self: Theory and Practice of Women's Autobiographical Writings, edited by Shari Benstock, pp. 230-53. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1988.

[In the following essay, portions of which were presented in 1982, McGavran explores William Wordsworth's impact on Dorothy's perceptions and representations, especially of herself.]

The “beauteous forms” of the Wye valley, which William Wordsworth simultaneously describes, remembers, and idealizes for his sister Dorothy in “Tintern Abbey,” enable him through sense, emotion, and thought—blood,...

(The entire section is 9697 words.)

Susan J. Wolfson (essay date 1988)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wolfson, Susan J. “Individual in Community: Dorothy Wordsworth in Conversation with William.” In Romanticism and Feminism, edited by Anne K. Mellor, pp. 139-66. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.

[In the following essay, Wolfson asserts that Dorothy Wordsworth's poetry reveals a desire to investigate and, in some cases, reject William Wordsworth's “favored tropes and figures.”]


Dorothy Wordsworth is known primarily as a writer of journals and recollections, and though passages in these works have impressed readers such as Virginia Woolf with “the gift of the poet,” her actual poetry has attracted little critical...

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Anita Hempill McCormick (essay date fall 1990)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: McCormick, Anita Hempill. “‘I shall be beloved—I want no more’: Dorothy Wordsworth's Rhetoric and the Appeal to Feeling in The Grasmere Journals.Philological Quarterly 69, no. 4 (fall 1990): 471-93.

[In the following essay, McCormick argues for a more complex analysis of Wordsworth's rhetoric in the Grasmere Journals.]

Traditionally the readers of Dorothy Wordsworth's journals, from Virginia Woolf to her recent biographers Robert Gittings and Jo Manton, have seen her writing as transparent and Dorothy as transparently selfless. Such influential scholars as Ernest de Selincourt and Mary Moorman portray Dorothy Wordsworth as an ideally...

(The entire section is 10046 words.)

Pamela Woof (essay date summer 1991)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Woof, Pamela. “Dorothy Wordsworth and the Pleasures of Recognition: An Approach to the Travel Journals.” The Wordsworth Circle 22, no. 3 (summer 1991): 150-160.

[In the following excerpt, Woof praises Wordsworth's journals for their “humanness” and unique expressions of pleasure.]

Journals we shall have in number sufficient to fill a Lady's bookshelf,—for all, except my Brother, write a Journal.

(MY, II, 625)

So Dorothy Wordsworth to Catherine Clarkson at the beginning of the Continental Tour on July 23, 1820. A shelf-full of Journals! And Wordsworth, though he refrained...

(The entire section is 9778 words.)

William C. Snyder (essay date 1992)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Snyder, William C. “Mother Nature's Other Natures: Landscape in Women's Writing, 1770-1830.” Women's Studies 21, no. 2 (1992): 143-62.

[In the following essay, Snyder contends that the picturesque movement provided particular intellectual opportunity for women artists, Wordsworth among them.]

In the last three decades of the eighteenth century, the merging of two concurrent phenomena—the solidification of picturesque values and the proliferation of women artists—yields an imagery that resists seeing Nature as Mother. Progressive women artists at the end of the century and even through Romanticism tend to limit mothering impulses to human expression,...

(The entire section is 3544 words.)

Pamela Woof (essay date 1992)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Woof, Pamela. “Dorothy Wordsworth's Journals and the Engendering of Poetry.” In Wordsworth in Context, edited by Pauline Fletcher and John Murphy, pp. 122-55. Canterbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1992.

[In the following essay, Woof studies the relationships between Dorothy Wordsworth's journals and William Wordsworth's poems.]

The story of how some of Wordsworth's poetry was engendered can be pieced together from Dorothy's Journal, and this will be the subject of the first part of this paper. The second part will be a discussion of some of the characteristics of prose poetry that Dorothy engendered in her own writing. Her accounts...

(The entire section is 13562 words.)

Katherine T. Meiners (essay date fall 1993)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Meiners, Katherine T. “Reading Pain and the Feminine Body in Romantic Writing: The Examples of Dorothy Wordsworth and Sara Coleridge.” The Centennial Review 37, no. 3 (fall 1993): 487-512.

[In the following essay, Meiners considers the role of the experience of suffering in the creation of meaning and selfhood for Romantic writers, including Dorothy Wordsworth.]


Romantic Encounters with illness and pain precipitate crises of intelligibility, moments when intense pain makes a sufferer unintelligible to others as much as to herself. The nineteenth-century witnesses an increased tendency to professionalize such suffering and turn...

(The entire section is 5649 words.)

Lucinda Cole and Richard G. Swartz (essay date 1994)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cole, Lucinda and Richard G. Swartz. “‘Why Should I wish for Words?’: Literacy, Articulation, and the Borders of Literary Culture.” In At the Limits of Romanticism: Essays in Cultural, Feminist, and Materialist Criticism, edited by Mary A. Favret and Nicola J. Watson, pp. 143-69. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

[In the following excerpt, the authors recognize the role that Wordsworth and other women writers of the eighteenth century played in the struggle to “police, protect, and promote the bounds of literariness itself.”]


Near the end of his life William Wordsworth...

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Kay K. Cook (essay date spring 1995)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cook, Kay K. “Immersion.” a/b: Auto/Biography Studies 10, no. 1 (spring 1995): 66-80.

[In the following essay, Cook claims that Wordsworth's journals constitute autobiography despite the absence of the first person pronoun.]

The following passage from Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere journal captures fragments of a day in early autumn. The year is 1800, and Wordsworth and her brother William have recently moved into Dove Cottage, Grasmere, in the English Lake District:

[September] 14th, Sunday Morning. Made bread. A sore thumb from a cut. A lovely day. Read Boswell in the house in the morning, and after dinner...

(The entire section is 6357 words.)

Lisa Tyler (essay date spring 1995)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Tyler, Lisa. “Big Brother Is Watching You: Dorothy Wordsworth's Alfoxden and Grasmere Journals.University of Dayton Review 23, no. 2 (spring 1995): 87-98.

[In the following essay, an abbreviated version of which was presented in 1993, Tyler reads Wordsworth absence from her journals as a narrative strategy of self-protection designed to prevent her brother from appropriating her personal observations.]

The chief observation—and critique—that virtually everyone makes regarding Dorothy Wordsworth's journals is that they display an alarming absence of subjectivity. Critics use almost identical terms to describe this quality in the journals: Bruce...

(The entire section is 5631 words.)

Alexis Easley (essay date 1996)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Easley, Alexis. “Wandering Women: Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere Journals and the Discourse on Female Vagrancy.” Women's Writing 3, no. 1 (1996): 63-77.

[In the following essay, Easley scrutinizes Wordsworth's ideological relationship to the vagrant women who are frequently mentioned in her journals.]


During the time that Dorothy Wordsworth was composing the Grasmere Journals (1800-1803), English society was engaged in a heated debate over what to do about the vagrant poor. Industrialization and enclosure laws had produced a large transient population that traveled from parish to parish,...

(The entire section is 7190 words.)

Alan Grob (essay date spring 1998)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Grob, Alan. “William and Dorothy: A Case Study in the Hermeneutics of Disparagement.” ELH 65, no. 1 (spring 1998): 187-221.

[In the following essay, Grob purports that, at the end of the twentieth century, “adversarial tactics of feminism and the New Historicism” have distorted Wordsworth scholarship.]

Of the convulsive changes that have worked their way through the field of Romantic—and especially Wordsworthian—studies during the postmodernity of the past thirty years, none seems more truly ominous than many critics' virtually wholesale adoption in the past decade of those adversarial presuppositions that now seem to shape and govern almost all...

(The entire section is 15124 words.)

Anca Vlasopolos (essay date summer 1999)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Vlasopolos, Anca. “Texted Selves: Dorothy and William Wordsworth in The Grasmere Journals.a/b: Auto/Biography Studies 14, no. 1 (summer 1999): 118-36.

[In the following essay, Vlasopolos considers The Grasmere Journals in the context of late-twentieth-century notions of gender and authorial integrity.]


Anyone undertaking a reading of The Grasmere Journals will be going over much traveled terrain, especially in regard to the relations between Dorothy and William during those crucial years that confirmed Dorothy as William's lifetime companion and William as a poet. To...

(The entire section is 8809 words.)

Jill Ehnnen (essay date winter 1999)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ehnnen, Jill. “Writing Against, Writing Through: Subjectivity, Vocation, and Authorship in the Work of Dorothy Wordsworth.” South Atlantic Review 64, no. 1 (winter 1999): 72-90.

[In the following essay, Ehnnen considers Dorothy Wordsworth's authority as a writer within the context of the intricate issues of female subjectivity found in the Romantic movement.]

In the past few years I've taught selections from Dorothy Wordsworth's journals to undergraduates several times—both in introductory surveys and in seminars on British Romanticism. This paper is motivated partially by my students' reader responses to Dorothy's work. Each time I assign the texts...

(The entire section is 6690 words.)