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Wordsworth's Feminine Devotees, Part 7 to the Life & Works of
William Wordsworth

Dorothy was 21 months younger than William. She was to lose her mother at age six, her father at eleven. She was separated from her brothers and sent to live with her mother's relatives. Many women of the age, of the ages, share the desires and impulses of the male head of their household. The effect of leaving the business of raising a young impressionable girl by a maiden aunt, Elizabeth Threlkald, is a question we must leave for the psychologists to answer, supposing that they would have enough information to go on. With no father and having been separated from her brothers since the age of six, at the age of fifteen, now a young woman, Dorothy was reintroduced to her brother, William: she fell in love with him, it was to be a deep and an abiding love which was to last a lifetime.44 William, as we have seen, was off to university (Cambridge) in 1787; and, beginning in 1790, was traveling around quite a lot, including being in France for a year in 1792. After wondering around England, in particular through Wales, it will be recalled that William returned, in 1794, to the lands he knew as a boy. It is at this point that we may see the beginnings of the close and lifelong relationship as did exist between William and Dorothy. In September of 1795, they determined to live with one another, moving into their first little cottage at Racedown, Dorset. They continued to live together until William's death in 1850. The Wordsworth relationship, became a threesome, when, in 1802, William married Mary Hutchinson.

William likely first met Mary when she was but young, at dame school, at Penrith.45 It seems, however, that the childhood friendship was more between Dorothy and Mary, a friendship that was to continue throughout their lives. As has been seen, during their adulthood, Mary and Dorothy were to pay regular visits with one another; and, because of the distances and the difficulty of travelling in those days, these visits would last for weeks on end. When Dorothy and William took up living with one another, these long visits continued, with Mary spending considerable periods of time with both William and Dorothy, beginning in 1795, at Racedown and then, after that, at Dove Cottage at Grasmere. In 1802 -- likely inspired by the delightful Coleridge children that now lived nearby -- William and Mary married. Thereafter, brother/husband, sister and wife lived together, first at Dove Cottage and then at Allan Bank (1808) and then, for the balance of their years at Rydal Mount (1813): this arrangement worked wonderfully for all three of them.

Earlier we set forth de Quincey's description of Dove Cottage. Just after giving such a description, he was to move along to then describe how he was to meet two ladies in the cottage. One, "a tallish young woman, with the most winning expression of benignity upon her features ... so frank in air" and, as de Quincey was to observe, "the native goodness of her manner." De Quincey is here describing Wordsworth's wife, Mary. She was "neither handsome nor even comely ... nay, generally ... very plain --

... compensatory charms of sweetness all but angelic, of simplicity the most entire, womanly self-respect and purity of heart speaking through all her looks, acts, and movements. Words I was going to have added; but her words were few. ... In complexion she was fair, and there was something peculiarly pleasing even in this accident of the skin, for it was accompanied by an animated expression of health, a blessing which, in fact, she possessed uninterruptedly."46
Coleridge adored Mary, his "beautiful green willow." Keats described her as Wordsworth's beautiful wife. De Quincey concluded his remarks by describing Mary Wordsworth as having, "a sunny benignity -- a radiant graciousness -- such as in this world I never saw surpassed" -- such glowing praise. Wordsworth's biographer, Burra, writes: "[Mary] ... served him and protected him, urged him to his poetry, and attended its labour through nearly fifty years of their lives. Writing his letters, copying his poems, nursing Dorothy, keeping the house, she served him with absolute devotion yet lost nothing of her own character, and gave him equally the wit and the criticism which was almost as useful as her love."47

As for Dorothy: well, de Quincey sung her praises, too. Dorothy, in the physical comparison, was “shorter, slighter.” Unlike most English women, she was of dark complexion, her “face was of Egyptian brown.” There was something about her eyes. There was for de Quincey something in them, wild and startling, and hurried in their motion. As for Dorothy’s personal characteristics, well, they were quite different from that which de Quincey observed in Mary.

"Her manner was warm and even ardent; her sensibility seemed constitutionally deep; and some subtle fire of impassioned intellect apparently burned within her, which, being alternately pushed forward into a conspicuous expression by the irrepressible instincts of her temperament, and then immediately checked, in obedience to the decorum of her sex and age, and her maidenly condition, gave to her whole demeanour, and to her conversation, an air of embarrassment, and even of self-conflict, that was almost distressing to witness."48
Coleridge was to write of Dorothy just shortly after he met her in 1797, in the following terms:
"She is a woman indeed! -- in mind, I mean, and heart -- for her person is such, that if you expected to see a pretty woman you would think her ordinary -- if you expected to find an ordinary woman you would think her pretty! -- But her manners are simple, ardent, impressive ... and her taste a perfect electrometer -- it bends, it protrudes, and draws in at subtlest beauties and most recondite faults."49
During the summer of 1810, Henry Crabb Robinson, on a visit back to his home town, Bury, was to meet Dorothy Wordsworth, who at the time was staying with the Clarksons. This meeting led to an invitation to Rydal Mount which Robinson took up visiting the Wordsworths in November of that year. Of Dorothy Wordsworth, Robinson was to write: "Miss W. without her brother's genius or productive power, had all his tastes and feelings, and he was in his youth and in middle age as warmly attached to her as late in life he became attached to his daughter, no one rivalling them in his affections except his admirable wife."50

With the signing of the Treaty of Amiens on May 25th, 1802, the hostilities between France and England were brought to an end, albeit, only temporarily.51 The Wordsworths were to take advantage of this lull so to make their way to France and to visit Annette and Caroline. Leaving Grasmere on July 9th they were to stop by for a visit with Coleridge (Greta Hall) and the Hutchinsons (Gallow Hill). William and Dorothy were to stay in France for a month.52 The purpose of the trip, plainly, was to get Annette's blessing on an intended marriage.53 The Wordsworths arrived back at London on August 30th. On October 4th, 1802, William Wordsworth married Mary Hutchinson, at Brompton. By October the 6th the three Wordsworths were settled in at Dove Cottage: William, Mary and Dorothy. Coleridge was to observe of Wordsworth, it seems somewhat enviously: "living wholly among Devotees -- having every minutest Thing, almost his very Eating & Drinking, done for him by his sister, or Wife."54 The following year, on June 18th, Wordsworth's first child, a son, John is born.

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2011