There is no doubt that there are strong similarities between Dorothy Wordsworth’s “Grasmere Journal” and William Wordsworth’s poem “I wandered lonely as a cloud”. The relationship between these two pieces is clearly illuminated by Frances Wilson and his critical take upon events highlighted in Dorothy’s Journal. As well as Wilson, Susan M. Levin also takes a theoretical look at the relationship, suggesting that Dorothy’s Works should be sufficiently analyzed and to proclaim Dorothy as a writing “genius” rather than “a member of the Wordsworth household” (Levin, Subtle Fire: Dorothy Wordsworth’s Prose & Poetry, 345). This essay discusses the relationship between the two writings using Wilson’s critical view of events and to a lesser extent Levin’s theoretical reading.
The relationship between William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy has been one of the most talked about in the English language, and rightfully so. After being separated as a result of their mother’s passing, William and Dorothy’s lives were changed drastically (Wilson, Wordsworths in Love, 1). It wasn’t until the death of their father that brought brother and sister back together again, to re-kindle that bond they never really got to experience as they grew up (Ibid). It was the developing of this bond that played such an important role in both William and Dorothy’s literary lives. This is clearly illuminated by Frances Wilson. Wilson talks of the intriguing and intimate relationship between both Dorothy and William. Taking into account Dorothy’s “Grasmere journal”, Wilson brings to light the weird ceremony William shared with his sister on his wedding day. “Earlier that day in the same room, William and Dorothy had performed a private ceremony of their own. She had removed the wedding ring she had been wearing all night and handed it back to him. He had then returned it to her finger before taking it away again to place on the hand of Mary” (Ibid).
The ring was intended to be worn by Mary Hutchison, William’s soon to be wife. It would not be unusual for people to question the relationship between William and Dorothy after hearing about this private ceremony of theirs. It is undoubtedly out of the norm and would have been damaging to both their reputations, especially William’s if anyone would have gotten word of it back then. It seemed as though someone did not want anyone finding out about this secret as Wilson goes on to explain how the passage describing this ceremony “was later heavily scored out in black”(Ibid). It goes without saying though, that Dorothy did have an effect upon William himself and his writing. Wilson once again shows how the two forged a special type of bond between one another. He points out the fact that, in the result of the two losing both their parents, William and Dorothy “became parents to one another” in a sort of attempt to “replace the home that had been taken from them” (Ibid). Dorothy would also play a profound role in William’s writing career.
It was at the beginning of “Wordsworth’s most creative period” that the two finally started living together (Ibid). At this stage Dorothy had become William’s “muse” giving him “ears and eyes” and was to William “the essence of Romantic sensibility” (Ibid). Dorothy would follow and do anything for William. She was often seen by the villagers picking up pieces of paper he had dropped behind him (Ibid). Not only did Dorothy play a part in William’s writing, she also had an effect upon his personal lifestyle (Ibid). Even when William was married with Mary Hutchison, they had to hide “the depth and exclusivity of their love” from Dorothy (Ibid, 2). It was “only when Dorothy’s back was turned could they steal a kiss or share a private thought” (Ibid). William even discouraged Mary from writing over affectionately in their letters in case it upset Dorothy (Ibid).
The relationship Dorothy and William had was unusually close seeing as they were only brother and sister. The closeness of this relationship though transmuted through bought of their work as we can scarily see how much alike the pair where. Dorothy Wordsworth on her own though was not seen as the revolutionary writer her brother was. She was in the back-round, a mere family “member of the Wordsworth household” (Levin, Subtle Fire: Dorothy Wordsworth’s Prose & Poetry, 345). Dorothy was never beautiful, a thin women who looked ill and twenty years older than she actually was (Wilson, Wordsworths in Love, 1). You would not think this though if you have ever read her work. Wilson describes her suitably, telling us how “It was her energy rather than her appearance that appealed” (Ibid). Dorothy’s gift of writing is something to envy. She describes scenes of complete peace with descriptions that bring them to life and make them almost as real to touch.
These “minute descriptions of the natural world” are seen throughout her Grasmere Journal and some of her writing style reflects that of Coleridge and of course Wordsworth (Ibid). Some of these descriptions create the scene perfectly as if it were in front of your eyes: “A Violent Storm in the wood; sheltered under the hollies. When we left home the moon immensely large, the sky scattered over with the clouds” (Wordsworth, Dorothy, Extract from Dorothy Wordsworth’s ‘Grasmere Journal’, 287). It was such observations like this which has propelled Dorothy into literary limelight today. She without question has a talent, something though which was never discovered back then, or so it seems to be. Dorothy Wordsworth as a writer and not as the sister of William shows the same capacity of writing her brother does, if not more. Her ability to capture landscapes with words adds fuel to the notion of her creating a unity between man and nature.
This is also seen within her Grasmere Journal, where she seems to be one with the natural world, using it as a way of describing her inner and deepest emotions. “The distant country…, overhung by straggling clouds that sailed over it, appeared like the darker clouds which are often seen at a great distance apparently motionless, while the nearer ones pass quickly over them, driven by the lower winds” (Ibid, 288). Dorothy said she had never seen such a “union of earth” (Ibid). This statement could be seen as something more than just an observation and maybe Dorothy’s way of declaring that this is how she feels in light of her brother William, “motionless” and being over taken by him as he is “quickly” being “driven by the lower winds” or his writing career (Ibid).
Dorothy though could do what many other writers try to still do, and that is to capture the essence of a season in a sentence. Her most capturing sentence throughout her Grasmere journal is one that sums up the feeling of winter in many ways perfectly. “It is a cold keen frost” (Ibid, 298). Agree with it or not, Dorothy’s use of the simplest language seems to bring to life the essence of a season that is full of emotions. It is hard to say that Dorothy Wordsworth would have been as big as her brother if any of her writings were published, but she does bring to the table the idea that her and William shared ideas and this is clearly seen in the similarities between “I wandered Lonely As A Cloud” and her “Grasmere Journal”.
The similarities between both pieces of work are undeniable. William has clearly seen and interpreted the same scene Dorothy saw, or quite simply William, literally has taken a page from Dorothy’s book. Both of these statements are arguable. William Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” has been interpreted differently over the years and has come under fire from some criticism (Motion, The Host with The Most). This is in contrast to Dorothy’s piece though which was been more celebrated since its publishing (Ibid). The thing that is striking about the two pieces is not how similar they are structurally, but how similar they are thematically. As this essay discussed earlier on, Dorothy tries to form a link between the physical world and the natural world, a type of unity which she seems to achieve with her observations of close and precise detail. “…This wind blew directly over the lake to them.
There was here and there a little knot, and a few stragglers a few yards higher up; but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity, and unity, and life of that one busy highway.” (Wordsworth, Dorothy, Extract from Dorothy Wordsworth’s ‘Grasmere Journal’, 293). Like Dorothy, William tries to forge his own idea of unity of the same context but with different ways of interpreting it through the means of simple language. “Continuous as the stars that shine/and twinkle on the milky way/they stretched in never-ending line/Along the margin of the bay:” (Wordsworth, I wandered Lonely as a Cloud, Lines 7-10). Referring to the daffodils as continuous as stars suggests to us how “Wordsworth himself plays with the ideas of past, present and future coming together in a single but durable golden moment” (Motion, The Host with The Most).
Where we see how “Dorothy confirms the idea of “unity” in a physical sense” (Ibid). Both pieces are similar in their ideas and leaves burden on to whom actually wrote which. Did William Wordsworth even write “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”? Could it be a case of William using his sister’s description and putting his own twist upon it? Or it could be suggested that it was simply the fact that the brother and sister were so close that their way of writing and interpreting the natural world was on the exact same wavelength, this being a result of their ultra-intimate relationship they formed growing up, hence the scarily close relationship between the two pieces.
Another Writer which illuminates the relationship between the two pieces is Susan M. Levin. Levin interprets the relationship differently. She explains how Dorothy Wordsworth’s pieces of work “demand analysis as literary works, intentionally conceived and executed” (Subtle Fire: Dorothy Wordsworth’s Prose & Poetry, 345). She continues on to explain of how we should draw our attention away from focusing on Dorothy as a typically “repressed female”, avoid “turning her complicated history into a case of history in the oppression of women”, and concentrate solely “on the numerous texts she completed” (Ibid). Levin here has a point and a very obvious, but original way of looking at Dorothy. As the essay mentioned before, Dorothy was categorically unknown as a writer and that is what most critics today focus upon when talking about Dorothy Wordsworth.
They diverge from her excellence is her work and talk a lot more about how she was, as Levin puts it “a member of the Wordsworth household” (Ibid). What critics and writers alike should be focusing on is how important Dorothy’s work is, instead of comparing her to William. This argument illuminates the idea of the relationship between the two pieces of writing. Should we as critics focus so heavily on comparing Dorothy’s work to William’s? Instead of taking a closer look at Dorothy’s on its own. Many could say that Dorothy is an important figure for feminist writers. This is so because Dorothy, as a woman of that time, where women were usually always considered second best to men, was a sort of challenger to the cannon. She was a voice for women against the andocentric literary world of that time.
In conclusion it is hard to deny the clear similarities between William Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a Cloud” and Dorothy Wordsworth’s “Grasmere Journal”. The intimate relationship that played such an important part in both writers’ lives highlighted by Frances Wilson and his piece has shown us just how close William and Dorothy were and the idea of them being that close that their thoughts and interpretations were similar is one of food for thought. The other piece by Susan M. Levin which was not so much focused on illuminated the fact that maybe Dorothy as a female writer is an important literary figure of her time, and that when we look and study Dorothy as a writer we should steer clear from her past and un-associate her from her brother who back then was her idol in every sense of the word, and the one who always took the limelight.
Levin, Susan M., 1980, Subtle Fire: Dorothy Wordsworth’s Prose and Poetry, The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 21(2), 345-365. Motion, Andrew, 2004, The host with the most, The Guardian, The Guardian Review Section, 6. Wilson, Frances, 2008, Wordsworths in love, The Times, From The Times February 23rd. Wordsworth, Dorothy, Extract from Dorothy Wordsworth’s ‘Grasmere Journal, 286-289. Wordsworth, William, I wandered lonely as a Cloud, Found in O’Neill, Stephen, 2010, First Year English Volume 1 (Ed 2nd), 4, Essex, Pearson Education Limited.