Pamela Woof is a scholar and author, President of the Wordsworth Trust and widow of Dr Robert Woof whose energy and vision helped create one of the world’s great literary museums here in Grasmere. She’s also one of the brightest people I know; and this year she, along with curator Jeff Cowton, has put together, using manuscripts and letters, a major exhibition of the life and work of Dorothy Wordsworth.
The Romantic Movement was a social and cultural revolution of the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century that challenged and swept aside pre-conceived notions of class and hierarchy and shook the establishment to its core, laying the foundations for our modern society. Exponents grew their hair long, called for equality and social justice and expressed their ‘radical’ views through politics, art, literature and science. Regarded as dangerous and viewed with suspicion the passage below from the diary of a local parson at the time of the Wordsworth and Coleridges’ residence in Somerset gives an insight as to how they were generally perceived.
From the diaries of William Holland, a Somerset parson
Wednesday October 23rd 1799
Went with my wife to Stowey…saw that Democratic hoyden Mrs Coleridge who looked so like a friskey girl or something worse that I was not surprised that a Democratic Libertine should choose her for a wife. The husband gone to London suddenly, no one here can tell why. Met the patron of democrats, Mr Thos Poole who smiled and chatted a little. He was on his grey mare. Satan himself cannot be more false and hypocritical.
Throughout her life Dorothy was regarded as a peripheral figure in the Romantic Movement and her influence on her brother’s work was for many years overlooked. His constant companion and confidant, she was with Wordsworth and Coleridge during the conception and production of Lyrical Ballads, a book generally regarded as the Romantic Movement’s seminal work. Her hand is everywhere: from the sharing of ideas, the copying and re-copying of drafts to the characters and descriptions that find their way from the pages of her journals into her brother’s poems.
There is a timeless and effortless style to her writing that makes her so interesting and readable and a major exhibition of her life and work is long overdue.
Pamela is the acclaimed editor of Dorothy’s journals, and there are parallels. The exhibition opens a fascinating portal into the minds of two remarkable women.
Dorothy Wordsworth’s recipe for boiled gooseberry jam
7th August 1800
Boiled gooseberries – NB 2lbs of sugar in the first panful, 3 quarts all good measure – 3lb in the 2nd 4 quarts – 2 ½ lb in the 3rd
Dorothy Wordsworth ‘Wonders of the Everyday’ was opened by Carol Ann Duffy on 11 April and runs until January 5th 2014
For opening times and more information go to wordsworth.org.uk
Next week: Blackburn Blues