To claim that Dorothy Wordsworth was a central figure in English 19th century literature would be unprecise and probably a bit of an overstatement. Some, if not most of her works have been given a critical analysis in contemporary times, but in her own lifetime she was an unpublished writer and only popular in a small circle of intellectual writers, including her own beloved brother. The Wordsworth children were all born at Cockermouth, in Cumbria: Richard was born 1768, then William in 1770, Dorothy in 1771, John in 1772, and Christopher in 1774; William and Dorothy, however, were probably the closest. So close that theories of an incestuous relationships between the two have always circulated but were never truly proved as real. It was more likely that Dorothy ‘petted his brother on the carpet’ , as she had once written in a letter, in a brotherly and innocent way.
However, studies can now show how Dorothy was influential to William and his literary works as well as those of other artists like Samuel Coleridge. Some influences need to be proved and analysed by connecting Dorothy’s journals with the works of her brother, but others are quite clear and evident. “Tintern Abbey“, which is probably William Wordsworth’s most popular poem alludes to his love for his sister and the same family dedication is mirrored in Dorothy’s poem “Thoughts on My Sick Bed“.
The relationship between the two, and the mutual artistic exchange of inspiration is often only seen from the perspective of William, as he is the most popular and more prolific author between them. Rarely do studies dwell on the way Dorothy’s work was influenced by William’s or on how Dorothy’s production stands alone independently. This is one more reason to look into Dorothy’s work, but it is not easy to see and study Dorothy as a distinct author, without ever drawing William’s name into play. Her journals do tell of daily life at Wordsworth house and clearly show the sense of devotion she had for her own family and William, with whom she lived before and after his marriage.
However, when they were young they spent many years apart, going to different schools and basically following different directions. Despite being that close, William pursued studies in England and travelled to France, where he was fascinated by the French Revolution, whereas Dorothy remained in domestic environment. Did this limit her chances of nurturing her talent? Not necessarily. She provided herself with inspiration from her own life, despite continuing to lead a very static life. Her poem “Floating Island” says at some point: “There insects live their lives and die. A peopled world it is, in size a tiny room“. Even if she could expand her imagination in an exceptional way and could excel with her own creative process, she was always very aware of the limited possibilities that she had in life. Her poems are filled with rich imaginative scenery but one can always perceive these as retrospective thoughts and home, the house, the familiar place is always right round the corner.
Yet, Dorothy has a style of her own. She is a discreet but simple poet and does not need any tall talk, and perhaps the reason that made her journals so beautiful to read is their narrative and descriptive style. That same style can be found in her poems, which almost appear as intimate but never vague stories. Accurate in descriptions and in expressing the mood of a woman who seems demure but never fails in any way to deliver a message on her feelings.