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The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth: A Life

3.56  ·  Rating Details ·  115 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
Described by the writer and opium addict Thomas De Quincey as "the very wildest . . . person I have ever known," DorothyWordsworth was neither the self-effacing spinster nor the sacrificial saint of common telling. A brilliant stylist in her own right, Dorothy was at the center of the Romantic movement of the early nineteenth century. She was her brother William Wordsworth ...more
ebook, 336 pages
Published February 17th 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Terrible writing, I really had to force myself to finish this book. I think what bothered me the most was how the author, Frances Wilson, would compare these real life people -- Dorothy Wordsworth, her brother, William Wordsworth, and Coleridge-- with book characters. Here are a few examples --

". . . The relationship between Dorothy and William is simply too demanding, or to embarrassing, to deal with. These biographers are positioned in relation to their story like Nelly Dean, the tone less na
Jan 22, 2015 Sally rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I bought this book from a second hand book seller, intrigued to read more of the story of Dorothy Wordsworth and her relationship with her brother William.
Dorothy is utterly fascinating and it makes a great read in the genre of womens social history, that for the most part still bears a relationship to issues for women in modern day society. (view spoiler)
Anastasia Hobbet
Jul 17, 2013 Anastasia Hobbet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
I had some moments of doubt about this one. Frances Wilson writes with vast assurance about the murky depths of Dorothy Wordsworth's mind even while admitting that Dorothy herself had no idea what was going on there. In a sense, she's trying to have it both ways: she portrays Dorothy as an unstable, permeable membrane of a person, a woman without a clear identity, and yet she gives Dorothy a vivid and legible self: throughout the book, she speculates in great detail about what exactly D was thin ...more
Sep 16, 2016 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an engaging, well balanced biography of Dorothy Wordsworth, who I find absolutely fascinating. Wilson focuses in on Dorothy's Alfoxden and Grasmere Journal years, really pulls it apart, to a level that some readers might think unneccessary. I found this really entertaining, plus it supports Wilson's arguments at the same time. The relationship between Dorothy and her brother William is discussed in some depth, but it covers all the opinions that had been currently voiced at the time
Mar 18, 2009 Mary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Surprisingly, detailed analysis of Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere journals make for good reading. The book is a good length and has a nice narrative feel to it.The romantic genius cluster is a fascinating one and all the members are included here - STC, WW, De Quincey, the Hutchinsons. Though she never published, DW was influential to all, devoted to Coleridge, and the center of her brother's world (no case for incest here.) The more I read, however, the more I dislike WW - he enjoys surrounding ...more
Carmen Montopoli
I really wish I could give this more stars. I love Dorothy Wordsworth. The bio was just kind of, well, boring. Repetitive, is a better word. Meandering.

And yes, it is about Romantic poets, so that's probably an appropriate stylistic choice, but I just found myself getting bored instead of really diving into the world.
Jun 04, 2017 Joyce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having just visited Dove Cottage, the Wordsworth home in Grasmere, England, I devoured this account of Dorothy Wordsworth based on the author's interpretation of Dorothy's journals, letters and writings. Well-researched and thoughtfully presented, it made Wordsworth, Dorothy and Samuel Coleridge come alive for me. Wilson also offers context by comparing the close sibling relationship and the questions that arise about its nature with literary relationships in Bronte's Wuthering Heights and Jane ...more
John Pendrey
Nov 22, 2012 John Pendrey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was deeply disturbed by the life and sufferings of Dorothy. Dorothy's beautiful writing and poems come from so much repression and pain. Not a superficial study but a book that takes you deep into the inner world of a suffering soul. Brother William's poems were written with her inspiration and help. 'Freed' from her brother she wrote in "Thoughts on my sick-bed"

......The violet betrayed by its noiseless breath,
The daffodil dancing in the breeze,
The caroling thrush, on his naked perch,
May 10, 2009 Pamela rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was somewhat disappointed by this book. I bought it because I heard the author interviewed on NPR, and I've always wanted to know more about Dorothy's diaries and her influence on her brother William's poetry. While I did learn a good deal about this brother-sister relationship, and while there were satisfyingly ample excerpts from Dorothy's Grasmere journals, the biographer has that annoying (and all-too-common) habit of presuming to know exactly what was going on in a long-dead person's mind ...more
Emily Williams
Where to begin with this one? I'll speak plainly: I am a Dorothy Wordsworth fan; she was a better poet than her brother. There, I said it.

Wilson's biography is a bit unconventional; there's more of Wilson's narrative voice attempting to explain the story of the poets' lives than the Wordsworths speaking for themselves through diaries, correspondence, etc. This is by no means a nuts and bolts biography of Dorothy's life; it's far too short for that. It's a poetic retelling (and in some ways, resh
Suzanne Kreps
Mar 29, 2009 Suzanne Kreps rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I knew nothing about the Wordsworths, William or Dorothy before I read this book. (I was inspired to read it in part by National Poetry Month) The intense brother and sister relationship, (what I sense as) Dorothy's own thwarted ambition and the description of the era is utterly fascinating. I bought this at Fox bookstore in Philadelphia, one of the city's oldest bookstores. The older woman at the cashier suggested to me that I would want to read Dorothy's journals. I thought to myself that this ...more
Elizabeth Ashworth
This was an attempt to discover the character of Dorothy Wordsworth from her writing, mostly the journals that she kept. I found her to be an enigmatic but fascinating character and Frances Wilson's book was readable and interesting without her putting too many of her own thoughts into Dorothy's head. I finished feeling that I knew a little more about Dorothy, but wishing that I knew more. She was a talented writer who seems to have subsumed that talent into the work of the brother she was passi ...more
Jul 17, 2014 Martha rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
No fiction could be more extraordinary or worrying than the lives of the Wordsworths and friends. In this, Frances Wilson's tale, Dorothy, William's sister, lives her long life. The story suffers a bit from Wilson's psychological theories but cannot fail because of its subject matter. Wilson uses Dorothy's famous Grasmere Journals but also her letters. Dorothy wrote volumes of each while tending house, tending brother and walking and walking and walking! Her life is a banquet for Freudians but, ...more
Oct 01, 2013 Romily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
After having read the Journals I wanted to know more about Dorothy and the few years that her diary covers. This book makes an excellent attempt to put the writings into context. Some of the interpretations can be seen as contentious and most biographers will try to fit the material into a preconceived pattern. I did however find what Frances Wilson had to say both convincing and lucid.
2.5 stars. This was vaguely disappointing. It wasn't just wasn't great, either. A little dull and repetitive--not what I was hoping for from a book I'd really been looking forward to. Damn you, unreasonably high expectations.
Mar 30, 2009 Robertswhite is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting psychological study of William Wordsworth's muse. Did they sleep together? Not likely. Was Dorothy in love with her brother? Undoubtedly. Did he use her in service of his poetry? Likely.
Aug 14, 2016 Stephen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
A biography of Dorothy Wordsworth gleaned from a close reading of her Grasmere journals. Wilson is insightful, funny, and unafraid of challenging received opinions, which helps make this biography a fresh of fresh air.
Drew Rupard
Someone here called it murky. That, and it was really speculative and sensational and the writing wasn't very good. But she opened up some new ideas which are useful when thinking of Dorothy's life and the Wordsworths.
Kelly Smeeton
An excellent book about the sister of William Wordsworth. I studied her journal for my degree and found it rather dull but loved this book! Especially after visiting Dove Cottage and Grasmere last week!
Kathleen Ruttum

I agree with the other reviewers; kinda boring. I came away feeling sorry for Dorothy but also angry that she didn't do more to make her life more interesting. Clearly she was talented but she sort of just wasted that.
Mary Beth
This was a slow, slow read. Granted, I did learn something about Dorothy Wordsworth, about whom I knew nothing before this book. However, I felt like I had to force myself to read it.
Interesting view into a Romantic poet's hippie-style life.
May 02, 2008 Diana marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
The crazy true biography of Wordsworth's sister, Dorothy. Forthcoming in the US from FSG in Winter '09 (I am reading the British edition).
Rachel Scollon
Sep 01, 2009 Rachel Scollon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I would say the Wordsworths were the sort of people who lie still in trenches for hours trying to find out what it's like to be dead, except I'm not sure there are any other people in this category.
Much like Dorothy's life, it starts off interestingly but then gets stuck in a rut.
Sep 26, 2011 Neena rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I finally finished, but not because of a lack in interest. In fact, the subject is fascinating.
Sheila Elkon
A little academic for me - but because Wordsworth's sister was so intriguing, ultimately it was worthwhile.
Dec 07, 2009 Cheryl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating look at the sister of William Wordsworth -- and wonderful to discover the influence she had and what an artist she was. I loved this book.
I dont know about this book. I just dont trust it.
Louise Chambers
Louise Chambers rated it it was ok
Feb 18, 2010
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Frances Wilson was educated at Oxford University and lectured on nineteenth- and twentieth-century English literature for fifteen years before becoming a full-time writer. Her books include Literary Seductions: Compulsive Writers and Diverted Readers and The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth: A Life, which won the British Academy Rose Mary Crawshay Prize. She reviews widely in the British press and is ...more
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