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6.7 Dorothy Wordsworth (1771–1855)

PLEASE NOTE: This book is currently in draft form; material is not final.

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify tenets of Romanticism in Wordsworth’s journal entries.
  2. Recognize Dorothy Wordsworth’s contributions to William Wordsworth’s poetry as well as her literary accomplishments in her own right.


Dorothy Wordsworth was the middle child of five, with two older brothers including William Wordsworth and two younger brothers. Her mother died when she was six, her father when she was twelve. Separated from her brothers, Wordsworth lived in the care of relatives, then worked caring for their children when she was older. After years of seeing her brothers only on holidays, when in her early twenties Wordsworth moved to Alfoxden with William. Here she kept a journal of their activities, including their frequent meetings with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, then living with his wife and child at nearby Nether Stowey.

As an unmarried woman, Wordsworth was dependent upon her brother and lived with him even after he married and had his own family. In later life, she became ill, both physically and mentally, and probably addicted to laudanum.





Alfoxden Journal

April 15, 1798

Set forward after breakfast to Crookham, and returned to dinner at three o’clock. A fine cloudy morning. Walked about the squire’s grounds. Quaint waterfalls about, about which Nature was very successfully striving to make beautiful what art had deformed—ruins, hermitages, etc. etc. In spite of all these things, the dell romantic and beautiful, though everywhere planted with unnaturalised trees. Happily we cannot shape the huge hills, or carve out the valleys according to our fancy.

Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth ed. William Knight. London. Macmillan. 1897. Hathi Trust Digital Library.

In 1798, while William Wordsworth and Coleridge prepared to publish Lyrical Ballads, the volume that would herald the Romantic age in British literature, Dorothy Wordsworth began her Alfoxden journal. Although many of her entries contain only simple notes about daily activities—having dinner, hanging linen—some passages include vivid natural description and commentary on the essence of nature that mirrors Romantic philosophy. Her entry for April 15, for example, voices the anti-neoclassical idea that organic nature is superior to nature transformed by human hands. This April passage was written months before Lyrical Ballads was published, probably in the fall of 1798.

Alfoxden Journal

February 24, 1798

Went to the hill-top. Sat a considerable time overlooking the country towards the sea. The air blew pleasantly round us. The landscape mildly interesting. The Welsh hills capped by a huge range of tumultuous white clouds. The sea, spotted with white, of a bluish grey in general, and streaked with darker lines. The near shores clear; scattered farm houses, half-concealed by green mossy orchards, fresh straw lying at the doors; hay-stacks in the fields. Brown fallows, the springing wheat, like a shade of green over the brown earth, and the choice meadow plots, full of sheep and lambs, of a soft and vivid green; a few wreaths of blue smoke, spreading along the ground; the oaks and beeches in the hedges retaining their yellow leaves; the distant prospect on the land side, islanded with sunshine; the sea, like a basin full to the margin; the dark fresh-ploughed fields; the turnips of a lively rough green. Returned through the wood.

Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth ed. William Knight. London. Macmillan. 1897. Hathi Trust Digital Library.

Alfoxden Journal

February 26, 1798

Coleridge came in the morning, and Mr. and Mrs. Cruikshank; walked with Coleridge nearly to Stowey after dinner. A very clear afternoon. We lay sidelong upon the turf, and gazed on the landscape till it melted into more than natural loveliness. The sea very uniform, of a pale greyish blue, only one distant bay, bright and blue as a sky; had there been a vessel sailing up it, a perfect image of delight. Walked to the top of a high hill to see a fortification. Again sat down to feed upon the prospect; a magnificent scene, curiously spread out for even minute inspection, though so extensive that the mind is afraid to calculate its bounds. A winter prospect shows every cottage, every farm, and the forms of distant trees, such as in summer have no distinguishing mark. On our return, Jupiter and Venus before us. While the twilight still over-powered the light of the moon, we were reminded that she was shining bright above our heads, by our faint shadows going before us. We had seen her on the tops of the hills, melting into the blue sky. Poole called while we were absent.

Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth Vol. 1. ed. William Knight. London. Macmillan. 1897, 1904. Hathi Trust Digital Library.

These two passages evince Wordsworth’s descriptive powers. Note the passage in which she describes gazing at nature until it dissolves into a scene of “more than natural loveliness,” a beauty that she describes as beyond naturalness, a view that is supernatural. Also note her use of the word “feed” to characterize her absorption of the view, an image that her brother William would use five months later in “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” to convey the experience of storing a natural image to recall in moments of “tranquil restoration.”

Grasmere Journals

April 15, 1802

It was a threatening, misty morning, but mild. We set off after dinner from Eusemere. Mrs. Clarkson went a short way with us, but turned back. The wind was furious, and we thought we must have returned. We first rested in the large boathouse, then under a furze bush opposite Mr. Clarkson’s. Saw the plough going in the field. The wind seized our breath. The lake was rough. There was a boat by itself floating in the middle of the bay below Water Millock. We rested again in the Water Millock Lane. The hawthorns are black and green, the birches here and there greenish, but there is yet more of purple to be seen on the twigs. We got over into a field to avoid some cows—people working. A few primroses by the roadside—woodsorrel flower, the anemone, scentless violets, strawberries, and that starry, yellow flower which Mrs. C. calls pile wort. When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow Park we saw a few daffodils close to the water-side. We fancied that the sea had floated the seeds ashore, and that the little colony had so sprung up. But as we went along there were more and yet more; and at last, under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about and above them; some rested their heads upon these stones, as on a pillow, for weariness; and the rest tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind, that blew upon them over the lake; they looked so gay, ever glancing, ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here and there a little knot, and a few stragglers higher up; but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity, unity, and life of that one busy highway. We rested again and again. The bays were stormy, and we heard the waves at different distances, and in the middle of the water, like the sea.…All was cheerless and gloomy, so we faced the storm. At Dobson’s I was very kindly treated by a young woman. The landlady looked sour, but it is her way.…William was sitting by a good fire when I came downstairs. He soon made his way to the library, piled up in a corner of the window. He brought out a volume of Enfield’s Speaker, another miscellany, and an odd volume of Congreve’s plays. We had a glass of warm rum and water. We enjoyed ourselves, and wished for Mary. It rained and blew, when we went to bed.

Wordsworth began writing her Grasmere Journals when she and William moved to Grasmere to live in Dove Cottage. This passage from the 1802 journal is undoubtedly one of the most well known as critics delight in pointing out that William Wordsworth’s famous description of daffodils in his poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” probably composed in 1804, owes much to Dorothy Wordsworth’s earlier description.

Wordsworth’s Journals were not published until long after her death. With the late 20th century interest in women’s writing, her work began to receive the attention it deserves.

Key Takeaways

  • Dorothy Wordsworth contributed to William Wordsworth’s poetry through her detailed records of their activities in nature, sometimes including specific wording from her journals.
  • Although she protested that she had no wish to become a writer herself, Dorothy Wordsworth’s works are now acknowledged as having literary merit of their own.


  1. Dorothy Wordsworth once claimed that she would hate being a published poet like her brother William. What societal and cultural factors do you think might have contributed to that opinion? Had Dorothy Wordsworth desired to become a published poet, how receptive do you think publishers and the public would have been to poetry written by a woman?
  2. In the Feb. 26, 1798 passage, Wordsworth describes lying on the grass and gazing on the natural scene “till it melted into more than natural loveliness.” How would you interpret this experience?
  3. Compare the daffodil passage from Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal with William’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.”


General Information