Monday 4 February 2008

The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth

I’ve received from Faber a proof copy of a new book by Frances Wilson, The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth, and its appeal for me is twofold. First, it’s good to have a break from a steady diet of crime fiction every now and then (even though my to-be-read pile of crime novels grows higher and higher in the meantime.) Second, I like to think that absorbing myself in Dorothy’s Grasmere is good preparation for work on the new Lake District mystery, especially as the Wordsworths’ associate, Thomas de Quincey, will feature in my story. It's always refreshing to escape from the everyday world into the Lakes - a place which seems to me to have an almost dream-like atmosphere.

On a quick first look, Wilson has done a good job with this biography, drawing in particular on four notebooks written by Dorothy and known as the Grasmer Journals. She presents a picture of a woman much more complex than her conventional image. De Quincey said she was ‘all fire…and ardour’ and the ‘very wildest (in the sense of the most natural) person I have ever known.’

I’ve already discovered how little I know about Dorothy’s life, which ended in the tragedy of a profound mental collapse. De Quincey suggested that her breakdown was due to boredom after the marriage of her brother (she was too distraught to attend the wedding ceremony and she stopped writing shortly afterwards) and to the long-term effects of suppressed literary talents. So it’s a story with an unhappy ending, but Wilson seems like a writer both sensitive and sympathetic to her subject and I’m expecting to learn a good deal from her book.


Jilly said...

I've always felt Dorothy was neglected and overshadowed by Wordsworth and Coleridge, so I shall be looking out for the book.

Anonymous said...

This is a lovely post, thank you.
Did you see that Frank Wilson of Books, Inq. picked it up, and an earlier one of yours?

Martin Edwards said...

Yes, Petrona, and I think my thanks are due to you for letting him know ahout them. Much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know about this book -- I like Frances Wilson's work very much and also know quite a bit about DW. Thanks for this review -- must get hold of it!