The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth by Frances Wilson - review by Diana Athill

Diana Athill

Astonishing Intimacy

The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth


Faber & Faber 286pp £18.99

No one could read Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal of her life with her brother at Dove Cottage, Grasmere, without realising that her love for him was uncommonly passionate. Even someone with a superficial knowledge of William Wordsworth’s life and works will know that he felt his sister to be so much a part of him that he used her observations, and even her words, in poems he wrote at the time.

… Where’er my footsteps turned,

Her Voice was like a hidden Bird that sang;

The thought of her was like a flash of light

Or an unseen companionship, a breath

Or fragrance independent of the wind.

Their intimacy astonishes; and so does their physical energy. They constantly walked daunting distances, and (in her case) did exhausting work about the house and garden, in spite of being laid low again and again by headaches and stomach upsets which seem suspiciously neurotic. Frances Wilson scrutinises their relationship with

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