Wordsworth on the rise

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In the garden at Dove Cottage, Grasmere – Wordsworth’s humble, rented abode where we were told Coleridge would walk over from Keswick, arriving at midnight, at which point Dorothy Wordsworth would rustle up a quick fried steak in the kitchen. All I remember from a look at her journal long ago was that she seemed to go about ‘washing her head’ a lot. However, I’m happy to hear that there’s now a growing narrative around her in which she’s gaining perhaps a hint of Plath-like tragedy. Despite this, I’m unable to shake an image of a slightly put-upon seventies-era Coronation Street character, with toothache.

I might not have remembered this that well, but I think these were decorated by one of Wordsworth’s servants. The finest decorated eggs I’ve ever seen…

Despite the recent image of Wordsworth as counter-culture beatnik type, a visit to his homes suggests a more conventional merging with the mainstream. There was a steady rise from the humble cottage to Allen Bank, a newly-built villa-style property across the water, and then on to the ‘rather lovely’ Rydall Mount, where it seems he rested on his laurels. So a literal clamber up the bank to the summit, with a Government post at £400 a year on the way.

Allen Bank is now open and the National Trust are presenting it as salvaged from a recent fire, welcoming everyone with cups of tea and inviting them to choose wallpaper and fabric for stripped and prepared rooms. There are lots of great little Post-it notes with suggestions, and also some wonderful pomposity in the additions from characters who sign their contributions ‘RIBA’ (Royal Institute of British Architects). Presumably this is so that we will all realise the weight of their considerations: Maureen from Scarborough and the others will just have to get back in their place and realise on a later visit that their comments are simply the work of domestic novices.

The view from the window above was a favourite of Dorothy Wordsworth’s apparently – she called it a ‘paradise on earth’ or something similar. That didn’t convince me she was a 19th-century Plath either.

These last two images are from a chapel in the grounds of Allen Bank. The Magic Lantern Cinema and Restaurant sounds fantastic. I hope it was housed in the chapel – a couple of wine glasses in the ruins suggest so. Perhaps it was a cross between chicken-in-a-basket and Cinema Paradiso. It won’t be a ruin for long as the chapel is a candidate for restoration fairly soon. I love the chickenwire and the lamenting character in the window though…

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7 thoughts on “Wordsworth on the rise

  1. I never got the impression from her diaries that she was especially Plath like either. When she wasn’t obsessing about her brother she was heading to bed because she felt ill.

    • Yes, that’s what I remember – though plenty of hours copying up, proofing and unrecognised insights probably explained a lot. You can buy Dorothy Wordsworth mugs now, so she’s probably feeling she’s got her dues now…

  2. Allen Bank looks an intriguing place to visit (I want to go to the Magic Lantern Cinema and Restaurant! It sounds like something straight out of an Angela Carter novel – especially with the rather wandered-around-the-corner-and-found-itself-landed-here juxtaposition with a chapel!) I hope it was housed there too. That would be even more Angela Carter!

    I really enjoyed this post and I love your photos – full of melancholy glimpses of time’s layers. Very appropriate to Wordsworth! And those eggs are – well… sublime!

    There’s a very illuminating biography of Dorothy Wordsworth, which I borrowed from the library a couple of years ago, called ‘The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth’ by Frances Wilson. A really absorbing read – full of so many insights into the Wordsworths and the trajectory and influences of their lives…

  3. I read Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals alongside Wordsworth’s poetry. There are so many interesting parallels between the two; not in their writing style, but certainly in their vision of the natural world and the Lake District scenery they both loved. Thank you for this interesting post!

    • Thanks for following and great you enjoyed this – very interesting how Dorothy’s observations informed her brother’s work. Sometimes our perceptions of the ‘great’ writers and poets are clouded by the odd sketches we make from things picked up here and there over the years. Feel I have to re-read and be better informed!

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