The Grasmere Journal
‘The Grasmere Journal’ by Dorothy Wordsworth, is just such a book. Beautifully produced by the Folio Society, it is the perfect classic book for nature lovers this spring.
Although many are familiar with William Wordsworth, we are less so with his sister Dorothy, and so this delightful journal covering her life at Dove Cottage, Grasmere, in the English Lake District, takes the reader on an interesting and in many cases enlightening journey of her daily family life.
Started in May 1800, she wrote her record for the next three years. We are treated to walks, weather, boating on the lake, taking down William’s poems and their famous visitors. We get a unique insight into the domestic life of the Wordsworth’s and particularly Dorothy, an unconventional woman, with a startlingly original voice whose acute observation of nature and her surroundings makes a compelling story.
She seems to have worked particularly hard in her domestic duties and from her diary one gets the impression she continued to run the family home after her brother William married.
Living in the Lake District I immediately found resonance with her descriptions of the weather and her walks: June 2nd 1800 – ‘A cold dry windy morning. I worked in the garden and planted flowers etc. Sate under the trees after dinner till tea time. John Fisher stuck the peas, Molly weeded and washed.’
And this from November 1801: November 9th Monday – ‘The mountains for ever varying, now hid in the clouds, and now with their tops visible while perhaps they were half concealed below – Legberthwaite beautiful. We ate bread and cheese at John Stanley’s, and reached Keswick without fatigue just before dark. …….supped at Mr Jackson’s. Mary and I sate in C’s room a while.’
Her descriptions of the scenery are as poetic as her brother’s poems and she never intended her journal to be read by others or for publication – she was writing a record of the creative, intellectual and loving life she shared with William – it was intended for William only. So the modern reader is in many respects accorded a special honour in being able to share her life through this new publication.
This is no boring account of domestic life – Dorothy’s writing is gifted and she is an original and sensitive observer of life at Dove Cottage. Whether she is boating on the lake, welcoming friends such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge or Thomas De Quincey, taking tea at Thomas Ashburner’s or preparing the goose for dinner, we find a simplicity and enthusiasm for life that is refreshing in today’s hectic and technical world.
The book’s other strength is the delightful ink and watercolour sketches capturing the tiny details of the landscape that pepper the edition. Artist Georgie Bennett travelled to the Lake District to visit Dove Cottage, observing the landscape for herself as Dorothy once did. Birds, plants, teacups, the interior of the cottage itself are depicted and all are delightful reminders of a vanished way of life. The endpapers feature a panoramic view across Lake Grasmere to the fells beyond, and Bennett has also contributed a beautiful hand-drawn map of the village.
The book is introduced by poet and anthologist, Lucy Newlyn, Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University . She examines the importance of this unusual document and sets the scene for the reader’s journey within.
A beautiful companion book and one which will bring pleasure to readers who want to discover, not only something of the life of the Lake District in the early 19th century but also for those readers who want to enjoy a taste of its beautiful scenery and way of life, which is in many respects timeless.
‘The Grasmere Journal’ by Dorothy Wordsworth is published by The Folio Society http://www.foliosociety.com/book/GRJ/grasmere-journal-wordsworth
Bound in cloth printed and blocked with a design by the artist. £25.95 (UK) $44.95 (US) $56.95 (Canada) $59.95 (Australia).