Sunday, March 11, 2012

Three-Word Wednesday, Magpie 108 and ABC Wednesday

"I" is for "Imagine"

Thousands of twelve-year-old students of English literature, from Mumbai to Singapore, stand ready, at the drop of whatever is called a hat in their language, to recite what may be the poet William Wordsworth’s most famous lines (and the weekly prompt, above, reminded me of them):
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

I was one of those twelve-year-olds once, though I had never been to either Mumbai or Singapore, and in my quavering, piping voice, I could recite at least some of Wordsworth’s poetry as well as any other pre-teener.

I found the poet himself of interest. What exactly, I would occasionally ask myself, are his Wordsworth? :-)
He had famously once defined poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquility.” He was blown away by the beauty of nature, by a kind of suspended reality, and by the reconciliation of man with his environment, which gives his work an elegant, slightly modern tinge.
But it seemed to me that, no matter how interested you might be in this chap who sort of launched the Romantic Age in English literature back in the late 1700s, the story of his sister is even more fascinating, and more baffling.

In my view, she, Dorothy Wordsworth and the conditions of her life, are a few of the main reasons why we have a feminist movement today.
From time to time, writers like Virginia Woolf have wondered what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us say. Just imagine...
“Her brother Will had some wild-oats adventures as a youth and finally became a successful actor who lived at the hub of the universe, meeting everybody, knowing everybody, practicing his art on the boards, exercising his wit in the streets, and even getting access to the palace of the Queen.
“Meanwhile his extraordinarily gifted sister, let us suppose, remained at home. She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil. She picked up a book now and then, one of her brother's perhaps, and read a few pages. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers.”
Will Shakespeare had no such sister. Will Wordsworth did.
His sister was a writer. Dorothy Wordsworth's works came to light a century or so after her death when literary critics began to re-examine women's role in literature.
But Dorothy had a negative view of her own works. She did not believe what she wrote should be published; that was for men, that was for her brother.
She literally lived for him. And with him. When William married Mary Hutchinson in 1802 Dorothy of course continued to live with them. There was nothing else she could do; she was thirty-one years old and in 1802 that was considered to be too old for marriage.
So everything she did, everything she wrote, was to support, to be of service to, her brother. She did not really exist away from him.
It’s interesting to speculate just how many gifted women writers there were a century or two ago – or three or four centuries ago - who were never given a chance to actually write, to express themselves, to publish their work.
(Also submitted to Sunday Scribblings.)

40 comments:

Helen said...

Let us suppose in her later years, she hadn't struggled with opium addiction ... let us suppose she had been born 100 years later ... who knows how history might have remembered her? I've read a few of her poems .. they are lovely.

Leslie: said...

So were her works accepted? Were any of them published? You have me intrigued about her now - probably a woman ahead of her time. Of course, I could google her, but your writings can be so much more fulfilling!

Roger Owen Green said...

Lots of women, I suspect, were more talented than we ever knew about. some operated under male names, or initials.

ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Berowne said...

To Leslie: Dorothy W. restricted her writings to journals, poems and other such works. She is today well represented in the many college courses having to do with the history of women's role in literature.

Berowne said...

To Roger O G: Good to hear from you, Roger; thanks.

Sue said...

Thanks for this.
I will have to read some of her poems.
And learn more of her.

=)

Wayne Pitchko said...

nicely done.. thanks for sharing your words

jabblog said...

There are still women who live to support their men, who deny themselves opportunities. How frustrating it must have been for Dorothy Wordsworth or did she simply accept her lowly place in the world? Sad.

Brigid said...

So interesting and appropriate for me today as I was attempting to write a radio play and I got stuck 'darning stockings'.
Such a great post and thankfully we live in different times.
I visited Wordsworth's cottage in the Lake District once, he had a stairs that led from his bedroom straight out to the garden so he could avoid the clutter of domesticity, I'm off to buy one of those stairs tomorrow:)

Lyn said...

How very lucky we are to have the words and means. We can go back to a cave, further back even, walking upright, and someone with a way with words must have existed. World enough and time...is all we need..thank you for this piece!

Berowne said...

jabblog: "How frustrating it must have been for Dorothy Wordsworth or did she simply accept her lowly place in the world?"
I believe she completely accepted her situation.

Berowne said...

Lyn: "Thank you for this piece!"
And thank you for your comment...

kaykuala said...

Most interesting and very informative.Thanks for sharing!

Hank

Kathe W. said...

yes- just think what she could have shared with us given better circumstances.

Meryl said...

Oh how wonderful! I blog about interpretations and imagination and this SO FITS that theme. I must admit, though, I never had to recite that poem. Maybe because I am not from India or Singapore.

Thanks for the wonderfully entertaining and enlightening post, have a great week.

Berowne said...

Meryl: "Oh, how wonderful!"
What a great comment - thanks.

Kay L. Davies said...

Women still have a lot of catching up to do, before we can be recognized to the extent men are.
Very interesting post, Berowne, as always.
K

Hildred and Charles said...

I think that 'imagination' is perhaps one of the most important qualities in a life of beauty and as a contributor to talent. Good choice!

Tumblewords: said...

I'm sure there are still women like her. It takes a long time to make progress and women have recently been caught in a backdraft. Excellent post.

Berowne said...

What fine comments from Tumblewords, Hildred & Chuck, Kay L D and kaykuala -- my thanks.

SweetTalkingGuy said...

Amazing story! What were Dorothy's words worth? Her weight in gold!!!

Pity she had to wait, to be recognised long after her death.

Tigerbrite said...

Very interesting. You always come up with something different :)

Dandelion Girl said...

Very true! My grandmother, although very articulate and bright wasn't allowed to continue school after a certain age as it wasn't useful for women. She also wasn't allowed to join the family company.

Another interesting spotlight on a person, that you do so well. I love the first picture.

helenmac said...

Must there always be a dichotomy between the striver and the supporter?
It seems to persist into the 21st century.
As usual, Berowne, a thoughtful essay!
HelenMac
ABC Team

Sheilagh Lee said...

rather sad how they kept them from even the tools to be able to express their abilities.

Lady In Read said...

as always, learned something fascinating from your post.. I am going to check out Dorothy Wordsworth and Berowne - what are your WordsWorth? a lot!!

hyperCRYPTICal said...

Thanks for your informative post Berownne - much learned here (as usual).

Anna :o]

jaerose said...

I think in any walk of life there are women doing the some things as men but with less attention bestowed upon them..the great thing about writing now is that you can choose a name..an identity..and no one would even know..(for a while at least) - maybe that has already happened too..Jae

Di Eats the Elephant said...

One of my favorite poets, and poems. Wish we'd been allowed to study his sister as well, but "feminist studies" - like modern studies - were before my time at university. Wonder how female writers are handled today. I hope they're not simply either "feminist" studies and writers, but part and parcel of the actual course one's taking, alongside the appropriate male writers.

Daydreamertoo said...

It is indeed a wonder about the people behind the words isn't it?
We humans have a tendency to be so curious as to others lives. I love that poem you quoted. His sister was a woman before her time, apparently.
Coming from England before moving to Canada, I'd been to the Lake District several times and seen the old cottage he lived in there. No wonder he had so much inspiration. It is magical.

zongrik said...

i would have felt sooo sniffled

depth of field

Rinkly Rimes said...

As a feminist (not rampant) I am continually haunted by the horrible lives lived by intelligent women in the past! The frustration doesn't bear thinking about. But the women themselves were partly to blame. Mothers instilled servitude into their daughters (this is still true in other parts of the world.) I saw 'The Iron Lady' the other day. To get anywhere Maggie Thatcher had to be twice as tough and ruthless as any man! And when I told my mother she had become P.M. my mother's response was 'Oh dear! It doesn't seem right, does it!'

Kim Nelson said...

You are an educator extraordinaire! Learned some interesting tidbits here today.
http://www.kimnelsonwrites.com/2012/03/14/recovery-rediscovery/

chiccoreal said...

Thank-you Lord Berowne; I adore the Romantic era, always so beautifully transcendental. Got to take agog with a grog in hand (tis St. Paddy's soon) at this talented woman at the Gutenberg Project, however, there was only one item; "Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland A.D. 1803 by Dorothy Wordsworth." I do wish Gutenberg Project would display the total number of pages for a work as this appears lengthy; albeit throughly enjoyable~!

Berowne said...

"Thank you, Lord Berowne."
H'mm. A simple "Monsignor" would have sufficed. :-)

Berowne said...

What a pleasure to end the week with such encouraging comments from Kim N., Rinkly R., Zongrik, Daydreamertoo, Di Eats the Elephant, jaerose, HyperCRYPTICal, Lady in Read, Sheilagh L, helenmac, Dandelion Girl and tigerbrite - my thanks.

Shaista said...

And still, and still it goes on from Mumbai to ... well maybe not Singapore because it's pretty culturally advanced for women - but say, Ireland... women are still struggling to find that room of their own.

Mariya Koleva said...

A wonderful text. And very informative. I knew but a little about her, mostly as companion to her brother.
I'm glad I came by to read!

Berowne said...

Mariya K: "I'm glad I came by to read!"
I'm glad you came by too, Mariya - thanks.

Sharp Little Pencil said...

I love you, Berowne. You're one of the men who always give women credit when it's due. I will now Google her and find out what her writing was like. Helen's comment about her opium addition is not surprising. What woman in that day, unmarried and not pleased with herself, would not self-medicate? Thanks. Peace, Amy
http://sharplittlepencil.com/2012/03/16/irony-in-the-air/

 
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