"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.)
1 year ago