Prominent Sisters: Mary Lamb, Dorothy Wordsworth, and Sarah Disraeli

By Michael Polowetzky | Go to book overview

telling her how Dorothy had recently described the day on which she first met her father bounding over the wall at Racedown Lodge, forty-eight years before. "My poor Sister," she commented, "has just been speaking of it to me with much feeling and tenderness."124

On 23 April 1850, William, now poet laureate, died at the age of eighty and was buried in Grasmere churchyard.125 A memorial was later erected to him in Westminster Abbey, where it now stands not far from the one honoring Coleridge. Once ridiculed for his supposed lack of talent, his poetry dismissed as vulgar, william and his writings were now celebrated as one of the nation's great cultural treasures. As in the case of Mary Lamb, the extent to which Dorothy fully comprehended her brother's death can only be conjectured. However, in July, the posthumous publication of the Preludes provided William the chance to make his readers conscious of the great debt he owed her. Dorothy was, he told them, his primary adviser -- the "sister of my soul" ( Preludes XIII); she shared his passionate dedication to the natural world: "She was Nature's inmate" ( Prelude XI); she was, in short, "the beloved woman. . ./" who "Maintained for me a saving intercourse/With my true self . . ." ( Prelude XI).

Dorothy lived on quietly in her family's care for nearly five more years. She continued to experience periodic intervals of semirational thinking, even composing a few short letters. "I have had a good night so I think I will write," she informed her sister-in-law in her last surviving message, on 22 October 1853. "The weather was rough. I was in bed all day. I am well today. My love to [her attendants] Miss Fenwick and Miss Jane."126She died at last, peacefully, on 25 January 1855, at the age of eighty-three and was buried, as she had wished, beside her brother.127"Her restless Spirit I trust," wrote Mary, "is now among the blessed."128

A restless spirit, Dorothy indeed was. She was possessed of singular talents yet, unlike Mary Lamb, very much a person of her own time; her life, despite its many achievements, was also one of constant struggle, torn between a desire for intellectual self-expression and loyalty to harsh social convention. Her story is one of the sharpest and most compelling portrayals of the psychological conflict many women suffered in their quest for personal fulfillment in the British society of the nineteenth century.


NOTES: PART TWO
1.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Leslie Griggs ( Oxford: Clarendon, 1956), vol. 1, 75.
2.
Ernest de Selincourt, Dorothy Wordsworth ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933),2.
5.
William and Dorothy Wordsworth, The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, 2d ed., ed. Ernest de Selincourt ( Oxford: Clarendon, 1967), vol. 1, 8. Permission granted by Oxford University Press.

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Prominent Sisters: Mary Lamb, Dorothy Wordsworth, and Sarah Disraeli
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Note xi
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Part One - MARY LAMB *
  • Chapter One - Brother and Sister 1
  • Chapter Two - Triumph and Pain 15
  • NOTES: PART ONE 44
  • Part Two - DOROTHY WORDSWORTH *
  • Chapter Three - A Pensive Young Lady 47
  • Chapter Four - Grasmere and Beyond 65
  • NOTES: PART TWO 95
  • Part Three - SARAH DISRAELI *
  • Chapter Five - A Pure and Perfect Love 101
  • Chapter Six - Witness to History 115
  • NOTES: PART THREE 142
  • Selected Bibliography 145
  • Index 149
  • About the Author *
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