'To my sister'
'To my sister' is an innocuous poem penned by arguably the finest and most famous of English Romantic poets, William Wordsworth, and yet it is found in very few of the volumes of his 'complete' works published both during his life and for a century after his death because, one would assume, of the precious sensibilities of the late Victorians and their immediate successors to the idea of incest.
William Wordsworth was born in 1770 and his sister Dorothy the following year. His early works of poetry earned him little attention and less money but in 1795 he received a small bequest which enabled him to live an independent life first in Dorset, then Somerset and eventually in the famous 'Dove Cottage' at Grasmere in the English Lake District. Each move was in pursuit of the dream of the idyllic rustic existence so fervently sought by the Romantic movement of the time. At all times his devoted sister Dorothy accompanied him and lived with him.
This arrangement seems to have caused some degree of gossip and Thomas de Quincey, who lived with the Wordworths for a time in Dove Cottage, hints much later at an incestuous relationship between them. That there was no more substantial scandal at the time is likely to have been for a number of reasons.
First and foremost their living arrangements were by no means unique. In the social milieu of the day a woman had only two career paths: prostitution or marriage. A woman who wished to pursue neither was forced to rely upon her family for support and thus many brothers had to take responsibility for unmarried sisters. Sisters frequently functioned as housekeepers in the households of their brothers but perhaps the Wordsworths were slightly unusual in that there is no evidence that Dorothy regarded herself as being in any way ' in service' to her brother. Although she ran the house, from all accounts theirs was a relationship of equality which, for the times, was a very modern arrangement. Moreover, in households where the sister acted as 'housekeeper' the household was usually run by the brother's wife. In the case of the Wordsworths William did not marry until 1802.
With the French Revolution in full swing the world of the 1790's was in turmoil and everything was 'up for grabs'. In England it was a time of licentious immorality, of rakes and libertines. The Revolutionaries in France, initially admired by William, had rejected religion and sought a purely secular, rational morality. William himself, of course, and Dorothy too were at the forefront of the Romantic movement which, if it rejected the anarchic amorality of the libertines and the purely 'rational' morality proposed by the French revolutionaries, also rejected all moralities 'imposed' by State or Church and instead looked for and lived by an inherent 'morality' of nature which they believed could be accessed by the individual surrendering to and directly experiencing the divine as expressed in nature.
One consequence of this view was that as long as it was kept discrete and caused no harm a person, or couple, could do whatever they wanted. Morality was seen as a personal matter which no-one else had any right to comment upon. By choice the Wordsworths lived isolated, secluded lives with a small circle of like-minded friends which included Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a circle which even had it known of an incestuous relationship between them would have regarded it as purely a matter for them and no-one else's business. Even someone such as de Quincy who did become aware of it was clearly unperturbed by it and only mentions it in passing much later.
Nor should it be forgotten that in this circle sex was seen as wholly 'natural' and inevitable while in society as a whole incest itself was no great matter. A father still 'owned' his daughter as property until he 'gave her away' in marriage, and as property rights were absolute what he did with her was up to him. However, getting her pregnant made it harder to find her a husband and amongst the middle and upper classes reduced her value in dowry so there was much literature available concerning contraception and, as a last resort, termination much of which would make a modern physician's hair stand on end. In most households all the children of the family - and often the parents too - would likely have shared the same bedroom and even the same bed until the day they left home to get married, and brother-sister incest seems only to have been regarded as a major 'sin' when it could be added as an afterthought to a longer list of far more 'serious' mischiefs, as in the case of Lord Byron.
Lastly, and sadly, it must be noted that it seems Dorothy Wordsworth herself although blessed with a fine mind and, as her Journals reveal, considerable literary talent in her own right, was not a physically attractive woman which may be why she not only never married but never seems even to have contemplated it. Any man living alone with a beautiful sister is bound to raise envy and a degree of curiosity in other men as to whether he sleeps with her, but where the sister is not one likely in herself to raise lustful desires it is perhaps more understandable that men should assume the brother responds the same way!
The purpose of this introduction is to set the background for a series of previously unknown letters purporting to be from Dorothy Wordsworth to a friend, identified only as 'Emma', which throw considerable light on this previously speculative side to the relationship between William Wordsworth and his almost equally famous sister.
'Emma' was Emmeline Jane Gidding of Summerley Farm in Forncett St. Peter, Norfolk. In 1788 Dorothy's uncle and guardian the Revd. William Cookson (b.1754), who had at one time been tutor to the sons of King George III but whose anti-slavery views would have earned him some enmity among the establishment, was granted the living at Forncett St. Peter where he went with a new wife and his niece. Dorothy was then 17 and Emma was 14, so a friendship between them was very likely.
In the circumstances it was perhaps very remiss of Emma not to have destroyed these letters which are extremely compromising of William and Dorothy, especially as Dorothy clearly reposed a great deal of trust in Emma by sending them in the first place. However anyone reading Dorothy's journals can easily comprehend the character of the woman who would expose herself so thoroughly and unstintingly to someone who was clearly a good and close but deeply troubled friend. To my mind, too, I have to say that I think that Dorothy at least (I would not speak for William) would not have been greatly perturbed had her relationship with her brother become public knowledge as she was clearly very strong willed with a distinct attitude of 'take me as I am or not at all'!
For whatever reason, Emma did not destroy the correspondence. She did however secure the letters in such a way that they did not come to public attention for two centuries and for the light they shed upon the lives and personalities of William and Dorothy I for one am glad she did.
Although they bear no annogram I believe the letters can safely be attributed to 1797-98, and as they thus pre-date the Alfoxden Journals they will be of intense interest to admirers of Dorothy's work. In this they will not be disappointed. However, apart from some particularly notable observations of a "Romantic' kind the following extracts have been edited to concentrate upon what they reveal of Dorothy's thoughts about sex, sexuality and incest, and of course Dorothy herself.
Alfoxden House, Kilve, Somerset. August 3rd
My dear Emma, your letter to me at Racedown [Racedown Lodge, Dorset, where the Wordsworths made their first home together from Sept. 1795 until July 1797] has only just caught up with me here, where W. [William] has moved us to be near our new friend Samuel Coleridge, who lives just three miles away at Nether Stowey. C. [Coleridge] has published some poetry already and he and W. strike sparks of inspiration off each other like a horse-shoes on a flint road. It is wonderful to watch.
[Description of Alfoxden and much of interest on Coleridge.]
By all means do feel free to write me with complete liberty, and in the perfect knowledge that I shall certainly hold close to my heart any confidences which you feel able to entrust to me. Do not either hold any concern that I do not speak for my brother also.
Your friend, Dorothy Wordsworth.
Alfoxden House, September 20th.
Dearest Emma. Your letter makes me homesick for the wide Norfolk skies. Those majestic cauliflower clouds boiling up from the west above the Elms of the Summerley Meadows and the light of the setting sun spearing out of the gaps between them. The light seems somehow harder here in Somerset when it was so soft in Norfolk. It cannot be just that we are further south although those who have travelled there say the light is harder still in Italy and Spain, for we are not all that much further. Perhaps it is that the land here is harder for there are even outcroppings of rock, (some of them as circles made by man long ago) and the hills are far more bony than anything in flat Norfolk. Perhaps it is just that the sea is so much closer. [Alfoxden House is practically on the beach of the Bristol Channel. Forncett St. Peter is 25 miles from the North Sea.]
[A quite lovely portrait of the Quantock Hills.]
I am saddened by the rift between your father and L [Emma's second eldest brother Lionel]. You do not enlarge upon the matter at the root of this rift, which must for certain be substantial if it has driven L from his home and prospects, yet I can tell it troubles you deeply. I doubt there is anything I can do to help heal it, for although I have fond memories of L your father, as I recall, is a man much of his own mind and I suspect he will have little memory, and even less regard, for me. Yet still I sense a quiet cry for help among your words and, woman to woman, stand ready to open my heart if in any way that might be of assistance to you. Yet in return yours must be more open to me. Let us be as sisters might and I the elder. [Dorothy would be 26 on Christmas Day, 1797. Emmeline turned 23 on June 1st that year.]
Your loving sister Dorothy.
Alfoxden House, October 21st.
Oh, my dear Emma. No, I am not shocked and were you here in place of this paper I would hold you close to my heart with all the firmness of the sisterly loyalty and love that resides there for you.
As women we must make allowances for men as the poplar bends to the gale. Our task is to bear children, their task to create them. Thus ours is passive, to be the tree which bears the fruit, but nature makes man the bee, driving him from dawn to dusk from flower to flower, ever seeking the sweet nectar that lies within. Thus nature rides men as the postillion his horse, forcing them if necessary with whip and spur to the destination of bringing into being the next generation. If they were to fail at that there would be no next generation, and so nature drives them hard and cruelly.
Marriage is a man-made thing and nature takes no account of it. It did not cease riding your father hard on the death of your mother and, like the desperate rider, uses whip and spur even more cruelly when thwarted. Widowed, your father's choice to escape the savage demands of nature which can drive a man to despair or bitter rage, was either to take you to his bed or some uncaring whore, nothing to you and to who you were nothing, and likely unclean to boot. You accepted your womanly duty. It can be hard and painful, but so is childbirth and women have ever accepted that as their lot.
When we are children our fathers seem as gods and kings to us, for so do they have utter control over our lives and our destinies. Discovering they are merely men, as powerless in the face of their nature as is all else, is one of the pains of growing up for us all. For sure a man is at his most natural when in the transports of sexual congress, and by experiencing him thus in his bed that transition of your father from god to man was both greatest and most abrupt, and thus most painful to you especially in one so young. [Jane Gidding is buried in the churchyard at Forncett St. Peter. Her gravestone records her date of death as 17th September 1787, when her daughter Emmeline would have been just 13.] Duty can be hard but performed can give us satisfaction, and performed well can give us pride. It is the sternness with which we perform duties even when our inclination lies elsewhere - as might be the soldier standing firm under fire on the battlefield when his sense of self-preservation urges him to run to safety - which marks the hero from the coward amongst men, and while of course it goes unrecognised and unrewarded amongst us of the weaker sex your performance of your womanly duties in your father's bed for those years should surely fill you with the pride of the hero rather than the shame I sense from your words that you feel.
Yet I believe there is more, for you have not yet uncovered to me the cause of the rift between L. and your father which I sense lies closer to the heart of this. I am, too, distressed to learn that your father's use of your body continued after his marriage [John Gidding married Sarah Alice Flatman at Forncett St. Peter's on 20th March 1793] for with a wife to satisfy his reproductive urges he should in all conscience no longer have need of recourse to his daughter. It is, of course, long after time he should have found a husband for you, and while he might perhaps be excused for seeking to retain your services to perform the wifely duties of the household before his remarriage, to continue to do so afterwards when you are free to marry in your own right, argues a great selfishness. If you wish me to write my uncle, not of course with the full story but merely a casual expression of surprise to learn that you are still not away and married, I shall of course be quite happy to. I'm sure a gentle expression of concern as to your position from my uncle would help remind your father of his obligations to you. However I shall not do so without your consent.
Consider me ever your sister, Dorothy.
Alfoxden, January 3rd.
My dearest Emma, I hope my delay in replying to your letter has not distressed you but I have been away in London for some time with W and C in hope of obtaining a sponsor for W's new play 'The Borderers', - which alas was not to be on this occasion - with Christmas in Bristol. Thus your letter has only just come to my hand.
[A brief and disappointingly superficial description of the London visit.]
No, my dear sister, I do not think my comments, and compliments, to you regarding the pride I believe you should feel in the service given to your father in his bed in those years following your mother's death are in any way invalidated by the confession that you enjoyed it. I do concede that my words were intended to console you for something endured rather than eagerly seized upon, but while a duty enjoyed is undoubtedly less onerous than one undertaken reluctantly, I say this should be taken as merely good fortune which in no way invalidates the underlying worth of its steadfast performance.
Yet I sense in your words a belief that you should not have enjoyed sexual congress with your father - that the fact it was your father's flesh within you should not have woken in you the feelings and sensations it clearly did. Do you then feel that you should have lain beneath him passively, unfeeling? Do you say that had you felt nothing but the simple motion of his manhood within you just as you might, say, experience a movement of your bowels, the act itself would be in some way different, and less 'guilt' accrue to you therefore?
Nay, Emma. This is foolishness. Your body responded in all particulars as a woman's should when preparing itself to receive a man's seed. Your mind of course knew the flesh within you and the seed it was depositing there was your father's but your body did not and could not, for the flesh has no way of recognising such things. Do not, I beg you, feel shame in the blind and natural responses of your body - particularly when it is experiencing the act of sex which is most central and fundamental to its very existence. This is the path of those who despise the body and reject it, who punish it with scourge and hardship for being no more that what it is, which is the temporary and frail physical shell housing our immortal spirit. In seeking out, yearning for and encouraging your father your body was merely pursuing the dictates of its nature. With husband those desires would be unquestioned and the rewards of delight eagerly consumed. Circumstances meant it was your father instead, yet where would the purpose be in denying yourself those rewards of delight merely because of those circumstances which were in any case outwith your control? No. The only immoral joy is that which is obtained at the expense or pain of another. Do not make the delight you experienced in your father's bed an immoral joy because you think that for some reason you should not have experienced it, for you had no choice in the matter. Instead drink it to the full, for that is what nature intended.
I am glad you have at last been full and open with regard to your brothers, for now I believe I can fully comprehend the matter. Also I believe I understand why you address me of all people about it. Do not, I pray, be concerned that I am offended by the implication that I have a particular experience in this regard for I freely admit to you that you are correct in your suspicions. I do have such experience. Neither am I concerned that you should even have cause for such suspicions. A woman who chooses to live openly with no-one but her brother invites such suspicions as a matter of course, and I think no worse of you for thinking thus.
W and I are fully aware that the locals glance askance at us and wonder if we share a bed. Why should this concern us? Such a thing offends only canon law and the Church has no jurisdiction over us. Although all know we are brother and sister, for we will not cower under the fraud of a pretend marriage, W and I could join in sexual intercourse in the middle of Bridgwater on market day and the magistrates would be able to impose no greater penalty upon us than had we been husband and wife committing the same act in public - although I have no doubt the prescribed penalty would be applied to the full in recognition of the extra 'horror' I have no doubt they would claim to have experienced at our 'Breach of the Peace'. [Incest per se did not become a crime under English law until 1908].
Let me then place all that experience at your disposal, in order that it might do what it can to help you resolve your troubles - not only those you have expressed but those I read behind your words. In doing so I must be fully open and speak to you as woman to woman as well as sister to sister, and while I would unhesitatingly engage in sexual intercourse with W. in Bridgwater Market in full view of the locals without shame were William to ask it of me, I am confident he would never wish to expose me thus and indeed would be distressed if what he is well aware is suspected were to become conclusively known. Thus for W's sake I would ask you to be most discreet with this paper as I can assure you I have been with yours.
Like you I have four brothers. Of them W. is the only one I have known carnally, apart from children's play. Yet should any of the other three desire me I would not refuse him. That this has not occurred is largely circumstance. We spent our childhoods and formative years apart so the opportunity was never there. [When their mother died in 1778 Dorothy was sent to an Aunt in Halifax. On their father's death in 1783 the boys, too, were farmed out to relatives]. W. and I have never openly admitted our relationship to them but neither have we acted in any way to counter the rumours so I have no doubt they assume it. They are now engaged upon their own lives with their own affairs and we see little of them. I have, however, no reason to believe they recoil from or disapprove of us and their letters to us both are always friendly and warm.
Thus I doubt any of the three have any need of me sexually, yet were they to wish to have intercourse with me for any reason that might seem good to them, or indeed just for the pure pleasure of the act, I would most willingly make myself available. W. and I have discussed the possibility and he agrees that it would be wrong of me to deny to one brother what I freely give another - without at least good reason, and one good enough has yet to occur to me.
Your circumstances of course were different, with your brothers beneath the same roof, yet I believe you acted rightly in denying none of them your body. It is quite natural that you should prefer one above the others, and even in an order of four. Although it might be an ideal, your brothers each have their own personalities and character quirks and no mere human can be expected to love four quite different people in exactly the same measure. The consequences to your family had you granted your body to one or some of your brothers but not all could have been terrible, for envy and jealousy are powerful forces for evil even, or perhaps especially, amongst kindred. To have allowed S. [Stephen] and J. [John] to know you merely in order to maintain harmony amongst your brothers was an act of true charity for which I am sure you reaped immediate rewards from their peaceful co-existence.
Yet to your cruel dilemma. I have already stated that I believe your father wrong not only to continuing to use you as a wife now that he has a true one, but instead to stand in the way of your advancement to a marriage which I am sure would not be long in occurring for I know full well that you caught W's eye during his visits there and he was much attracted to you. [Only one such visit by William is recorded elsewhere, early in 1791 when he was on his way to France, full of enthusiasm for the Revolution still, at that time, in its heady, idealistic days. The horrors of the guillotine and the 'Reign of Terror', which William repudiated, were still to come. Previously, however, William was a student at Cambridge and although Forncett St. Peter is 50 miles from Cambridge it stands only a few miles off the Cambridge - Norwich main road and so was likely within a day's travel by stage-coach. His uncle would have been his closest living relative apart from his siblings and visits there surely quite frequent. One wonders now if Dorothy's choice to accompany her uncle there in 1788 following William's moving to Cambridge the previous year was the pure coincidence it has always seemed!] Your attachment to H. [Henry] is of course quite natural, for he is your eldest brother and I certainly remember him as a strong and handsome man who would make for any woman a fine husband. Yet there lies your problem. The farm is his inheritance and his life, and it is his duty to pass it on to a further generation, for which he will need an acknowledged son. Such a son he cannot have with you, for such a thing could never be kept hidden from the parish. You must free him to marry some good woman in the usual way and so keep the respect he will need when he finally comes into his inheritance and his place in the community.
That your father's response upon discovering you with L. was so cruel and violent is telling to me. To be truthful I am impressed and surprised that you managed to keep the secret of your relations with your brothers for so long for I had would have assumed your father was fully aware of it but felt unable to 'cast the first stone', as it were. That despite having a wife of his own your father still feels unable even to share you, even with his sons, suggests to me that he is not at all willing to give you up, and this does not bode well for your future prospects.
Yes, it is open to you to stay, second wife to your father and secret lover to your brothers until such time as they all, all but H that is, have left for homes of their own. Stay to become an old maid for even after your father's death and the farm passes to H, he will not be unable to acknowledge you openly. You do not say if your step-mother knows or suspects anything of your father's use of you, yet I am sure he does not bed you openly. Such too would have to be the case also once H. has married and I do not think you could find that tolerable. Even without knowledge of the truth I am sure H's wife would have suspicions of you which would make for an unhappy household, while if she were to catch you and H in the position in which your father caught you and L. and it became the gossip of the parish you would surely find life intolerable.
No, dear Emma. Though H. might have your heart as, in truth, W has mine, I do not see how any future there can lie. You have a choice of two courses, as it seems to me.
The first is to become your own woman, free of both father and brothers. I know my uncle well enough to be able to say with confidence that were I to hint at what I know of your father's use of you he would hold you nothing but a dutiful daughter, free of blame, and would work discreetly and diligently to ensure your father did right by you. The other is to accept L's offer and become to all the world his wife. His proposed move to India certainly offers a good prospect of such a harmless deception having every success.
If you choose the first course I urge you most strongly never, never to tell the man to whom you eventually cleave of your relationship with your father and brothers. All men look for the woman they choose to commit themselves to, to be both virgin and whore - virgin to all men other and whore for them. If he truly loves you he might forgive you not being virgin when you meet if you can spin some tale of true love betrayed or thwarted. Perhaps if he is a Percival indeed (and these are rare as unicorns!) he might believe he can accept your father's use of you if he believes it was forced upon your unwilling flesh, yet even then it will be a thorn festering in the back of his mind and freshly irritated each time he places himself where he knows your father has been before. To know that you have been so used by all your brothers also would, I fear, be more than any man could bear. Perhaps for five years, perhaps for ten while love and lust still cloak you in the virgin-martyr's clothes, but for a life-time? Never. Thus would he in time abandon you for a younger, fresher and 'unstained' mate, and you will ever live in dreadful anticipation of the event. Thus does this course demand a lifetime of deception, and the constant fear of some trivial event or unguarded word leading to its unmasking.
Yet I have to say, dear Emma, that to live together as W and I do, openly as brother and sister, is a bold and brazen thing to do and not without its difficulties. First and foremost, of course, is the matter of children. W. and I decided from the first that we wished no children of our union, but making this so is a continual and heavy responsibility upon me. Were we to choose to pass ourselves off as a married couple, and I have no doubt even my uncle would be willing to co-operate in that deception were I to ask it of him, the chance swelling of my belly with W's child despite all my precautions would arouse no scandal compared with the vitriol wagging tongues would spray were it to so swell as we are.
More, we can live as we do because we are beholden to no man. Were W. required to seek respectable employment the rumours which swirl around us would inevitably blacken his prospects even were there no truth in them. You must ask yourself if L. is in such a fortunate position.
Certainly if you are content or even desire to have children by L a pretend, and even an actual blacksmith's, marriage is essential for your and those children's respect in society. You do not touch on this aspect of L's offer in your letter, yet I would say to you do not take too much notice of the tales of old women about the off-spring of sibling pairings. I will not deny there is a risk, yet there is a risk in any childbirth and as, especially in the early months of my life with W, I had to consider the chance of a child occurring despite my care I did pay much attention to what I heard and even consulted several respected sources.
In short, Emma, you and L, as well as what I know of your family, display no congenital defects and even when they do exist within a family they seem to have a tendency only to come to the fore in babes after two or three generations of close-kindred coupling. So for my part I would say that while you should not close your eyes to the risk, there is every possibility that you and your brother in India could have for yourselves a perfectly normal family of healthy children who, with only a little care and necessary deception on your part, need never know anything of their irregular ancestry.
W. and I are aided in our brazening by the fact that, as I know you will agree, W. is a handsome young man with a quick, alert and entertaining mind while I, I freely admit, am not one to set a man's pulse racing. Men do not respond to meeting me and learning I am unmarried by embarking upon my seduction and, in truth, I am long past the age of minding that. I am sure many upon hearing of our living arrangements wonder immediately how many beds we use, but later upon meeting us or upon perhaps thrilling with the chance to breath those suspicions into the ear of any who have seen us, take the view or are told that I am poor W's burden, the sister no man will have and whom he is obliged to provide a home for, perhaps even to the detriment of his own marriage prospects. That this calumny misses the mark by a mile is even a source of amusement to me. You, on the other hand, are beautiful and were you to live with your brother as sister it would inevitably raise in the minds of many who see you a huge speculation as to how your brother could refrain from at least seeking your bed even if you denied it him.
Dear Emma, I am conscious of the length this letter is acquiring and hope the size of the resulting packet will not make it awkward for your friend, in whom I trust your confidence well reposes, to smuggle to your hand. Yet I wish to expand a little on the nature of the relationship I have with W, for it I must concede it is markedly different to any relationship you could have with L. based, as I am sure it would be, on a genuine fondness for each other and honest physical attraction (may I say healthy lust?) such as forms the foundation of every happy marriage.
Fondness, of course, there is between us as there should be between brother and sister. Yet I must admit I do not seem to respond to the physical attractiveness (or otherwise!) of a man as other women do - perhaps because I know any such response on my part would be futile - and William I know is not physically attracted to me. Nor, as I know some would suggest, do we gain some perverted pleasure from the sex act merely because we are brother and sister, and are therefore engaging in what some would have as conscious 'wickedness' if not downright devilry. What, then, is the basis of our coupling?
W. is an exceptional and brilliant man. I believe he will one day (one day soon, I hope) stand proudly in the public eye and intellectual respect alongside Shakespeare and Milton. C., who has already been published to some acclaim ['Poems on Various Subjects', 1796] stands in awe of W and looks on him as an elder brother. [Dorothy was ten months older than Coleridge.] W is a true visionary and philosopher with a poet's mind and an eye that sees more and further than any man's. Yet he is also a man, and a young and lusty one at that, and so is hard driven by that same nature that drove your father to take you into his bed. When W. is not at his desk scribbling the words I later try to order he is striding over the hills seeking the inspiration of his muse. What wife would be willing to work as I do to relieve him of the mundane distractions of life and look for no affection in return? How could the children she would seek, and rightly expect, from him fit within that life? Yet without a wife (or mistress, with her own demands) where else but with the common trull does a man relieve himself, with the nearest two hours travel from our sanctuary, very likely unclean and at a penny a poke we can hardly afford? How much better for a sister to do those things. A sister with no desire for a husband and children of her own but who is content to devote herself to her brother in all things.
Yes, in all things - even matters of the flesh and the bed. The stirrings of his loins are a distraction to W., drawing his mind from its lofty contemplations to their base demands. Within me he silences those stirrings. Oh, do not think us passionless, each a physician treating the other as patient with the cold aloofness of the stone-walled ward. W's manhood within me wakes a woman's thrills such that I at times cry out and at others swoon, and I betimes crush him to my breasts as fiercely as any wife her husband while W strives mightily to use my soft woman's flesh to fire his hard maleness into those ecstasies of release I cannot begin to imagine, yet can see and feel all too well in his body as his seed floods into me. Thus do I tame the rider that would ride him so wildly, and free him from the harness nature would buckle about him while gaining in full measure for myself the sweet delights of the flesh many think me sour for want of.
Nor just in the bedroom. We walk far together, at times on the nearby beach and at others far into the wild hills. I'm sure, dear Emma, you will recognise that wonderful moment when, our ecstasy spent and nature's demands fulfilled, our bodies can be at peace for a short time and our minds seek the truth of themselves, freed from the tyranny of the body. That moment is the most precious of all to W, for in it he is open to some sublime sense of that presence which interfuses all things - the setting sun, the restless sea and all that great arch of air that spans the earth beneath the sky and also haunts our minds. [Need I highlight these lines? Did Dorothy inspire William or is this Dorothy inspired by some draft scribbling by William which later found its perfect expression in 'Tintern Abbey'? I fear we shall never know.] How oft within some woody glade, beside the moon-gilded surf or beneath a windswept rocky cairn have I felt my brother's hand fiercely seize my arm and know it is time for me to lift my skirts and petticoats, lay myself on the ground and open myself to him so that he with no preamble may penetrate me and within me silence the distracting clamour of his seed as it demands release. And how often have I looked up at him afterwards, sometimes still kneeling between my spread legs with his limp manhood signifying that satiation of his body, and his face looking about him with a glow of dizzy rapture, radiant with the glow of elevated thoughts which I can only wonder at. That look on my brother's face is my own abundant recompense for the damp and angular discomfort of the ground beneath my back, the ants and grass-seeds in my hair, the moist coldness of the free air upon my privates and the slippery creep of the stuff W deposited within me which, alas, must perforce slime down the insides of my legs beneath my petticoats as we walk on despite all I can ever do to plug it in its receptacle.
(I sense your alarm dear Emma, and in truth it alarms me too. Though most often it occurs when we walk in moonlit nights or far from habitation, as though solitude were some essential ingredient in the stew, the risk we will be seen and local speculation confirmed cannot be ignored. Yet it speaks much for the intense need of W. to experience such moments that he is prepared to take that risk despite what I know he fears would be the damage to my reputation - about which I care not a jot - while I console myself with the thought that we have but a short lease on Alfoxden House and, because of our 'furrin'' accents (for such is the lilt of the northern counties heard here in the south), our godless ways (we do not go to church a'Sunday as most here do, tho' with such a headache from overconsumption of the local potent cider that they must barely hear a word of the sermon, and the hymns be as hammers on their skullbones!) and our highly suspect visitors such as John Thelwall [a radical orator central to the movement for parliamentary reform] - I'm sure his name must be tutt-tutted over even in sleepy Norfolk - we are already considered far beyond the pale of civilised company (even for Somerset!))
These precious moments of bliss which follow our copulation are W's opium and yes he is addicted to them. Thus he will often use me two or three times a day, and such has been his anguish at even a short-term withdrawal that I have perforce on occasions had to consent to his taking me even in my menses - a messy business if ever there was, like drawing a rabbit! C. [Coleridge] is well aware of our coupling and it troubles him not, but I will admit to having been annoyed with W. for offering C. the use of me as an alternative to the poppy with which he is experimenting in the quest for that perfect bliss. Between us, dear sister, I will admit that I had no objection - C. is a bluff yet basically kind and honest man and his marriage was over almost before it had begun - but I was privately infuriated with W. for not having had the common courtesy to have consulted me first!
(A confession - though a delightfully awkward gallant C. is not in the least attracted to me as man to woman, but in a darkened room can pretend I am as beautiful as Helen herself. And another - you ask in your letter if it was not the mark of a wanton to sometimes arrange for three and even all four of your brothers to take you at the same time. If by "the same time" you mean simultaneously I beg you, dear sister, tell me how for I can conceive (an ill word for the circumstances!) of a way to receive three men simultaneously, but can think of no easy way to take four! If you mean but in one session, well yes, I say that is wanton. But I will also say that to my mind it is a million times more healthy and enjoyable to be wanton than to have the prim and tightly-laced mind of those rod-backed ladies who populate the pews of every church each Sunday morning. For my part when I read your letter and having only ever had one man, my W, at a time, I felt a distinct envy, and thrill of curiosity, at the picture you painted. Wholly in consequence thereof I encouraged W and C both to enjoy my favours "at the same time" during the London expedition - as I say, they have taken to each other like long-lost brothers and seemed to have no difficulty whatever in sharing their sister! Thus have I now had two and so am, perhaps, a half-wanton. Whether I shall ever have the opportunity to earn the full and unqualified title remains to be seen . Alas I cannot see how, but should the opportunity ever arise be assured I shall seize it with both hands - or however it is done! I trust I have, in something of a round-about way, answered your question. To have been able to rise regally from the bed leaving two handsome, lusty young men lying exhausted and worn-out upon it was a sweet victory for the female, and to do so from a positive battlefield strewn with defeated combatants would surely justify a veritable Trajan's Column - ha! A suitable image, methinks.)
Now as my pen-nib has to plough its furrow on the headland of this sheet I must draw to a hasty close in the hope my words have been of some assistance to you in your dilemma, dear sister. Yet my team of heart and hand stand ready to plough another ten-acres if the harvest thereof will avail you any. Dorothy.
Alfoxden, February 3rd.
Dear Emma, Yes of course. If I can assist you in your flight you have here a sanctuary. We are but 30 miles from Bristol and East Indiamen are a frequent sight on our horizon, their white wings spread for those far and exotic lands of silk, spice and elephant. If L desires to wait for you here, or you him, you will be welcome. Yet do not long delay for already W and C are planning some adventure for the summer and it is unlikely we will be here long beyond your birthday.
I can understand London is more convenient for your flight and I would not have you risk anything just to visit an old friend, or even a dear sister, across the breadth of England. If force of circumstances blow you here our door is open to you, and closed to any who would interfere, but if the gale is fair for London dear sister, seize it.
You say you will be at your father's house until Easter, and against that fair London gale I will pen this letter to you as it will likely be the last, for by the time you reach the Indies even with a fair gale we shall be gone from here. I will pass such addresses as we have from time to time to G.H. [? Presumably the go-between through whose hands this correspondence passed.] and should you have occasion to write to her with your eventual address we might resume our sisterhood. Yet perhaps it would be better still for you to look upon England as it sinks beyond the rail of your ship as Atlantis indeed, sunken in truth beneath the waves with all its baggage, and then turn to face the rising sun into which you sail as a new day with a new life in its train, unencumbered by any history.
Your intelligence regarding my uncle's attempt upon you does not surprise me. I did once overhear a conversation between my namesake DC [presumably Dorothy Cookson, her uncle's wife] and my uncle as to whether your father might be 'abusing' you but their conclusion, in common with any others in the parish who harboured the same thoughts, was that your own happy demeanour and unfeigned devotion to your father mitigated against any such suspicion. I must also say that your identical unfeigned devotion to your brothers acted the other way and wormed in the minds of many including I suspect my uncle's and, latterly at least, mine, that the source of your happy demeanour was likely the outcome of this devotion to your brothers being taken to its logical conclusion but such matters are, of course, seen by all as purely and entirely a matter for parents or guardians to judge and control. I know my uncle would have intervened instantly had you made any appeal to him for assistance against abuse, or indeed had your demeanour called attention to itself and demanded investigation, but as you always seemed so innocent, happy and hearty I know my uncle was content that your father had matters well in hand and saw no reason to intervene.
Yet my uncle is a man, and you are beautiful. That white band around his neck does nothing to block the demands flowing from the clergyman's loins to his brain, although I grant it is supposed to chain him to the obligations of his duty like the watchdog to its kennel, thereby to stop it indulging its nature by mauling its own flock. I am sure he would not have attempted to seduce you had he believed you were an innocent, but at age 21 and with the strong suspicion that you were sexually engaged with your brothers at least, I regret that few men in my uncle's powerful position would have been able to resist the thought of "I wonder if…" and perhaps seek to satisfy that curiosity. I am glad that my uncle did not persist in the face of your refusal, and am grateful to you for not injuring his reputation by shouting of it to the world.
In light of that proven discretion I feel able to reveal to you that my uncle made trial of me also - and did not find me adverse. Regarding himself in loco patris to me he originally undertook to find me a husband - despite my assurances that I wanted no such thing - and took in hand my education with regard to a wife's duties. 'In hand' very well describes it, for he handled me a great deal and had me handle him even more. As I say, I was not adverse for although one's own fingers are the more responsive and subtle the fingers of another relieve one of much distracting labour in the gratification of the flesh, while I was ever of the opinion that while a man with a sword in his hands has a powerful weapon, a woman with his manhood in her hands can wield both man and sword, and is therefore even more powerful!
My uncle even made trial of my virginity but, as with you, did not persist in the face of demure which I am sure he saw through, for no woman can surely have suffered her flows, nor her fertile time, as frequently as I claimed in those days. Certainly the fact I was his sister's daughter did not dampen his ardour nor raise any scruple, but he is not a man to take any woman against her will, of that I am sure. In truth I set little store by virginity for I can see no point in any woman suffering the agonies of denied desires in order to retain that which only she can ever be certain she has but, yes, even then dear sister I must confess that like some Lady of Camelot I had determined to make of my virginity a gift, and for all my gratitude and devotion to him it was not a gift I wished to give my uncle.
(And, dear sister, to help pass these last few Sundays as you fidget on those unforgiving pews while my uncle lectures on morality from his pulpit, the following tale might ease the discomfort. That self-same pulpit was a place my uncle particularly enjoyed taking me in hand (or I him!) for my education of a quiet evening. It was during once such tutorial that Mrs. E. [probably Dora Edwards, churchwarden at St. Peter's from 1775 -1801] entered the nave unexpectedly. Had she seen her vicar with his male member between the lips of his niece (and honorary curate, not to mention Sunday-school teacher!) and being ministered to in that highly unbiblical way I have no doubt at all that the entire parish would have known of it by sunrise and the whole County when next it set. Fortunately, being on my knees as though meekly at prayer, I was invisible behind the pulpit walls. Aware that my uncle was near to his climax I determined that it would take too long a while for his manhood to retreat therefrom and return to a sufficiently flexible state to be returned to respectability. Thus he with commendable composure and only an occasional unsteadiness of the voice addressed Mrs. E. and endeavoured to keep her at the length of the nave with some queries concerning the state of the font while I used all my skills and 'education' to bring the matter to a neat and successful conclusion. This effected, the usual immediate and often most inconsiderate rapid collapse of my uncle's member enabled me to feed it back into his breeches and the laces retie, at which he was able to descend from the pulpit to engage Mrs. E in conversation leaving me kneeling in its shelter desperately swallowing at the tickle in my throat my uncle had left me with and shaking, although whether with fright or laughter I could not have said even then.)
You confession to me of your 'indiscretion' with W. was unnecessary for I knew of it and harbour no ill-will towards you because of it. Nor can I see any reason why I should for you are sister, not rival, and W is not my husband despite all that passes between us. I must say, though, that I know of it only because W told me of it some months ago when your first letters arrived. I certainly knew nothing of it at the time.
How well I still remember you on those Sunday-school benches, the picture of the modest and innocent young lady blushing at the very mention of Adam's nakedness. Yet even before you seduced my brother, you with your father and your brothers 'under your belt!' were the woman and I, the strict and omnipotent dispenser of knowledge before the class, was the virgin! And as we walked together down the lanes or shied stones into the village pond and I donned the mantle of elder sister if not mother to pass on warnings about the ways of men… Now I blush to remember of it, and think you could not have helped but secretly pity me my ignorance.
You do not say during which visit of his your attempt upon my brother was successful, not that I would imagine it required a siege of any magnitude, but I can assure you that he kept the secret successfully even from me, whom even then was closer to him than any. Had I known, though, at the time I must confess I would have hated you, sister, for fear that you might make my own attempt upon my brother even more difficult than I expected it to be, if not impossible.
Your brothers, to be sure, made no trial of me which I attributed both to my looks (or lack of them) [According to de Quincey, Dorothy's face was of "Egyptian brown", "rarely, in a woman of English birth, had I seen a more determinate gypsy tan. Her eyes were not soft, as Mrs. Wordsworth's, nor were they fierce or bold; but they were wild and startling, and hurried in their motion."] and my bible-barricaded status, for what man would dream of attempting the seduction of a Sunday-school teacher? (Well, perhaps many dream but who would dare embark upon such a campaign?). I'm sure even my uncle only made such use of me because I was extremely convenient to him, especially during D's pregnancies. What hope did I really have that my handsome brother with his lofty ideals, whom I knew would never consider seducing his own sister were she as beautiful as Helen, and who would surely respond with anything other than appalled disgust and rejection were I to offer myself to him. Had I know at the time that I would have been offering myself in competition to your beauty and sweet femininity I think I would have given up the attempt even before it was launched.
Oh, how close I came to doing that anyway. I adored W and the thought of earning his rejection, the fear that I might disgust him both in myself and in my designs, terrified me. Too, I was not then entirely free of that biblical morality which invests even the thought of brother-sister carnality let alone its practice with the promise of hell-fire and brimstone retribution. That you, younger than I and five-times guilty of such 'sin', were able to attend church and Sunday-school with such purity of conscience now fills me with amazement, and if any ignorant words of mine at that time ever caused a shadow to fall on that conscience I now most humbly beg your forgiveness. Of course that such joy could ever be considered a sin is, to my mind now, the only sin involved.
Yet back to my seduction of my brother, which I hope you will not think amiss if I describe just as one sister might share the events of the surrender of her virginity with another and by doing so relive them, for I have no other sister with whom to share them. Many were the false starts during my brother's visits, those chances missed when alone with him I might have bared my heart (and all the rest of me!) but cowardice prevailed. I watched him as a hawk a mouse for any lingering of his gaze upon my bosom, which at times I fear I thrust at him most shamelessly, and searched the front panel of his breeches for any sign of that stiffness which might betray some thoughts of me he might think secret and hid, to no avail. How oft between those visits did I imagine my uncle's fingers upon my breasts or between my legs were W's and the stiff and throbbing manhood in my hands or mouth my brother's, and so deceive myself that the pleasure I was receiving and giving was ten times the greater because of it.
I even once embarked, taking the opportunity to remind W of those times when he, still a boy yet with those first stirrings of curiosity as to the female form and his own response to it, sought to satisfy that curiosity with me as the only subject available to him. [No date or place can be allocated to this. Between 1778 and 1787 Dorothy and her brothers lived with different relations and it is hard to imagine such adolescent games taking place as late at the latter date, when William was 17 and Dorothy 16. However the Wordsworth children and their guardians doubtless visited and spent time with each other often during this period.] yet his response was immediately to colour and beg my forgiveness for his abuse of me so fervently that I was completely unable to inform him that I was willing and only too eager for him not only to resume such investigations but avid for him to pursue them to the ultimate.
So did I come eventually to my Rubicon. With W bound for France and all the huge and dangerous uncertainties there [in 1791 with the King still living the possibility that the considerable opposition to the Revolution could unify behind him and plunge France into outright civil war, with neighbouring monarchies such as England coming to his assistance with troops, was very real] while I faced a life-time of old-maidhood in Norfolk. I begged W to take me with him yet how could he, for he had no living to support himself let alone a sister as well. Yet in those last days of his visit he did handle me gently, on the shoulders as a brother should yet how I thrilled even to that, and kiss me gently and chastely yet still setting my blood afire. And he promised that, if it came to it, he would do his best to support me and preserve me from an unwanted marriage, and even make a home for me. Yet I knew the home he had in mind - with me spinning unwanted and half-forgotten in the corner by the fire, housemaid to his wife - and that if I accepted it I would have to live within the expectations it entailed. Which I knew I could not bear.
Thus it all came down to one last throw, on his last night in the rectory. I had to risk all and show my true self, and live forever with the consequences. In terror I crept into W's room and, naked, slipped into his bed. He woke to a sister's hands and mouth upon his manhood, a sister's bare breasts pressed against him, a sister's slippery sex seeking him. It seemed to me that my only chance was to wake the man before the brother woke, and my assault was successful for he was within me, my virginity given, before his eyes widened in the frosty starlight and he said my name.
Too late by then, of course, and he could no more stop himself from completing the act and impregnating me than water can run uphill. Then did he appreciate the true gift I had for him. Not the mere onceness of my virginity but that bliss I had to offer him any and every time he chose to take it, purchased not with coin or promises or even exchange of love's duties, but on permanent, unlimited, unconstrained offer, free, and easy as breathing.
So, dear Emma, were the foundations of my present life laid in that bed that night, and with so much joy. And the moral, the purpose of this story?
It is, brave the risks and seize the moment. When I recall how terrified I was when I crept soft-footed along the corridor to my brother's room, how close I came to turning back even as I laid my hand upon the door handle, I shudder now to think of it for without that mutual commitment, that exchange of crimson virgin blood for snow-white seed (to be poetical - the red rose and the white?) I never would have known the life and joy I now have.
So Emma, when that last day comes, that last moment in which the choice between your father's house and secret bed or a married life in India with your brother still lies before you, remember me creeping a virgin to my brother's room, to leave it in the grey dawn a woman complete, with a brother's commitment to me rather than wife in my very womb. And if you have any last doubts just ask yourself if you envy me the child of our coupling that night, for if you do your way will surely become clear.
My every wish for your happiness and good fortune to accompany you on that way, your affectionate sister, DW.
Dorothy Wordsworth began her Alfoxden Journal on January 20th 1798 but it contains no mention of any visit by Emmeline Gidding or her brother Lionel in the spring of that year so it seems they were able successfully to make their flight via London. We know they did get to India, where they lived together with all the usual 'ups and downs' but generally happily as man and wife for many years and produced five healthy children, because Emma tells us so.
Dorothy's letters to Emma were found in a strongbox in the basement of a law firm in Bombay (now, of course, Mumbai) where it had lain for many years with the note "Not to be opened until the year 2000". Creditably the firm respected this instruction. When finally opened it seems from the contents that Emma had prepared for the possibility of her early death and her children becoming aware of the actual relationship between her and her 'husband' by preparing a full explanation of her history, flight and love for her brother which she obviously felt Dorothy's letters would supplement. As it happened, Emma lived until she was at least 78 as the last note from her within the box was written in 1862. Presumably she felt by then that the secret could be 'buried' and it is likely that the box with its injunction was deposited or left with her lawyers under her will.
Whether any descendants of Emma and her brother could still be traced is unfortunately beyond the resources and remit of this Trust, dedicated as it is to Dorothy Wordsworth's life and work. We are, of course, hugely honoured to have been entrusted with Dorothy's original letters by the Government of India but acknowledge that they are properly the property of anyone who can prove such descent.
For William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge the friendship begun in 1796 lasted until Coleridge's death in 1834 and for both men the years 1796 - 1800 produced some of their finest works including for Coleridge both "Kubla Khan" and his "Rime of the Ancient Mariner". To what extent these can be attributed to the 'bliss' he found in Dorothy Wordsworth will never be known as Coleridge made no reference to it. However this should not be considered churlish as although estranged Coleridge was married and any public acknowledgement, or even hint, of a sexual relationship with Dorothy Wordsworth could easily have dragged her into a divorce action in which her relationship with her brother might well have been placed under the microscope.
William Wordsworth does acknowledge the debt he owes his sister, although circumspectly. The "adventure" in the summer of 1798 referred to by Dorothy in her last letter to Emma was a tour by the three friends of the Wye Valley in South Wales from which was born Wordsworth's poem, "Tintern Abbey", perhaps the most beautiful and perfect of all the poetry of the Romantic Movement and well-deserving of its recognised place as one of the finest poems in the English language. No less than the final third of it is an open acknowledgement of his debt to his sister for "another gift, of aspect more sublime: that blessed mood in which the burthen of the mystery, in which the heavy and the weary weight of all this unintelligible world, is lightened:" and with the fresh insight into the exact nature of his relationship with her gained from her letters to Emma Gidding these words take on even greater passion, and indeed an eroticism they never had before.
The enigmatic allusions in the final paragraph of Dorothy's last letter to Emma are particularly interesting. There has never before been any suggestion that she bore a child to anyone let alone her brother, even as a hint by the most savage of the detractors of her 'life-style'. Moreover and even though she wrote nothing with the intent that it be published and in fact nothing of hers was published until after her death, there is still nothing anywhere within it to suggest she had a child or yearned for one. My own view is that 'brother's commitment within her womb" to which she refers is nothing more than William's commitment to her as a sister-wife, while the' child' of their coupling that night was merely the fully-sexual life together which ensued.
Yet the possibility that she did conceive a child by her brother that last night in Forncett. St. Peter rectory cannot be totally discounted. With the gift of her virginity given Dorothy may well, perhaps just as a precaution, have no longer resisted her uncle's advances and when she discovered she was pregnant attributed it to him. Obviously the scandal of having made his own niece pregnant while in his care would have been catastrophic for the reputation and career of the Revd. Cookson and it is not improbable that in those circumstances Dorothy might well have 'disappeared' from Forncett St. Peter for a few months later in the year, in order to have the baby discreetly 'out of view' and have it adopted - something Emma at least might have been aware of.
With this regard it has always been accepted that while in France William Wordsworth fathered a child on one Annette Vallon. The child, a girl called Caroline, is said to have been born in December 1792 and thus cannot have been Dorothy's by William if this is correct. In August 1802 William and Dorothy took advantage of the Peace of Amiens to travel to Calais and meet with Annette and Caroline. However it is slightly odd that after ten years separation, during most of which William struggled financially to support himself and Dorothy and would have been hard-pressed indeed to support a mistress and child in France, Annette should still have been willing to meet with him and give him access to the child. However, had Dorothy travelled to France to bear a child in 1791, a child what is more for which her uncle accepted responsibility, it is possible that Annette Vallon was merely a foster or adoptive mother and the child was financially maintained throughout this period by the Revd. Cookson with William, in his role as putative father, the 'official' link between the Cookson/Wordsworth families and the child. This would certainly be more likely had the child been born in December 1791, which might indeed be the case with a simple error or confusion arising later as to the date for any number of possibilities, not least the chaos of revolutionary France. If this is the case one might wonder why Dorothy and William did not assume responsibility for their child when they became able to - in 1802 if not earlier. However their uncle might very well have been unhappy at such a prospect, as might Annette Vallon and William's then prospective wife. One can even imagine Dorothy not informing William that the child was in fact his. Furthermore with England actually at war with France for most of this period it might well have been impossible even if desired. There is a record of another meeting between William, Dorothy, Annette and Caroline as late as 1820, which also included Annette's husband whom, one might expect, should not have been at all happy for his wife to meet with her early lover and the purported father of the child he stood "in loco patris" to.
In October 1802 William, by now in Dove Cottage with Dorothy, married Mary Hutchinson. Both William and Dorothy had known Mary and her sisters since childhood. She certainly could not have been ignorant of the rumours surrounding them and as she had lived with William and Dorothy for several months when they were at Racedown it is hard to imagine she was unaware of what we now know to be the truth of them. Dorothy herself did not attend the wedding as she was said to have been 'hysterical', a catch-all medical diagnosis of the time for practically any mental distress of the female and invariably thought to have a sexual origin. However she seems to have quickly reconciled herself to the change in her status, or perhaps an 'accommodation' was reached between William's wife and sister. William and Mary's first child, John, was born only eight months after the wedding yet a mere six weeks later William, Dorothy and Samuel Coleridge left Dove Cottage together for a tour of Scotland, leaving Mary holding the baby! In addition Dorothy's own 'Grasmere Journal' for this period is generally regarded as containing her finest work.
In 1806 one of Mary's sisters joined the household, and in 1808 so did her other one. It was between these two events, in 1807, that Thomas de Quincey stayed at Dove Cottage and later not only comments rather suggestively upon William's having both wife and sister-in-law in his household but hints that he is also sleeping with his sister. It should be understood that Dove Cottage is not the cosy two-roomed thatched nook the name suggests but is in fact a reasonably substantial house, which is fortunate because in addition to his wife and collection of female relatives William's growing fame and recognition as a poet and metaphysical thinker attracted a growing crowd of admirers such as Robert Southey as well as 'hangers-on' so that it was not unusual for there to be a dozen or more guests at Dove Cottage at any one time. Quite how William managed his ménage a quatre, whether Dorothy ever did get the opportunity to earn the unqualified title of wanton and whether she seized it with both hands if she did, we are unlikely ever to know.
Dorothy's last years were not happy ones. She suffered physical ailments and increasingly with what would now be termed dementia. Regrettably some were quick to attribute this to a 'punishment' for her 'life-style' (read ' incest') with her brother, and perhaps they were not altogether wrong for in the increasingly moralistic and straight-laced atmosphere of the later Victorian age her 'bold and brazen' defiance regarding her relationship with her brother must have become ever harder to maintain and a heavier burden as she herself grew more frail.
William Wordsworth, by then England's Poet Laureate, died on 23rd April 1850 and Dorothy on January 25th 1855. It is said that during their lives they were sometimes to be found lying side by side on the ground pretending they were in their graves and this macabre pantomime is now realised as they lie side by side in the graveyard at Grasmere, an arrangement more usual for husband and wife, of course, but surely appropriate for this brother and sister.