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The Wordsworth and the Naming of Sara’s Gate

The most detailed account of the Wordsworths naming something is given in a joint letter from William and Dorothy to Mary Hutchinson dated the 29th April 1801. Mary’s sister, Sara, had recently visited Grasmere and marked and named a local gate. In his portion of the letter, William recounts the event and invites Mary to make her own mark on the landscape.
© Lancaster University

In this exercise, we will be thinking more closely about the process of naming places.

The Wordsworths and Naming

The most detailed account of the Wordsworths naming something is given in a joint letter from William and Dorothy to Mary Hutchinson dated the 29th April 1801. Mary’s sister, Sara, had recently visited Grasmere and marked and named a local gate. In his portion of the letter, William recounts the event and invites Mary to make her own mark on the landscape.

Please read the extract below carefully before answering the questions.

The Naming of Sara’s Gate

William Wordsworth Writes:

D. and I sat two hours in Johns [sic] firgrove this morning, ‘twas a burning hot day but there we had a delicious cool breeze. How we wished for our dear dear friends you and Sara. You will recollect that there is a gate just across the road, directly opposite the firgrove, this gate was always a favourite station of ours; we love it far more now on Saras [sic] account. You know that it commands a beautiful prospect: Sara carved her cypher upon one of its bars and we call it her gate. We will find out another place for your cypher, but you must come and fix upon the place yourself. How we long to see you my dear Mary (The Letters of Dorothy and William Wordsworth: Early Years 332-333).

  1. What do you notice about the process of naming outlined above? What different elements are involved?
  2. How do you think the different stages involved in the naming process contribute towards place-making?
  3. In the film, Kate discusses naming as a kind of ‘possession of the local’. What do you think this means? What are the positive and negative elements of taking possession of the local landscape and of local meanings?
  4. Think back to Sharon’s earlier film on the importance of letter writing for the Wordsworths. Is it significant that William outlines the process of naming in a jointly written letter? How might the form and structure of the letter encourage and strengthen feelings of friendship?
© Lancaster University
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William Wordsworth: Poetry, People and Place

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