Skip main navigation

Dorothy Wordsworth and Dove Cottage

This step introduces Dorothy, Dove Cottage and Grasmere - what the place means for her and how she finds a home through writing. It also introduces the role of journals.

This step introduces Dorothy, Dove Cottage and Grasmere – what the place means for her and how she finds a home through writing. It also introduces the role of journals.

Dorothy Wordsworth’s Life

Dorothy Wordsworth was born on Christmas Day in 1771, in Cockermouth, in the north of the Lake District. She was the third of five children and the only daughter in the family. Her mother died in 1778, when she was seven years old, and her father died in 1783, when she was twelve. After her mother’s death Dorothy was brought up by a succession of relatives in places like Halifax and Norfolk far away from her brothers. These years were sometimes miserable and sometimes happy for Dorothy but the visits from her brother William were the absolute highlights. He was the closest to her in age – only a year older – and when he came to visit her they would plot their future lives together. They would dream of being able to live together reading, writing and walking, living an ideal existence in the part of the country that they most loved, the Lake District.

The Wordsworths and Dove Cottage

They were able to live together for short periods, such as when they moved to Alfoxden House on the Quantock Hills in Somerset in 1797 to be near to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but their move to Dove Cottage in Grasmere in December 1799 marked the start of their making a real home together.

Dorothy Begins Writing at Dove Cottage

This film takes us into Dove Cottage itself with Professor Sharon Ruston to explore this house as a home. We see various objects associated with Dorothy and think about the experience of living and writing here. Wordsworth later recalled in his autobiographical poem The Prelude that Dorothy, ‘in the midst of all, preserved me still / A Poet’ (1805 edn, x. 919–20). But, we also find out here that Dorothy wrote herself, keeping a journal that recorded their time here. She started writing it on 14 May 1800 after her two brothers, William and John, left her for a trip to Yorkshire. She writes: ‘I resolved to write a journal of the time till W. and J. return, and set about keeping my resolve, because I will not quarrel with myself, and because I shall give Wm. pleasure by it when he comes home again’. Dorothy never intended for the journal to be published, but as will become clear in future steps, she did mean for it to be read by William.

The Move from Dove Cottage

After William married Mary Hutchinson in 1802, Dorothy continued to live with them and to help look after their children. When the family moved house, Dorothy moved with them. Eventually outlasting William by five years, she died on 25 January 1855. Her last illness had confined her to the house and near surroundings for two decades before her death, which must have been hard for someone who in her youth had enjoyed such physical independence. Dorothy’s life was a remarkable one for a woman of her day. Famously, William wrote of Dorothy in one of his poems: ‘She gave me eyes, she gave me ears’.

While you’re watching this film, think about what it would have meant for Dorothy to be given this opportunity, as a young, single woman, to set up home with her brother. What are your impressions of Dove Cottage? Does it seem like a good place to live and to write? How important is place to writing?

The poet and academic Dr Polly Atkin (Strathclyde University) helped in the making of this film as did Kate Ingle (Lancaster University).

If you’d like to read more about the creative partnership of Dorothy and William Wordsworth, Lucy Newlyn’s book, William and Dorothy Wordsworth: ‘All in Each Other’ (Oxford University Press, 2013) is excellent. There is also a very popular biography of Dorothy, written by Frances Wilson, The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth (Faber and Faber, 2009).

This article is from the free online

William Wordsworth: Poetry, People and Place

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now