Literature Study GuidesThe Grasmere JournalsBook 2 1801 October December Summary

The Grasmere Journals | Study Guide

Dorothy Wordsworth

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The Grasmere Journals | Book 2, 1801 (October–December) | Summary

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Summary

In October 1801, Dorothy describes a walk she takes with William, during which she holds her head under a waterfall. She returns to the cottage feeling ill and takes some laudanum (opium). Coleridge, who is visiting, feels ill and returns home on October 20. William and Tom Hutchinson visit Hawkshead. On October 27 Dorothy spends a whole day on horseback with Tom, riding to Legberthwaite, reveling in "glorious, glorious sights" of the views of the mountains. Most of October is rainy.

In November Dorothy walks to Keswick with Coleridge, who is ill. They meet Mary there, and she returns to Grasmere with Dorothy. But Dorothy's mind is still on Coleridge, and she feels she has many causes for anxiety. Still, the siblings enjoy many walks and stimulating literary conversations during Mary's visit. On November 15 Dorothy notes that the three read works by the 14th-century English poet Chaucer by the fire and were very "quiet and happy" together.

The weather turns cold in the latter half of November, and Dorothy and Mary begin to sew a woolen waistcoat for William. On the afternoon of November 24, the three walk and come to a favorite birch tree. Dorothy writes about how the sun shines on the tree and how it looks like a "flying sunshiny shower" in the wind. She writes, "It was a tree in shape ... but it was like a spirit of water."

In December Dorothy is confined to bed for many days with headaches. William spends much of the month translating Chaucer and reading. On December 6 they receive a melancholy letter from Coleridge that keeps them all awake with worry. The next morning they set out of Keswick, through the snow, and spend the afternoon with Mrs. Coleridge and her two young sons. Dorothy writes a letter to Coleridge on her return. On December 13 Dorothy reads a letter from Sara, who says she is "in bad spirits about C." The next day Dorothy writes Coleridge at length. On December 21 they receive a letter from Coleridge who is again ill, and Dorothy notes "we were made very unhappy" by his letter.

On December 22 Dorothy passes a beggar on the street without stopping, but her conscience reproves her. She turns back to speak with him. Near Christmas William works on "The Pedlar," and Dorothy takes out her old journals to read. After Christmas, which Dorothy says was a bad day, the three walk to Keswick and part with Mary on the return journey.

Analysis

The notebook containing the portions of Grasmere Journal from December 23, 1800, to October 9, 1801, is missing.

Aside from ill health, there is evidently something greatly troubling Coleridge during this period, and Dorothy by extension. It may be his love for Sara Hutchinson and deteriorating marriage that upsets his friends the Wordsworths. Another possibility is his increasing addiction to opium. In any case, it seems to involve his absence from his home. After receiving his troubling letter, the Wordsworths and Mary go immediately, in bad weather, to visit his wife and children. As soon as Dorothy gets home the next day, she immediately writes Coleridge. After receiving a letter from Sara that expresses distress over Coleridge, Dorothy again responds by writing him a very long letter. The letter to Dorothy may have been from Coleridge's wife, Sara, or Sara Hutchinson, with whom he was in love. No last name is given. In either case, Dorothy seems compelled to express her thoughts to Coleridge, whether to encourage or complain is unclear. What is clear is that Coleridge is causing Dorothy a great deal of anxiety during these last months of 1801.

Mary's visit is a preview of life to come. Mary Hutchinson, Dorothy's longtime childhood friend, comes to visit for an extended amount of time. She seems to fit right in with the siblings, throwing herself into their almost daily walks, fireside conversations, and domestic chores. Her comfortable companionship foreshadows the relationship the three will have when she marries William the following year and moves into Dove Cottage with the siblings.

The passage describing the sunshine and wind's effect on the birch tree is an excellent example of Dorothy's skills of observation and description. Few others but a writer would point out how the light and wind created a "flying sunshiny shower" in the leaves, giving the tree the "spirit of water."

During Dorothy's earlier years living with her Aunt Threlkeld in Halifax, her aunt instilled in her a sense of charity befitting a virtuous woman. This value stuck with Dorothy her whole life, making it impossible for her to pass a pauper without stopping to inquire about his or her welfare.

"The Pedlar" was an earlier Wordsworth poem, written in 1797. Dorothy records William working on it in this last quester of 1801, which is an example of his proclivity toward revision. He would repeatedly go back to older works to make changes. This poem would not be published until 1814.

Dorothy mentions taking laudanum when she feels unwell. Laudanum was a common medicine in Victorian England, an extract of opium in alcohol used for pain relief or sleep, but widely used for just about any malady. Opium is a highly addictive drug, and its use as a medicine at the time led many, including Coleridge and later Dorothy, to become dependent.

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