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Editing Dorothy Wordsworth.

IN this latest edition of Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere Journals, (Oxford University Press, |pounds~30), the editor, Pamela Woof has set about restoring the integrity of the original text. However well-intentioned editors are, the process of editing invariably results in distracting the reader from the inspired original. The text becomes clinically correct and much of the author's original inspiration becomes lost to the reader. When I asked Pamela Woof why Oxford University Press had accepted the necessity for yet another edition -- there have already been three editions this century -- she explained how the idea had grown out of a talk she gave in 1985 at the Wordsworth Summer Conference in Grasmere, 'Dorothy Wordsworth, Writer', in response to the request for a few notes to make the Journals more accessible to American readers.

The Wordsworth Trust was at that time preparing an exhibition, 'Wordsworth and the Age of English Romanticism' in collaboration with Rutgers University to be shown to celebrated acclaim in Chicago, New York and Bloomington, Indiana, during the winter of 1987-1988. The exercise had begun modestly enough with Pamela Woof adding here and there to Mary Moorman's notes to the 1971 edition. It soon became apparent that there were many more questions to be answered, matters of identification to be explained, incorrect adjustments to the original text to be rectified, and a surplus of extraneous punctuation to be removed. Eventually, although it had not been their original intention, Oxford University Press, to their credit, decided to re-set the type of the original text. Many of these variations to Dorothy's original manuscript may seem individually minute but taken as a whole they detract from its freshness and beauty, the hand-writing which is so individual to Dorothy, changing its meaning however slightly, upsetting the rhythm of her unique prose style and so reducing the reader's anticipation and pleasure of discovery. Pamela Woof has in a large measure brought us nearer to the heart of the Journals and in so doing placed them in a Grasmere which was dear to the heart of Dorothy and her much-loved poet brother.

As the notes accumulated -- and they are very ample -- Pamela Woof noticed editorial deductions which could not be sustained. She asks the question, for example, why Dorothy Wordsworth should according to the 1971 notes be receiving a letter from Peggy Ashburner, who lived opposite Dove Cottage. Thomas Ashburner, Peggy's husband, delivered coals to Dove Cottage. The date was 26 April 1802. Peggy was not likely to correspond with Wordsworth, or be away. The Ashburners had been so poor that they had been forced to sell their land. Pamela Woof disputes that this was Peggy Ashburner. Much more likely, she deduces it to be Peggy Marsh, Dorothy's 'good and dear Peggy', the servant of Racedown and Alfoxden days who 'would have gone to the world's end with us'. Peggy Marsh had married James Marsh, a blacksmith, followed by a life of tragedy, sickness, deaths in the family, and a house burned down as well as a cruel husband. Peggy Marsh was wont to beg for money to which Dorothy always responded. Again, an entry for 24 March 1802 notes 'William walked out and wrote Peggy Ashburner'. The note in the 1971 edition explains incorrectly that Peggy Ashburner was 'at present away from Grasmere'. Dorothy had noted the loss of the land so dear to Peggy, how she would 'gang out upon a hill and look o'er t'fields and see' the sheep grazing. Dorothy refers to William walking out and composing the poem, 'Repentance' and this according to Pamela Woof tells us precisely when the poem was composed. Careful local investigation helps the editor to name the 'poor woman who had drowned herself' and whose funeral came by Dove Cottage. It was the ninth of February 1802. There was no funeral at Grasmere Church that day, but there was hard frost and snow everyday for a week. Dorothy notes in her journals that among the mourners was the poor woman's sister, 'Thomas Fleming's wife in a Chaise'. Pamela Woof had discovered that Thomas Fleming of Rydal had married in Ulverston a Dorothy Moser, whose sister Elizabeth had married in November 1800 a local man, John Kendall. It was this Elizabeth who had drowned herself in 1802. She was taken to Grasmere Churchyard where her mother was buried in 1789.

Pamela Woof told me that she learned more about the composition of the Journals by this analytical approach. Why, she asks, would Dorothy write a long account of two beggar boys and their mother, a long, careful and much corrected account, on 10 June 1800, two weeks after meeting them on the road to Ambleside? On the day she met them, 27 May, she had written, 'I walked to Ambleside with letters'. There is no mention of the encounter given in such detail later. Pamela Woof asks the question, 'Was it in May she had been alone, Wordsworth and John being in Yorkshire for three weeks, and on 10 June, Wordsworth was with her, taking his first walk to Ambleside since returning?' We can only presume that Dorothy told him about the charming, lying beggar boys met on that very road and that he showed so much interest that she wrote down a full account. Wordsworth was later to write a poem on the subject.

Academics will always be fascinated by the supporting role played by Dorothy and the extent to which it added fuel to the creative mind of William. Pamela Woof's dedicated study of the Journals revealed how conscious a writer Dorothy often is. She cites Dorothy's description of the daffodils, noticing two phrases about the wind, its blowing upon the daffodils over the lake, and its blowing 'directly' to them, later additions to the original description. Dorothy has turned the picture of tossing daffodils into a celebratory dance by consciously making the wind their partner.

There were many small but significant changes to be made to the last edition. Dorothy, claims Pamela Woof, did not write 'the moon shone like herrings in the water' on 31 October 1800, but 'the moonshine like herrings in the water'. The word 'moonshine' drops into the centrefold of the notebook and is a single word, characteristic use of a wonderful phrase without a verb.

Re-setting the existing text from the original gave the opportunity to recover in print much more of Dorothy's own punctuation. When Dorothy's text falls victim to the over-zealous corrections of a less sensitive editor, the flow of the prose is interrupted. Take for example the sentence, 'I threw him the cloak out of the window the moon overcast, he sate a few minutes in the orchard came in sleepy, & hurried to bed -- I carried his bread & butter'. The 1971 version checks the pulse of this four times by the insertion of punctuation and capital letters. The rhythm has now moved nearer to Dorothy's own.

Pamela Woof has prefaced this new edition with a generous introduction which captures the mood and varying pace, and although, as she writes, 'it is true that the Journal's clarities and power make themselves felt without any explanatory notes at all, there are still local points that remain a puzzle if we can bring no familiarity of place or people to Dorothy's account'.
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Author:Tomlinson, Bernard
Publication:Contemporary Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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