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A Life in Letters
  • Published: 18 April 2007
  • ISBN: 9780141442136
  • Imprint: Penguin Classics
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • RRP: $34.99

A Life in Letters



"Enjoyable, sympathetically selected and annotated, and making a fine companion to Juliet Barker's biography ... not to be missed" TLS

William Wordsworth is usually remembered as the quintessential Victorian Poet Laureate: a dull, worthy, establishment figure, with impeccable middle class, Tory, Anglican credentials, whose moralistic poetry has been required reading for generations of yawning school children. Yet there is so much more to Wordsworth than Daffodils and The Prelude.

This selection of letters and autobiographical fragments introduces us to the real Wordsworth: the rebellious schoolboy, who vandalised his family portraits, became a supporter of the French Revolution and fathered an illegitimate daughter in France; the radical poet whose flouting of the conventions of the day attracted the ridicule of the reviewers and forced him to endure thirty years of rejection, obscurity and financial hardship before achieving belated critical and popular success; the devoted brother, husband and father who could still write passionate love letters to his wife after ten years of marriage and the birth of five children; and, finally, the revered patriarch whose poetry formed the hearts and minds of a generation, whose opinions were sought by writers, politicians, churchmen and educationalists throughout the English speaking world, but who thought nothing of vaulting walls, skating on the Lakes or climbing Helvellyn even in his seventies.

  • Published: 18 April 2007
  • ISBN: 9780141442136
  • Imprint: Penguin Classics
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • RRP: $34.99

About the author

William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth was born in the Lake District in April 1770, and died there eighty years later on 23 April 1850. He had three brothers and a sister, Dorothy, to whom throughout his life he was especially close. When she was six, and he was nearly eight, their mother died. Dorothy was sent away to be brought up by relatives, and a year later William was sent to Hawkshead Grammar School, scene of the great childhood episodes of The Prelude.

Wordsworth was cared for in lodgings and led a life of exceptional freedom, roving over the fells that surround the village. The death of his father, agent to the immensely powerful landowner Sir James Lowther, broke in on this happiness when he was thirteen, but did not halt the education through nature that complemented his Hawkshead studies and became the theme of his poetry.

At Cambridge, Wordsworth travelled (experiencing the French Revolution at first hand) and wrote poetry. His twenties were spent as a wanderer, in France, Wales, London, the Lakes, Dorset and Germany. In France he fathered a child whom he did not meet till she was nine because of the War. In 1795 he was reunited with Dorothy, and met Coleridge, with whom he published Lyrical Ballads in 1898, and to whom he addressed The Prelude, his epic study of human consciousness.

In the last days of the century Wordsworth and Dorothy found a settled home at Dove Cottage, Grasmere. Here Wordsworth wrote much of his best-loved poetry, and Dorothy her famous Journals. In 1802 Wordsworth married Dorothy's closest friend, Mary Hutchinson.

Gradually he established himself as the great poet of his age, a turning-point coming with the Collected Poems of 1815. From 1813 Wordsworth and his family lived at Rydal Mount in the next-door valley to Grasmere. In 1843 he became Poet Laureate.

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