Two Wordsworths: Mountain-climbing, Letter-writing

  • Susan J. WolfsonEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Cultures of Print book series (PERCP)


On 21 October 1818, at age 47, in a letter that was published only in part, in the 1840s, in her brother’s A Guide through the District of the Lakes, Dorothy Wordsworth wrote to Reverend William Johnson, a former curate and schoolmaster in Grasmere, of her adventure with ‘a female Friend, an unmarried Lady, who, bewitched with the charms of the rocks, & streams, & Mountains’ of the Vale of Borrowdale, proposed hiking ‘up a mountain called at the top Ash Course’, with a promise of ‘a most magnificent prospect.’ As is usual with Dorothy Wordsworth, her account of the adventure takes the form of a journal-letter to a friend, rather than any more polished essay. But as is also clear from her brother’s reading and admiration of the letter, such letters were privately circulated, and so written with an awareness of an audience beyond the addressee. At the same time, Dorothy Wordsworth, as one of the fair-copiers of The Prelude, and of course intimate with her brother in any event, would have in mind William Wordsworth’s iconic mountain ascents, the ‘missed crossing’ of the Alps, with his friend Robert Jones, in 1790, and the ascent of Mount Snowdon, also with Jones, in 1791. So, Dorothy Wordsworth’s letter is tacitly intertextual, comparing the women’s adventure with the lads’, comparing the middle-age ascent, at more than twice the age, to the lads’, and with descriptions that pose alternatives to the heroic-minded narratives of her brother.

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© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Princeton UniversityPrincetonUSA

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