Sara Hutchinson: Love and Reading

  • Anya Taylor


Falling in love with Sara Hutchinson crystallized Coleridge’s early sensitivities to female bodies, to female warmth, and to female voices, and set the stage for his later loves including his fainter, reduplicated loves for Mrs. Morgan’s sister Charlotte Brent and for Mrs. Anne Gillman. His love for Sara Hutchinson began either on Oct. 26, 1799, when he met her, or four weeks later on Nov. 24, when he held her hand and felt love’s dart envenom him forever (as he wrote in his diary in Latin, to keep his wife from reading it). This love was intensified by entanglement with the Wordsworths, since Sara Hutchinson’s sister Mary was to become William’s wife; Coleridge in loving Wordsworth’s sister-in-law attached himself all the more intimately to the Wordsworth family circle, including Dorothy, whom he loved in a more companionable way. His “passion for SH,” as Dorothy called it in her letters, made him more than usually alert to other women, to their stories, songs, performances, troubles, and triumphs; it overlapped with his appreciation of literary and musical women. It followed the composition of the first part of “Christabel” and coincided with the struggle to galvanize part two of “Christabel,” and to resolve the alternate possible meanings of that poem. It energized his shift from looking at women to listening to them.


Secret Message Outer Frame Paradise Lost Love Story True Love 
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    In Lyrical Ballads 1800 Coleridge calls the poem “Love” and detaches it from its original genesis as “The Introduction to the Tale of the Dark Ladie.” This “introduction” does not describe the poem “Love” at all, since it promises “cruel wrongs” rather than mutual passions; see R. L. Brett and A. R. Jones, eds., Wordsworth and Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads, 2nd edition (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1991), pp. 119–123 and note pp. 298–299. The “pernicious wrongs” mentioned in the attached material in Poetical Works apply to “Christabel,” “The Ballad of the Dark Ladie,” and “The Three Graves” but not to “Love.” To embed “Love” in “The Introduction to the Tale of the Dark Ladie” as the new edition does is to warp the meaning, to darken the joy.Google Scholar
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© Anya Taylor 2005

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  • Anya Taylor

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