UK:     Viking, 2000: ISBN: 0-670-87213-X
Penguin, 2001: ISBN: 0-14-026162-1 (abridged paperback edition)
Audiobook: Penguin Audiobooks, 2000: read by Steven Pacey with Jonathan Keeble and Patience Tomlinson: ISBN: 0-14-180120-4

US:      Ecco, 2005: ISBN: 0-06-07873107 (abridged edition)
Harper Perennial, 2006: ISBN: 0-06-078736-8 (abridged edition)           

Juliet says: "When I first started researching for this biography I didn’t really like Mr Wordsworth. I’d absorbed all the prejudices of people like the poet John Keats who thought him a cold, pompous egocentric. Yet, if that really was the case, how did he write such emotional and sensitive poetry? And why were all the women in his life so devoted to him? This was the puzzle which intrigued me and it was through the masses of largely unpublished family letters and diaries that I began to get a sense of what the real man – their beloved William – was actually like. What emerged was a man who did not wear his heart on his sleeve – hence his cold and distant public image – but one whose warmth and vitality were reserved for the family and many friends to whom he was devoted. Without their unfailing support he could not have borne the years of contempt and ridicule to which his poetry was subjected by critics.

It was the loss of his son and daughter in childhood that drove him to accept a government sinecure for the sake of his surviving children; and it was the loss of his other daughter Dora which finally silenced the elderly poet. It is only when seen in the context of his entire family circle that his relationship with his sister Dorothy – which has been the subject of so much prurient and wrong-headed speculation because it is always viewed in isolation and through her diaries alone – becomes explicable. What also becomes clear is that the real power behind the throne was not William’s sister but his wife Mary who tirelessly and selflessly cared for the entire family, edited and proof-read his poetry and composed the two most famous lines in his most famous poem on daffodils. What I hope the book succeeds in doing is allowing the real William Wordsworth to emerge from the shadows of that towering genius who bestrides the nineteenth century lie a colossus. Even better if it also encourages readers to return to his sublime poetry which was once on the lips of every school-child but is now so neglected." 

What the cover says: William Wordsworth’s early life reads like a novel. Orphaned at a young age and dependent on the charity of unsympathetic relatives, he became the archetypal teenage rebel. Refusing to enter the Church, he went instead to Revolutionary France, where he fathered an illegitimate daughter and became a committed Republican. His poetry was as revolutionary as his politics, challenging convention in form, style and subject and earning him the universal derision and contempt of critics. Only the unfailing encouragement of a tightly knit group of supporters, his family and, above all, Coleridge, kept him true to his poetic vocation.

            In the half-century that followed his reputation was transformed – the despised author of homely lyric verse turned into the venerated philosopher whose opinions were actively sought by politicians, Church leaders and educationalists. His advocacy of the importance of imagination and feeling touched a chord in an increasingly industrial, mechanistic age, and his influence was profoundly and widely felt in every sphere of life. In the last decade of his life, Rydal Mount, his home in the Lakes for thirty-seven years, became a place of pilgrimage, not just for the great and powerful in Church and state, but also, more touchingly, for the hundreds of ordinary people who came to pay their silent tribute to his genius.

            In what is, astonishingly, the first biography of Wordsworth to treat the latter part of his life as fully as the first, Juliet Barker employs the skills that made The Brontës a bestseller. Balancing meticulous research with a readable style, and scrupulous objectivity with an understanding of her subject, she reveals not only the public figure who was courted and reviled in equal measure but also the complex, elusive, private man behind that image. Drawing on unpublished sources, she vividly re-creates the intimacy of Wordsworth’s domestic circle, showing the love, laughter, loyalty and tragedies which bound them together. Far from being the remote, cold, solitary figure of legend, Wordsworth emerges from this outstanding biography as a passionate, vibrant man who lived for his family, his poetry and his beloved Lakeland. His legacy, as a poet and as the spiritual founder of the conservation movement, remains with us today.


Reviews of Wordsworth: A Life:  

‘A marvellously readable narrative … a model of how such things should be done – a tremendous achievement’
Michael Holroyd, The Mail on Sunday  

‘Juliet Barker has written a detailed, rich and tactful biography of huge vale and interest.  She has delved deep and comes up with an extraordinarily sympathetic and constantly engaging portrait … one of our best biographers … a remarkable book’|
Philip Hensher, The Observer  

‘A brilliantly executed portrait of Wordsworth’s life, work and evolving philosophy … her elegant narrative [has] the density and intimacy of a 19th century novel’
Anna Mundow, Irish Times and Boston Sunday Globe  

‘Meticulously researched and very well written … full of riches … A book steeped in the love of its subject and of the countryside that he commemorated so lastingly in his poetry’
The Literary Review  

‘Uniquely readable … Her accomplished, invigorating and accessible book marks an important stage in the recovery of Wordsworth’
Sunday Times  

‘Barker’s is a much more human and endearing portrait than any that has hitherto appeared [and] our opinion of Wordsworth is subtly altered in several ways in the course of her book’
he Times Literary Supplement  

‘[Barker’s] great strength is her good sense, which allows her to treat the poems in a way which both connects with and remains separate from intimate matters, and to weave a narrative thread strong enough to support Wordsworth’s weighty ideas’
Andrew Motion, The Financial Times

Wordsworth Birthplace, Cockermouth: www.wordsworthhouse.org.uk
Dove Cottage, Grasmere: www.wordsworth.org.uk
Rydal Mount, Ambleside: www.rydalmount.co.uk
The Wordsworth Trust: www.wordsworth.org.uk