2002: ISBN: 0-670-87214-8
Penguin, 2003: ISBN: 0-140-26163-X
Penguin Classics, 2007: ISBN: 978-0-141-44213-6
Juliet says: "William Wordsworth once told a friend that he ‘always took pains’ to make his letters ‘as bad & dull as possible’ so that no one would want to keep them or, worse, still publish them! Not a promising start for a book of ‘life in letters’ along the lines of my Brontë edition – but a revealing insight into a man who was determined to keep his private life well-hidden from prying eyes. Fortunately for us he didn’t stick to his rule in his letters to family and close friends and this book contains a wealth of insights not only into his poetry but also into the man himself. There are also some delightful pen portraits by those who knew him: I love his son-in-law’s description of him, aged seventy, composing a sonnet as he strode up Helvellyn – and leaving his fans breathless and scrambling in his wake as they tried in vain to keep up with him. I feel guilty about including the passionate love-letters he wrote to his wife of a decade, because he would have hated having them read by anyone else, but I think they demonstrate so clearly the difference between his love for his wife and his love for his sister that they should be compulsory reading for all those who imagine an incestuous relationship between brother and sister.
Although there are some good and comprehensive editions of William and Dorothy’s letters available, I decided to start again by personally transcribing from the manuscripts the ones I included so that I could correct some of the bizarre misreadings which have made their way into the canon of Wordsworth literature. And by including so many of the hitherto unpublished family letters I think a much more balanced view of the Wordsworths and their circle emerges than those usually offered by their biographers."
What the cover says: 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 schoolchildren. 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 belatedly achieving 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.
Juliet Barker, author of the highly acclaimed biography Wordsworth: A Life, has brought together an unrivalled range of sources to allow the poet himself, for the first time ever, to tell his own story in his own words, assisted by those closest to him. The result is an intimate, authentic and revealing portrait of Wordsworth, his family and his times.
Reviews of Wordsworth: A Life in Letters:
‘intense, shrewd … [giving] the general impression of
Wordsworth as a recognizably decent, kind and likeable person’
Andrew Motion, Financial Times
‘Works surprisingly well … cleverly combining, as Barker has
done here, his own letters with those of his family and with other documents,
including extracts from diaries and journals. These letters also give us
domestic details of a type too insubstantial to be noticed in a biography, but
nevertheless charming … makes a good story’
Adam Sisman, Literary Review
‘Barker’s judicious selection shows us Wordsworth the writer
in a way not possible in a biography that seeks to explain the life as well.
There is a greatness in Wordsworth’s very doggedness [and] Barker allows us to
hear the man himself, greatness and all’
Kate Chisholm, Sunday Telegraph
‘Revealing and enjoyable’
‘Reveals the character of the romantic poet through his own
voluminous and expressive correspondence’
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