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Tag Archives: Wordsworth

I just returned home from the Number One London tour of the Lake District. What a fabulous time! We saw vistas like this:

And this:

What an inspirational trip! I just so happen to be starting a new book and I can set the book anywhere in England, so why not the Lake District?

The Lake District was a popular destination for English travelers during the Regency, perhaps because Europe was closed to them or maybe it was because William Wordsworth wrote a guidebook popularizing the place.

Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth, Cumberland, and with his sister Dorothy, settled in Dove Cottage in Grasmere, soon to be joined by a wife, the wife’s sister, and three out of their five children. We visited Dove Cottage and, while it had a charming exterior, inside it was dark and small. There were only three bedrooms, one for the Wordsworth and his wife, one for Dorothy, and one for the children. The poor sister-in-law slept sometimes with the children, sometimes with Dorothy and sometimes in a cot in the sitting room, if none of Wordsworth’s frequent guests were visiting.

It was pretty clear to me that my book would not put my hero and heroine in such a small, dismal house.

Another choice was a castle. We visited Sizergh Castle, a residence of the Strickland family since 1239. This house was quite atmospheric, with dark oak panelling and oak carved fireplaces and winding castle-like staircases.

Or perhaps a stately Georgian house would be a better fit. We also visited Dalemain House.

With its beautiful gardens.

Decisions. Decisions.

What do you think?

(By the way, this was only a fraction of the wonderful sights we saw in the Lake District)

I recently read THE IMMORTAL DINNER, by Penelope Hughes-Hallett, subtitled “A Famous Evening of Genius and Laughter in Literary London”. The book centers around a dinner party held by painter Robert Haydon whose guest list included John Keats, William Wordsworth and Charles Lamb. There’s lots of interesting background information on the participants and their contemporaries.

For example, there’s an account of Coleridge composing poetry “in walking over uneven ground, or breaking through the straggling branches of a copse-wood” while Wordsworth preferred “walking up and down a straight gravel-walk, or in some spot where the continuity of his verse met with no collateral interruption.”

Maybe it’s presumptuous, but I love it when I read about famous writers with similar habits to mine. “Thinking walks” are part of my own writing process. I’m more like Wordsworth–I like a reasonably level path, to keep my mind free to focus on my story–which is a good thing as copse-woods are scarce in my neighborhood.

Another account that made me smile was this one by Marianne Knight, one of Jane Austen’s nieces. “I also remember how Aunt Jane would sit quietly working (which meant sewing) beside the fire in the library, saying nothing for a good while, and then would suddenly burst out laughing, jump up and run across the room to a table where pens and paper were lying, write something down, and then come back across to the fire and go on quietly working as before.”

I always keep a writing pad in my purse, one by my bedside, and one on the kitchen counter for just that reason. Ideas don’t always come while I’m actively writing–perversely, some of the best ones come when I’m doing something else. Perhaps it’s because sewing and walking, both rhythmic activities, loosen up the creative process for me as they do for other artists I know.

Do you have any favorite accounts of famous writers’ processes? Are there any quirky habits you use that help you be creative, whatever your field of endeavor?

And to anyone who sees a woman striding through a neighborhood muttering to herself, remember she may not be crazy. She may just be a writer. 🙂


I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;

But they weren’t golden. We’ve been fooled!

The daffodils Wordsworth saw were not the golden daffodils that were developed half a century later but the native species narcissus pseudonarcissus aka the Lent Lily which is a paler color. They’re not particularly popular today because they’re, well, lackluster if you lack poetic vision and don’t last well in a vase.

Daffodils became big business–and golden–in the latter half of the nineteenth century when commercial market gardening took off. The National Trust started a project in 2001 to identify historic varieties of daffodils–you can read about it here.

I find it rather appealing that the director of the project is a former International Daffodil Registrar (“… and what do you do?”). The project is conducted at Cotehele House in Cornwall where it’s estimated there may be as many as 400 unidentified species of daffodils lurking in hedgerows.

Here’s a US source for historic daffodils and an article on their history at Old House –they were introduced into England in the thirteenth century!

And have you noticed that the more you say the word daffodil the sillier it sounds?

Talking of silly names, the village of Tolpuddle in Dorset is where a courageous group of farm laborers living on starvation wages formed a trade union and were transported to serve as an example to their peers. The Tolpuddle Martyrs are still revered as champions of liberty and the trades union movement and today is the anniversary of their sentencing to seven years transportation in 1834. More at my other home away from home online at History Hoydens.

Do you have any favorite silly words or are daffodils blooming yet in your yard?

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Our Regency heroes were all dressed as girls for the first few years of their lives. Sad but true, and somehow they grew up normal; the upside of it was that they then enjoyed the formal ceremony of being breeched–that is, allowed to wear pants. And other than the cross-dressing, it wasn’t that bad a time to be a child, if you survived, and, of course, had the additional luck of being born into a family with money and education.

Children were no longer seen as adults in miniature or full of original sin that needed to be flogged out of them. Childhood was becoming recognized as a stage in life, much as the 1950s spawned the cult of the teenager, thanks to Rousseau’s Emile, a novel that explored the ideal upbringing of a child (ironically, Rousseau sent his own children to be raised in an institution, hoping they’d have a better chance in life there than as the illegitimate offspring of an impoverished writer). Wordsworth and Blake wrote about childhood as a state of mystical innocence.

Children now had their own styles of clothing, such as the skeleton suit for little boys and the late eighteenth-century styles for girls’ clothes–high waisted, simple cotton gowns–later became the fashion for adults. Books, games, and puzzles were produced for children, and not all the books were improving texts.

But even in those relatively enlightened times, and in affluent families, the infant mortality rate was appallingly high. It makes you wonder what the relationships between children and parents were like–did parents love their children without reservation, knowing they might have only a short time together? Or did parents repress their natural feelings to protect themselves from the grief to come?

In a biography of Mary Wollstonecraft I read (sorry, can’t remember which one), there was a truly heartbreaking excerpt from a letter Mary wrote after losing a child–but the thing that struck me as odd was that she referred to the baby as it. It could be a linguistic oddity–like the French word bebe not entering the language until the late nineteenth-century. But words are important, as we know. Does this reflect an attitude of the past that is quite alien to us now? Is this how the Regency produced Victorians?

And how do you feel about the portrayal of children in romances? Quoting myself, number seven in the top ten things a heroine would never say in a Regency romance (from The Rules of Gentility):

I don’t care if that adorable lisping child is the apple of the hero’s eye. If she doesn’t shut up I’ll slap her.

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