Writers

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Dorothy Wordsworth

1771-1855

Dorothy Mae Ann Wordsworth (1771 – 1855) was an English author, poet, and diarist. She was the sister of the Romantic poet William Wordsworth, and the two were close all their adult lives. Wordsworth had no ambitions to be a public author, yet she left behind numerous letters, diary entries, topographical descriptions, poems, and other writings. Dorothy was sent to live with her mother’s cousin, Elizabeth Threlkeld, in Halifax. According to Robert Gittings and Jo Manton, as she laying dying, Ann had begged her 33 year old cousin to take in Dorothy. Dorothy was happy in her new home and became part of a large extended family. Elizabeth Threlkeld was already caring for her older sister’s 5 children and she took over her brother-in-law’s haberdasher’s business when he died. Across the road was little Jane Pollard, the same age as Dorothy, and the two girls became lifelong friends.

Dorothy was sent to boarding school just out of Halifax at the age of nine. She was only there for 3 years. Her father died intestate with only a small personal estate at the end of 1783 and to save money, the children’s guardians—paternal uncle Richard Wordsworth and maternal uncle Christopher Cookson—withdrew Dorothy from the school. Dorothy’s uncle William Cookson took the girl under his wing while home from Cambridge and continued with her education. In 1788 when William married another Dorothy, Dorothy Cowper, she moved in with the couple at the Forncett St Peter rectory, a parish in Norfolk.

Dorothy lived happily with her uncle and his wife for 6 years. She helped in the household and with the children, but also began imagining how she would set up house with her brothers, especially William. It wasn’t until 1795, by which time Dorothy was in her early 20s, before she and William began living together, first at Racedown Lodge in Dorset and later in Dove Cottage at Grasmere in the Lake District from 1799 to 1808.