British academic John Worthen gives a new spin to the oft-told tale of English Romanticism's best-known coterie. It's well known that William Wordsworth married Mary Hutchinson, that Samuel Taylor Coleridge hopelessly loved her sister Sara, and that Dorothy Wordsworth served as intimate friend to them all, not least her brother William. Worthen deepens our knowledge by closely analyzing every available document--diaries, letters, household accounts--from a pivotal six-month period in 1802 when Coleridge wrote "Dejection: An Ode" and Wordsworth began work on one of his most famous poems, "Ode: Intimations of Immortality." Only by delving into the artists' daily lives, Worthen asserts in a thoughtful preface, can we truly understand the way their creativity fed off the natural world and their personal relationships. Taking critical issue with previous biographers (particularly Richard Holmes), whom he argues used source material very selectively to serve their own agendas, Worthen seeks a fairer, fuller view. He reminds us that the Wordsworths' highly unconventional lifestyle shocked many people other than Coleridge's soon-to-be-estranged wife, Sarah (better treated here than in many books on the period). He asserts that there is no documentation to suggest that Sara Hutchinson regarded Coleridge's declaration of adulterous love with anything but shock and horror, again reproving scholars who overread the evidence. Most crucially, Worthen makes clear the key importance of the interchange among Coleridge and the Wordsworth siblings, which shaped both men's poetry and placed Dorothy at the group's emotional center. The academic (though accessible) prose and dense lines of argument may intimidate casual readers, but this excellent study turns literary monuments back into human beings. --Wendy Smith
Over a dramatic six-month period in 1802, William Wordsworth, S.T. Coleridge, Wordsworth's sister Dorothy, and the two Hutchinson sisters Sara and Mary formed a closeknit group whose members saw or wrote to one another constantly. Coleridge, whose marriage was collapsing, was in love with Sara, and Wordsworth was about to be married to Mary. Throughout this extraordinary period both poets worked on some of their finest and most familiar poems, Coleridge's Dejection: An Ode and Wordsworth's Immortality Ode. In this fascinating book, John Worthen recreates the group's intertwined lives and the effect they had on one another. Drawing on the group's surviving letters, poems, and Dorothy's diaries, Worthen throws new light on many old problems. He examines the prehistory of the events of 1802, the dynamics of the group between March and July, the summer of 1802, when Wordsworth and Dorothy visited Calais to see his ex-mistress and his daughter Caroline, and the wedding between Wordsworth and Mary in October of that year. In an epilogue he looks forward to the ways in which relationships changed during 1803, concentrating on a single day - 11 January 1803 - in the lives of the group.