Nordlit nr.1

 

"INHABITED SOLITUDES":

DOROTHY WORDSWORTH'S DOMESTICATING WALKERS

Anne Wallace

University of Southern Mississippi

 

 

When we think about a writer's sense of place, we tend to accept Romantic definitions of these terms. The Romantics' particularized landscapes, whether pictoral or literary, suggest that the "places" especially worthy of a writer's attention are natural, rural, and/or exotic. Literature explicitly proposes travelers', especially walkers', detailed observations as the best "sense" to be made of such scenes. So a Romantic "sense of place," as we continue to receive and use these terms, must also be gendered: the places to be known, the travel that makes them known, writing itself, occur in the public world traditionally identified with the masculine. Most literary critics discussing women writers' senses of place have deplored but maintained these distinctions. Feminist readings, in particular, focus on women writers' travels through the important "places" traditionally denied to them and discuss these travels as escapes from confining domestic spaces.1 For most of us, the domestic space remains the antithesis of "place" as that term filters through its nineteenth-century literary constructions.

            But women writers may attempt to represent the domestic place as a "true" place, one worth making sense of. In Dorothy Wordsworth's journals, and in the poetry of her commonplace book, public ways may become lost in the domestic, the walker's tracks disappearing as they enter the private space of the home. But groves are also figured as households; women's domestic work reappears as public business, cognate with the work of the male poet; and women themselves may speak and compose as they walk. Fusing domestic and out-of-doors spaces into "inhabited solitudes," Dorothy's women walkers challenge our received view of the house-place as a non-place.

         I think that we have missed this challenge, not only for the general reason that culture thoroughly polices even its self-revisions, but for the specific reason that, in studies of women's writing, we have focused so hard on the development of female subjectivities. How do women writers, we ask, authorize a "self," a discursive self-place in which to work? But to my mind (I follow Nancy Armstrong's lead in this), giving too strict attention to subjectivity as the ground and destination of gender studies inevitably returns us to the positions of our dominant gender ideologies. So I want to look at Dorothy Wordsworth's sense of place through some different lenses, historical lenses that will allow us to shift our attention to some discourses of "public" culture with which subjectivities are always entangled specifically, to aesthetics and ideologies of labor.

         In the first half of my paper, I outline three historical contexts: first, the general relations among walking, writing, and domestic labor in the Wordsworth household; second, the literary mode I believe developed in that household, a mode celebrating walking as poetic labor; and third, the discursive disappearance of domestic labor as "work." In these contexts, Dorothy's proposals of domestic scenes as aesthetic measures of landscape, her metaphorizing of landscape as sheltering home, and her placement of herself as walking writer, demonstrate the advantages of opening our discussions of sense of place beyond subjectivity.

         Dorothy Wordsworth kept house with her brother William from September 1795 until William's death in April 1850. For fifty of those fifty-five years, Dorothy and William lived in various houses near Grasmere and Rydal, two small lakes about a mile apart in northern England's Lake District. At Dove Cottage in Grasmere Vale, their residence from December 1799 until late in 1806, the two wrote many of their most influential works. William, whose now enormous reputation was already well-established by the end of his life, completed the second edition of Lyrical Ballads (the establishing canonical text of British Romanticism), prepared the manuscript of his 1807 Poems, in Two Volumes, and completed the first full draft of the posthumously published epic-lyric we know as The Prelude. Dorothy, who in her lifetime published six poems under her brother's auspices, wrote the Grasmere journals which are now her best-known work (not published uncut until 1971), several poems, and Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland (A.D. 1803), the first full work published after her death (published 1874).

         At Dove Cottage the brother and sister seem to have been constantly engaged in textual exchanges, establishing a pattern that would continue in its essence, though diminished in scope, until Dorothy's long closing illness. The two walked together, observing and sometimes composing while walking; William composed to Dorothy's ear or passed his written work on to her for comment; Dorothy wrote in journals open to William's eye, at times specifically for his use; William reworked Dorothy's journals in his poetry; Dorothy reworked William's poetry in her own; and Dorothy copied and recopied William's work, and her own, in innumerable manuscript versions. Their nearly inseparable work as writers raises continuing questions about our concepts of authorship, questions that I will not confront directly here, but which must affect my discussion of their work as it is attributed to them as individuals.

         Indeed, although so far I have presented their situation as if only Dorothy and William were writing and householding together, the field of writers and housemates was much larger. It included, of course, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose formal collaboration with William on the first edition of Lyrical Ballads was only the most public aspect of his collective work with William and Dorothy. Walking, talking, writing, reading, staying at their homes as a more than guest, he was among the first of their friends until a bitter misunderstanding in 1810. Mary Hutchinson, Dorothy's girlhood friend, and William's wife after 1803, visited frequently before her marriage, read and commented on William's poems, and joined Dorothy in copying them out. Their sea-faring brother John, whom William described as "a Poet in every thing but words," planned to settle with them after a final voyage, in the wreck of which he died.2 Sara and Joanna Hutchinson, Mary's sisters, came and went regularly; Sara, unfortunately beloved by the already-married Coleridge, joined the Wordsworth household permanently in 1806 and lived there until her death in 1835.

         I remark on this large and fluid literary household not to argue that William and Dorothy were not authors of the works attributed to them, but rather to introduce the not-so-self-evident meanings that terms such as "domestic," "literary," and "housework" may have in such a context. Domesticity clearly may involve may even depend on travel and wandering, both local and at large, as household members come and go, or walk out to gather materials for writing. Writing may be domestic work in which all adult household members, permanent or transient, engage in one way or another.3

         William and Dorothy make use of these possible meanings to develop a shared method of making sense of place, a method I think of as the "domestication of landscape." Their writings persistently show wanderers making the outside world their "home," apparently inhabiting the natural world, or some previously unknown place, by the linked instruments of physical wandering and language the naming of places, the writing of poetry or prose, the implicit "writing" accomplished by the narrative voices of their works. Both William and Dorothy give walking special value as the kind of movement through the world, the kind of travel or wandering, which most successfully performs this domestication. Emphasizing the natural and human process of walking, granting preference to the ground-level, contiguous, retraceable perceptions of the walker, William and Dorothy represent walking and writing as linked physical and aesthetic labors which simultaneously "inhabit" landscape as a private home, and open landscape to the public, to our reading eyes.

         I must pause at this point to notice that such celebrations of walking, although now conventional, were virtually unprecedented in British culture. Despite widespread use of walking as a metaphor for life's journey, a tradition available from antiquity, the emergence of walking as an aesthetic activity directly linked to writing, and of walking's process as providing a preferred aesthetic vantage point, did not occur until the late eighteenth century. Only then, in the context of the transport revolution and accelerating enclosures of common lands, and of concurrent changes in the aesthetics of landscape viewing, did walking as process begin to have potentially positive meanings that might contest its old associations with poverty, homelessness and criminality.

         I have argued elsewhere that many of our apparently common-sense notions about the value of walking, including our belief in its ability to give us special access to landscape, can be traced to a literary mode newly established in William Wordsworth's poetry.4 Peripatetic, as I call this mode, derives from the literary genre called "georgic," after its originary text, Virgil's Georgics. Often described as a farming manual in verse, the Georgics celebrate agricultural labor as a great mediating force in Roman culture, the source of Roman stability and prosperity, and implicitly compare the culture-work of the farmer to that of the poet who writes about him. William's poetry represents walking as a cultivating labor equivalent to farming in the Georgics. William's walkers, like Virgil's virtuous farmers, accomplish "cultivation" in many senses: material economic production (some means of livelihood taking the place of actual food production in georgic), spiritual and intellectual education, the establishment of fruitful households, the practice of the arts, the production and maintainence of national culture. And in both peripatetic and its parent genre, a common material labor farming, walking appears analogous to writing in its form and directly connected to it in practice.

         A brief illustration of how peripatetic's generic code works in actual poems is probably in order here. In "Resolution and Independence," to take a well-known example from William's poetry, the narrator (who identifies himself as a poet) is walking across a moor, lost in progressively unhappy thoughts, when he encounters a leech-gatherer. The old man, whose livelihood depends on his walking about to gather the leeches, answers the narrator's existential questions with plain descriptions of his hard wandering life. The narrator tells us that at times he cannot understand the leech-gatherer's speech as separate words, cannot translate what he experiences as inarticulate natural sounds into language. Again he asks the leech-gatherer, "How is it that you live, and what is it that you do?," and again the old man answers with simple accounts of his wandering labors. By the end of the poem, the narrator articulates a moral lesson for himself. Comparing the leech-gatherer's firmness of mind in adversity with his own morbid worries, the narrator admonishes himself: "'God,' said I, 'be my help and stay secure;/I'll think of the Leech-gatherer on the lonely moor'" (ln. 146-7).

         The philosophical and aesthetic claims of this poem are typical of peripatetic: walking appears to simultaneously enable life-sustaining labor, the articulation of nature, moral instruction, and poetry. You can choose almost any of William's early works and find some variation on these claims: a poet recalls a field of daffodils he saw on a walk and gets both poetry and solace from it; a walking poet encounters an old beggar on the road and explains how his wandering begging way of life counts in the moral economy of the village (and in our own); readers are invited to follow a walking narrator to an unfinished sheepfold, where we hear the tale of a freeholder who loses his farm because his son never walks home with the money to repay a debt. While William variously locates the elements of materially productive labor, walking, and poetry-making, he consistently juxtaposes the three so that they appear mutually necessary to cultivation, in the large georgic sense of that word.

         The outlines of peripatetic's role in William's version of domesticating landscape can be seen here too: alienated narrators and characters depressed poets, impoverished and homeless leech-gatherers, beggars, etc. become part of the landscape by walking, which renders them "natural" and/or enables them to articulate nature's meaning until a sense of "belonging" is achieved. By walking, such poems assert, we place ourselves securely in a landscape. By walking, we come to know landscape, to have and make sense of place, and to be able say that sense to others in writing. In such an idea-field, the paths made by feet and pens appear to mutually inscribe each other.

          Dorothy, of course, participated in the construction of peripatetic as a not quite silent partner: as we shall see, her Grasmere Journals and several of her poems can be identified as belonging to the mode. Certainly she joined William in gathering materials for writing while walking, an authorial practice he and others reiterated so often that their accounts enforce the claims his more "fictional" poetry makes for walking.5 But Dorothy, like women writers in general, necessarily encounters difficulties when she figures herself as a pedestrian-poet or as walking writer of any kind, because women's walking means differently than men's. Or perhaps I should say that more negative meanings attach to women's walking, because the old bad possibilities of vagrancy are there for us, too. But women's walking, especially if solitary, may also translate as sexual straying, with prostitution as the most extreme possible interpretation. There are more positive available interpretations of women's walking, recognized by Kim Taplin, in her discussion of the rural custom of walking out with one's sweetheart, and by Helena Mitchie when she discusses women walkers in literature as "beating out a path toward marriage [as] an important effort on the part of the heroines to influence the direction of the novel and of their lives" (41). Even these traditions, though, are sexually charged and culturally constrained. As Ellen Moers reminds us, even though women's walking may constitute an important symbol of "independent womanhood," such a reading is double-edged: "We do not need to read the scene of Lucy Snowe's nighttime arrival in Villette to know that street-walking is, still today, something different for women than for men" (130). Where women walk in literature, it reads as an act of exceptional, even dangerous self-assertion, with almost inevitable sexual implications.

         This problem arises for women writers who represent themselves or their fictional avatars as walkers, whether or not they make use of peripatetic's formal structures. But for the woman writer working with that convention, (or even in its presence, given its broad influence on our practice of and attitudes about walking), further problems arise from peripatetic's definition of walking as labor. The kinds of labor peripatetic associates with walking, like walking itself, are the out-of-doors, public, "paid" labors identified with the masculine herding, agriculture or gardening, soldiering, peddling, leech-gathering, begging. (Let me emphasize that I stretch the definition of labor this far because peripatetic does.) Working class and poor women, of course, have always engaged in such public paid work, but at precisely the risk of their identity as women, whose labor would be more properly with more propriety attached to the home.

         Nancy Armstrong's influential book Desire and Domestic Fiction (1987) tracks an increasingly harsh placement of women in the domestic sphere to eighteenth-century conduct books, in which she sees the codification of "an absolutely rigid distinction between domestic duty and labor that was performed for money, a distinction so deeply engraved upon the public mind that the figure of the prostitute could be freely invoked to describe any woman who dared to labor for money" (79). Domestic duty, as Armstrong maps the category, is private, unpaid, and offers the appearance of leisure, which is to say that women's good work is precisely not "labor." If, as Armstrong argues, this boundary between domestic work and labor is "a distinction on which the very notion of gender appeared to depend" (79), then the woman writer who commits herself to walking as poetic labor, potentially both public and paid, confronts not just an effect, but a foundation of constructed gender.

         Moreover, in this same period women's domestic work becomes linguistically invisible as "work." Raymond Williams, in Keywords, notes that the "predominant specialization to paid employment" as a dominant meaning of "work" occured gradually as "the result of the development of capitalist productive relations," presumably from the late eighteenth century on (he implies rather than names the period) (282). Williams offers "one significant example" of this usage: "an active woman, running a house and bringing up children, is distinguished from a woman who works: that is to say, takes paid employment." A paragraph or so later, he recurrs to this example as he more fully describes the specialization of the term: "Work then partly shifted from the productive effort itself to the predominant social relationship. It is only in this sense that a woman running a house and bringing up children can be said to be not working" (282). As Williams' repetition suggests, the exclusion of domestic labor from the status of "work" is not just "one significant example," but the primary rhetorical distinction effected by the simultaneous processes of industrialization and the increased ideological separation of private and public spheres.6

         Given these developments, it is not surprising that literary scenes of housework are rare, even in realistic novels which took fidelity to the details of everyday life as an aesthetic goal. Like the ideal middle-class practice of housekeeping, which kept all signs of actual physical labor from view, nineteenth-century literary representations of domestic life tend to elide cooking, water-carrying, cleaning, washing, and so forth.7 Sewing (by which I mean all textile crafts) is the great exception: as the 1995 film of Sense and Sensibility reminds us in one late scene, as Elinor hurries from the garden at the approach of visitors, sewing is the only work at which a genteel woman may be seen.8 Much more rarely, writers may include scenes of heavier domestic labor performed by working-class women (who are often represented as in need of rescue by a man or sympathetic and more affluent woman). But with these exceptions, domestic labor remains invisible and this is as true of diaries and travel accounts as it is of fiction and novels, and as true of women writers as of men.

         I have gone on about this at such length to emphasize the extent to which Dorothy departs from the expected in her domestications of landscape. Her decisions to use the potential meanings available to her in her own writing experience, to show writing as domestic labor, to set up domestic scenes as asethetic standards for landscape, and to appear herself as a walking writer articulating place for her readers, were neither simple realisms nor standard literary approaches. Nor should this aspect of Dorothy's writing be read solely as a revisionary account of female subjectivity, although certainly it is that. Rather, we should also attend to how her aesthetic assertion of the house-place as place puts pressure on the rhetorical boundaries of material economies. Dorothy changes tactics as she changes genre, leaving us with some questions about just how successful or complete such rhetorical maneuvers may be. Nonetheless, she consistently asserts her revaluation of the domestic space as place, a worthy destination for the writer.

         Dorothy's journals from her years at Grasmere have always been "hard" to read, I think, precisely because of their inescapable mixing of categories usually separated by the contiguous lines of gender and genre. Dorothy repeats and overlaps her abiding concerns writing, reading, housework, walking, landscape, friends, family in rhythmic but asymmetrical patterns, enforcing a constant shifting of attention which rarely privileges one of these elements over another (although it privileges all of them over other concerns). Dorothy's run-on grammar in these passages, her often list-like itineraries of events, do not encourage us to "sort" activities into public and private, literary and domestic, outside and inside. Rather these categories are mixed in ways that make their elements seem equivalent. Consider, for instance, her entry for Thursday, July 31, 1800:

 

    All the morning I was busy copying poems gathered peas, & in the afternoon Coleridge came very hot, he brought the 2nd volume of the Anthology  The men went to bathe & we afterwards sailed down to Loughrigg read poems on the water & let the boat take its own course we walked a long time upon Loughrigg & returned in the grey twilight. The moon just setting as we reached home. (15)9

 

In the first sentence, "copying poems" is followed by a dash which visually bridges the gap between that phrase and "gathered peas." Immediately after "gathered peas," an ampersand cojoins both of Dorothy's activities with Coleridge's arrival (on foot, although she doesn't say so) and his bringing an anthology of poetry (an 1800 collection edited by Robert Southey which included some of Coleridge's poetry). I will stop there, although all that separates us from the bathing, sailing, and reading that follows is another two dashes. The ambiguity of the punctuation, which separates but also connects without full stop, and the simple, parallel phraseing of Dorothy's two morning works, invite us to understand private copy-work and publication, food grown outside and brought in, walking through the landscape and into the house, as interchangable parts of a single field of endeavor. Dorothy traces poems and gathers food; Coleridge carries poems (already gathered by his brother-in-law) and traces paths. The outside world comes in, peas and poems and traveller; the domestic space opens out into the world.

         Where Dorothy doesn't use this sort of open-architecture grammar (and it is one of her typical journal styles), her selection and sequencing enforce the interdependencies of literary and domestic work. In her Sunday, October 12, 1800 entry, for instance, she moves through a morning of writing, to an afternoon of dining and apple-gathering, to walking through the woods, to "William composing in the evening" (26). The entry has a good round shape, seeming neatly closed, and there is little of that headlong unpunctuated naming we were discussing above, yet its assertions about the interpenetrations of domestic and public works are similar. A single sentence tells us that Dorothy "Sate in the house writing in the morning while Wm went into the woods to compose" (26). Dorothy writes a letter to her brother, copies poems out for Lyrical Ballads, writes another letter to her friend that is, working inside the house, she prepares texts to go out into the public, indeed the published world. William's composing is unnamed in this particular entry, even though it's reiterated at the end, remaining "private," unreadable to us for the time being. The "large basket full" of apples harvested for domestic consumption match the red and yellow autumn foilage of the woodland walk, both in their colors and in their being "gathered," in the latter case, into the basket of Dorothy's journal (her unmentioned writing of the day). Again private domesticity and public authorship appear as entangled equivalencies.

         I want to particularly notice scenes of women working and walking, because the inclusion of those scenes is one of the crucial differences between Dorothy's ways of domesticating landscape and William's. Dorothy records a large range of domestic work: cooking, baking, gardening of all kinds, ironing, bleaching linen, making clothes and household goods (a mattress in one case), preparing medicines and so forth. In full context, then, this domestic worker is obviously a walking writer. Dorothy also includes descriptions of many women "on the tramp," some who gain a livelihood only by begging and some who are working women like the Cockermouth Traveller in the entry for Friday, October 10th, 1800:

 

In the morning when I arose the mists were hanging over the opposite hills & the tops of the highest hills were covered with snow. There was a most lovely combination at the head of the vale of the yellow autumnal hills wrapped in sunshine, & overhung with partial mists, the green & yellow trees & the distant snow-topped mountains. It was a most heavenly morning. The Cockermouth Traveller came with thread hardware mustard, &c. She is very healthy has travelled over the mountains these thirty years. She does not mind the storms if she can keep her goods dry. Her husband will not travel with an ass, because it is the tramper's badge she would have one to relieve her from the weary load. She was going to Ulverston & was to return to Ambleside Fair. After I had finished baking I went out with Wm Mrs Jameson & Miss Simpson towards Rydale the fern among the Rocks exquistely beautiful we turned home & walked to Mr Gells. . . . (25)

 

Dorothy selects household goods "thread hardware mustard, &c" to represent the Traveller's wares, and focuses on the Traveller's bodily health, her practical care for her business (keeping the goods dry and getting them down the road her husband's concern for appearances doesn't impress us), and her itinerary. This good hard business sense, lodged in the figure of a healthy walker and her household wares, appears with almost no transition from pure landscape description. The Traveller meets us in the midst of that "heavenly morning," on a road issuing from those misty hills and mountains; she appears, in part, as a feature of the landscape, and inflects its etherial description accordingly. "Distant snow-topped mountains" are this practical working woman's home and place of business. Not surprisingly, Dorothy's next image is of herself baking and then walking into the landscape, the good cook stepping through to the "exquisite" beauty of the lakeside ferns. At such moments, domestic labor becomes a feature of the landscape, and productive working women become both the subject of writing and writers themselves.10

         When Dorothy wrote with the intention of publication, as she did in her travel narratives and in some of her poetry, her grammar and categorizations seem to harden under that pressure. Certainly Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland (1803) generally proceeds in standard sentences, and through more conventional cause-effect transitions among different "types" of scenes and activities, both of which reduce the entangling effect of the Journals. But in Recollections Dorothy continues to assert the significance of the domestic space as place, not only by describing the housekeeping wherever she goes, but by explicitly proposing domestic scenes as aesthetic measures of the landscapes she is travelling through. These assertions are supported by Dorothy's frequent organization of landscape description around a single cottage or dwelling not a common practice of the visual arts, from which she might have been supposed to pick it up and by her insistent metaphorization of landscape as "sheltering," a metaphor she proposes for some rather unlikely places.

         Recollections begins and ends in the Wordsworth household, and almost always remarks on the housekeeping practices of the inns and private homes in which they stay. In an early passage describing their stay at "the house of Mrs. Otto" (an inn) in Leadhills, Dorothy inspects the housekeeping arrangements with ruthless attention: "I examined the kitchen round about; it was crowded with furniture, drawers, cupboards, dish-covers, pictures, pans, and pots, arranged without order, except that the plates were on shelves, and the dish-covers hung in rows. These were very clean, but floors, passages, staircase, everything else dirty" (211).11 All this has the unpleasantly condescending quality of a lady checking up on the worthiness of her dependent poor. This quality comes not only from her tone of mastery she represents herself as knowing what good arrangements are, how kitchens should work but from the importance she gives this information, which is arranged with some care for the clarity of the scene. Such descriptions of housekeeping details appear as often in Recollections as descriptions of fortifications and cathedrals in traditional guidebooks, and nearly as often as Dorothy's own descriptions of natural scenes.

         Indeed, Dorothy comes right out and tells us that the particulars of domestic practice define the interest of a place. As they enter the Highlands, Dorothy rejects their received geographical definition:

 

I believe Luss is the place where we were told that country begins; but at these cottages I would have gladly believed that we were there, for it was like a new region. The huts were after the Highland fashion, and the boys who were playing wore the Highland dress and philabeg [short kilt]. (247)

 

For Dorothy, the Highlands really begin are really defined by the way homes are built, and the way people dress, not by a named town or map boundary. "On going into a new country I seem to myself to waken up, " she continues, and in retrospect finds that "the distinctions of dress, household arrangements, etc. etc." the very things which must have awakened her, since they themselves mark a new country's boundaries enliven even "wild barren, or ordinary places" (247). Her enjoyment of a place, indeed her very perception of its identity, depends on its distinctive domestic practices.

         Often Dorothy singles out a particular domestic scene, including if not centered on domestic labor, for the kind of treatment usually accorded to picturesque landscape "views." Linen-bleaching is a favorite choice, as in this extended description:

 

Walked to the bleaching-ground, a large field bordering on the Clyde, the banks of which are perfectly flat, and the general face of the country is nearly so in the neighbourhood of Glasgow. This field, the whole summer through, is covered with women of all ages, children, and young girls spreading out their linen, and watching it while it bleaches. The scene must be very chearful on a fine day, but it rained when we were there, and though there was linen spread out in all parts, and great numbers of women and girls were at work, yet there would have been many more on a fine day, and they would have appeared happy, instead of stupid and chearless. In the middle of the field is a wash-house, whither the inhabitants of this large town, rich and poor, send or carry their linen to be washed. . . . (236)

 

As she continues with a description of the washhouse, Dorothy remarks on the unusual scope and publicness of what she knows as an "ordinary household employment" (237), of course making it more public by her writing, and in no way condemning its open practice. In fact, she follows the picturesque dictum to recompose unpleasant scenes, suggesting to us what the scene should look like at its best on a sunny day.12

         Again, late in the tour, Dorothy's account of breakfast at a public house opens up an interior "landscape" worthy of a painter's artistic attention:

 

There being no bell in the parlour, I had occasion to go several times and ask for what we wanted in the kitchen, and I would willingly have given twenty pounds to have been able to take a lively picture of it. About seven or eight travellers (probably drovers), with as many dogs, were sitting in a complete circle round a large peat-fire in the middle of the floor, each with a mess of porridge, in a wooden vessel, upon his knee; a pot, suspended from one of the black beams, was boiling on the fire; two or three women pursuing their household business on the outside of the circle, children playing on the floor. There was nothing uncomfortable in this confusion: happy, busy, or vacant faces, all looked pleasant; and even the smoky air (being a sort of natural indoor atmosphere of Scotland) served only to give a softening, I may say harmony, to the whole. (338)

 

The expected divisions between indoors domesticity and outdoors travel and business, noted in the placement of the women "outside of the circle" of eating male drovers, are broken in several ways: by the stopping of travel in the domestic space, by Dorothy's own entrance from a still more public area (a class space, too, of course), by her position as narrator and "painter" of the scene, by her identity as woman traveler, and, perhaps most compellingly, by the characterization of "the smokey air" as "a sort of natural indoor atmosphere of Scotland," as characteristic of Scotland as any outdoor atmosphere might be.

         Dorothy's nomination of these domestic scenes as worthy of pictoral representation is as foreign to the visual arts as it is to travel narratives. In the pictorial traditions, of course, the simple definition of "landscape" averts the eye from interiors, and hence from most domestic labors. The contemporary vogue for the picturesque compounded this effect, as John Barrell's discussion of William Pyne's early nineteenth-century collection of picturesque vingettes suggests. Pyne presents his 121 plates both as "'picturesque representations'" suitable for use in an aspiring artist's landscape and as "'actual delineations'" of the processes and implements of British manufacture (qtd. in Barrell 88). As we might expect, this effort to simultaneously satisfy the demands of picturesque and realist aesthetics produces some telling gaps. Despite the importance of textile, leather, and ceramic manufactures at the time, Barrell points out, Pyne's "nearly exclusive concentration on outdoor employments" (114) tends to exclude the indoor labors these manfactures require. Altogether Barrell counts "fewer than a dozen illustrated occupations that are carried on wholly or partly indoors," and, except for three plates actually representing the interior of a cottage and/or domestic labors, "in none of the others is the interior location suggested except by the absence of the usual landscape motifs" (113). The conventions of picturesque landscape painting here seem to overwhelm the conventions of social chronicle, eliding even the "public," paid varieties of indoor work in favor of out-of-doors scenes.13

         Yet the location of labor anywhere in a landscape violates the strictures of picturesque aesthetics, which, as Barrell stresses, include an "unwillingness . . . to represent manual labor" (98). So marked is this unwillingness that agricultural labors, which might be expected to receive extensive treatment as rural occupations, make up less than one-third of Pyne's vingettes (112), leaving the implicit rural landscapes of Pyne's collection untainted by even outdoor labor. As Barrell reminds us, William Gilpin's prohibition of any allusion to the less than sublime elements of a rural landscape extended to the cottages whose inhabitants labored to cultivate the countryside (93-4). Given Dorothy's presentation of domestic labors as landscape views, it is not surprising that she further violates pictoral expectations by seeking cottages and humble houses of all kinds as descriptive focal points when she does view landscape. For Dorothy, these cottages and dwellings do indeed seem synonymous with cultivation; they signal human habitation's fruitful alterations of nature, shelter and the production of food. Yet in Dorothy's scheme of things, this disturbance of what would otherwise be sublime landscape is not presented as an aesthetic intrusion, but rather as essential to aesthetic appreciation. As she puts it in Recollections, Scotland's preeminent advantage for "a man of imagination" and her is that "there are so many inhabited solitudes, and the employments are so immediately connected with the places where you find them" (214).

         Thus, as the travelers approach Ben Lomond, Dorothy complains that the landscape would appear to more advantage if it showed signs of human dwelling: "There was many a little plain or gently-sloping hill covered with poor heath or broom without trees, where one should have liked to see a cottage in a bower of wood, with its patch of corn and potatoes, and a green field with a hedge to keep it warm" (245). Descriptive passages throughout Recollections reiterate this preference for single cottages,14 and for those showing signs of ongoing cultivation (there's that peripatetic valuation of labor). Here, for instance, we read from the mountains down into the heart of Glen Croe, where a cottage serves as our destination and as the organizing principle of Dorothy's word-picture:

 

After we had passed one reach of the glen, another opened out, long, narrow, deep, and houseless, with herds of cattle and large stones; but the third reach was softer and more beautiful, as if the mountains had there made a warmer shelter, and there were a more gentle climate; the rocks by the river-side had dwindled away, the mountains were smooth and green, and towards the end, where the glen sloped upwards, it was a cradle-like hollow, and at that point where the slope became a hill, at the very bottom of the curve of the cradle, stood one cottage, with a few fields and beds of potatoes. (290-1)

 

We are reminded, too, that just any old structure won't do. Although "There was also another house near the roadside, which appeared to be a herdsman's hut," this dwelling suggests to Dorothy an unsettled, temporary condition that merely repeats the less beautiful uninhabited solitude through which the travelers have just passed (291). Dorothy's reiterated characterization of the glen's most distant hollow as a cradle reinforces the aesthetic role of sheltering domesticity in this outdoor scene, suggesting a series of nested "housing" structures mountains, the succeeding reaches of the glen, the hollow, the cottage.

          Again, as Dorothy describes a different glen (with the similar name Glen Coe), she takes us successively from mountains, to pasture, to tarn, to another cottage, which she selects from among other available cottages for its singular location:

 

The first division of the glen, as I have said, was scattered over with rocks, trees, and woody hillocks, and cottages were to be seen here and there. The second division is bare and stony, huge mountains on all sides, with a slender pasturage in the bottom of the valley, and towards the head of it is a small lake or tarn, and near the tarn a single inhabited dwelling, and some unfenced hay-ground, a simple impressive scene! (332)

 

Underscoring the cottage's aesthetic significance with this rare exclamatory mark, she returns us by the road up into the mountains. With our backs presumably to the cottage, the glen seems "less interesting, or rather the mountains, from the manner in which they are looked at; but again, a little higher up, they resume their grandeur" (332). Shifting to the mountains as a new focus, she marks a new phase of interest, suggesting by this manuever that cottages and mountains may be equally useful in setting aesthetic perspectives. Here, too, our progressive rhetorical descent toward the cottage's shelter echoes the earlier, more explicit evocation of multiply-sheltering structures.

         Indeed, Dorothy's favorite adjective for landscapes and their features is "sheltering."15 She seems to recognize no higher aesthetic praise; she uses neither "beautiful" nor "sublime," as terms or as aesthetic categories, with such frequency or such obvious approval. The following passage, which closes just before the description of Glen Croe, demonstrates the diligence with which Dorothy infuses the virtue of sheltering into even intractable scenes. Faced with a true solitude, a wild salt-water loch which draws her thoughts inevitably to the open sea and its most undomestic character, Dorothy rhetorically takes us home again:

 

I thought of the long windings through which the waters of the sea had come to this inland retreat, visiting the inner solitudes of the mountains, and I could have wished to have mused out a summer's day on the shores of the lake. From the foot of these mountains whither might not a little barque carry one away? Though so far inland, it is but a slip of the great ocean: seamen, fishermen, and shepherds here find a natural home. (290)

 

Here we encounter in clear terms Dorothy's strong assertion, not just that wandering brings one "home" in psychological and spiritual senses a construction both she and William insist upon , or even that our experience of material nature is crucial to these senses, but that landscape can be, indeed should be, viewed as a domestic space, and explained as such by the traveler. As the picturesque viewer imports sublimity into unsastifactory scenes, Dorothy recomposes the wild out-of-doors, preferring its sheltering interiorities.

         Just how strongly Dorothy advances this aesthetic proposition that the domestic space is a, maybe the, true place can be judged from her expanded revision of the twelve-line "A Sketch," into the much longer "Grasmere A Fragment."16 The longer poem is a classic Wordsworthian peripatetic, with a walking narrator who places herself in the landscape by means of walking and articulating nature. As we shall see, Dorothy's revisions expand on the sheltering imagery of the shorter, and probably earlier, "Sketch," while excluding that poem's gestures toward conventional splits between domesticity and public wandering.

         The opening image of "Sketch" is a Grasmere Vale cottage "distinguish'd from the rest" by the small grove surrounding it, "The shelter of that little nest" (lns. 2, 4). The next stanza opens with "The publick road" closely approaching the cottage, where the road disappears under the trees "That overhang the orchard wall" (5, 8). The final stanza repeats this disappearance, and then brings the road back into view:

 

You lose it there its serpent line

Is lost in that close household grove 

A moment lost and then it mounts

The craggy hills above. (9-12)

 

The cottage, which by definition shelters people and defines a domestic space, is in its turn sheltered by trees. Already reinflected by their function as shelters for the cottage, the trees are themselves inside an orchard wall, domesticated by their location (and perhaps, implicitly, in their essence, their species as orchard trees). We also notice that the cottage, when rhetorically "sheltered" by the trees, metaphorically becomes a "nest," a natural version of human domestic space. So the cottage, naturalized by its sheltering trees (which create a safe space out-of-doors that functions analogously to the domestic space inside the cottage), is further naturalized by Dorothy's language to become the sort of "domestic" shelter built by birds' natural instinct. And, turning outside, we find the public road covered by the same trees that enclose the cottage and are themselves enclosed by the orchard walls. This involuted spatial image depends on the conflation of the natural and the domestic, and seems at the same time to give precedence to the image of shelter itself, asserting that the natural and human are connected by precisely that master image.

         But there is some difficulty in the case of the road. This road is "hidden" by the trees; it becomes "lost" when it enters the domestic enclosure, the grove which is a household/the household which is a grove, "lost" not once but twice in this short stanza. And there seems to be trouble here in its "serpent line," a potential threat to a symbolic garden also alluded to by cottage and orchard. On one hand, the road is lost to the speaker's eye. The speaker must be outside the domestic shelter, viewing this whole scene from a distance, and wishing not to lose sight of the road. In this part of Dorothy's construction, the mounting of the road into the hills is a kind of relief, a recovery of the desirable sight of the road emerging from the suddenly questionable household grove, now "close," perhaps, in the sense of "confining" that accompanies the more positive emotional senses of the word. At the same time, as "serpent" suggests, the view of the road, the road itself may be seductive distractions from the multiply-sheltered household, constituting spiritual as well as aesthetic and material dangers.

         In these aspects of "Sketch," one may indeed trace the outlines of traditional gender anxieties, and of feminist readings in which the woman writer must resist confinement in the domestic space. This makes it doubly interesting to observe Dorothy's extensive revisions for "Grasmere A Fragment," in which shelters proliferate through the landscape, the road's seductions prove positive, and the woman walker unequivocally enters the house of the landscape, taking full possession of it by her peripatetic walking/writing. The cottage, which in "Sketch" is absolutely distinguished from others by its sheltering grove, becomes a "brother" of "many and beautiful" sibling cottages, "Each in its nook, its sheltered hold,/Or underneath its tuft of trees" (5, 8, 3-4). Now the distinctive feature seems to be the cottage's attached lands, which, instead of being "fertile fields and hedgerows green," are "rocky steep and bare;/Their fence is of the mountain stone,/And moss and lichen flourish there" (14, 22-4). These "green fields" which are also somehow barren appeal to the speaker's "wild" fancies: "I love that house because it is/The very Mountains' child" (21, 18, 19-20). The anthropomorphic rendering of cottages as family members implies a "household" larger than the Vale's enclosing mountains, creating a kind of shadow cottage round the whole vale. Moreover, although the tightly furled shelters of "Sketch" don't appear in their original form, the poem now reiterates the sheltering effects of the grove around the cottage through four central stanzas, elaborating how it protects the cottage from winter storms and how its evergreen trees are "Skirted with many a lesser tree" (producing a different image of multifoliate shelters), and finally simply reasserting that the trees "screen the cottage I love" (34, 38).

         Despite the elaborate imagery of shelter and family, the speaker of the poem then identifies herself as "A Stranger, Grasmere, in thy Vale," leaving even the small community available to her to explore: "I left my sole companion-friend/To wander out alone" (49, 51-2). This speaker does not regard the public road she at first follows with any reluctant or worried desire but, "Lured by a little winding path" (53), turns readily aside to the local sheep-track.17 This less problematic seduction, although twice noted as such in "Lured" and "tempting," does not draw from the speaker any metaphor with the confirming negative force of "serpent," but rather counters such implications immediately with that metaphor's traditional Christian opposite, the sheep and shepherd. Again, although this path "led [her] on," it does so "toward the lofty hills/ . . . Until I reached a stately Rock" (57-9). The double upward movement of speaker and the hills (lofting upward), plus the potential allusion to hills "from whence cometh my help," continue to reinflect the language of seduction toward Dorothy and William's shared ideals of a natural world infused with pleasure, the experience of which, though physical and "tempting," is precisely the opposite of sin.

         Not surprisingly, the sheep-track leads to a rock figured as Edenic garden. "With velvet moss o'ergrown" (60), this rock resembles the "mossy walls" (27) that define the cottage's fields and, of course, the mountains themselves, of which the rock is a nearer "relative" than the fence. Oak, fern, eglantine, and "hips of glossy red" mingle on the rock's top and sides, while the rock itself forms "many a sheltered chink" in which foxglove and birch grow (64, 65). A capacious shelter for natural growth, itself variously sheltered by wild plants, and kin to the domesticating fences of the cottage's wild mountain fields, the rock then becomes a personified Winter's "pleasure gardens" (76). This evidence of the rock's sheltering capacities, which embody in minature the multiply-sheltering character of the Vale, places the once-strange speaker firmly in Grasmere: "My youthful wishes all fulfill'd/Wishes matured by thoughtful choice/I stood an Inmate of this vale" (86-8).

         Here is no fraught choice between public road and sheltered cottage, each choice involving difficult loss, but the much easier decision to follow a simultaneously natural and cultivated path connecting one shelter to another, finally confirming the speaker's inhabitation of the great natural shelter of Grasmere Vale. And inhabit it she does, in this poem at least, in her full and sole authority as walking writer.

         But notice what's missing here: no explicit scene of domestic labor supports the metaphor of landscape as house. The powerful equations of the Grasmere journals and Recollections, missing their middle term, seem muted. That domestic labor remains implicit, I would assert on the strength of these poems' links with Dorothy's other writings. But I also acknowledge that here, perhaps, the dominant discourses on gendered labor reassert themselves. This possibility resonates with Dorothy's aversion to publication, set aside only for a few poems like these, and with the sad changes in her later poems, in which the now invalided Dorothy chooses "prison" as her favorite metaphor for "house."

         Yet let me turn again to argue that missing Dorothy's radical domestications, and the possibility of similar constructions in other writers' work, is to impoverish our senses of place, to straiten them by principles of exclusion we would normally reject. Where writers attempt to rectify the disappearance of the domestic from our explorable world, we should be prepared to hear them.

 

***

 

 

Notes

1See, for instance, Meena Alexander, "Dorothy Wordsworth: Grounds of Writing," Women's Studies 14 (1988): 196-208, and Women in Romanticism (Savage, Maryland: Barnes and Noble, 1989), esp. 91-99; Susan M. Levin, Dorothy Wordsworth and Romanticism (New Brunswick and London: Rutgers, The State University, 1987), esp. 73-108; Jeanne Moskal, "Gender, Nationality, and Textual Authority in Lady Morgan's Travel Books," Romantic Women Writers, ed. Paula R. Feldman and Theresa M. Kelley (Hanover and London: U P of New England, 1995) 171-93; Amanda Gilroy, "'Love's History': Anna Jameson's Grand Tour," Wordsworth Circle 27 (1996): 29-33. Ellen Moers separates women's literary travels into outdoor and indoor, finding both strongly associated with the Gothic, and the latter literally the exploration of Gothic spaces, in her classic Literary Women (New York: Oxford U P, 1985) 122-140.

2William's letter to Sir George Beaumont, Monday, February 11, 1805, in which he announces John's death. Letters of William Wordsworth, ed. Alan G. Hill (Oxford and New York: Oxford U P, 1984) 76. William echoes this characterization of John, not only in the lyric "When first we journeyed hither," where he again calls John "A silent Poet," but in his later characterization of The Excursion's Wanderer as one of the "Poets that are sown/By Nature . . . /Yet wanting the accomplishment of verse" (Excursion I.77-8).

3The basis of my thoughts on the Dove Cottage household is Kurt Heinzelman's "The Cult of Domesticity: Dorothy and William Wordsworth at Grasmere," Romanticism and Feminism, ed. Anne Mellor (Bloomington: Indiana U P, 1987) 52-78. Alan Liu's earlier discussion of the relations among writing, walking, and various domestic labors in the Grasmere journals bears mention, although marred by what I regard as over-schematized readings and automatic (doubtless unintended) denegrations of women's work. Liu's connection of the "thoroughly repetitive" and "ultimately sterile" plot of laundering, with his own calculation of Dorothy's menstrual cycles from her notation of headaches, in a reading of the journals as "purgation-story" is characteristic (124, 130, 133). Liu, "On the Autobiographical Present: Dorothy Wordsworth's Gramere Journals," Criticism 26 (1984): 115-137.

4Wallace, Walking, Literature, and English Culture: The Origins and Uses of Peripatetic in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993). For a very different approach to Wordsworth's walking poetry that nonetheless develops similar ideas, see Celeste Langan's Romantic Vagrancy: Wordsworth and the Simulation of Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1996). Langan's deconstructive readings are intended to limn liberalism's persistent troping of citizen as vagrant, and of walking as vagrancy's (insufficient) cure.

5See, for instance, William Hazlitt's "My First Acquaintance with Poets" and Thomas De Quincey's "William Wordsworth."

6For a discussion of the way census terminology followed and enforced this development, see Nancy Folbre, "The Unproductive Housewife: Her Evolution in Nineteenth-Century Economic Thought," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 16 (1991): 463-84. See also Armstrong's commentary on "The Rise of the Domestic Woman," Desire and Domestic Fiction, 59-75.

7An early essay by Patricia Branca, although naively celebratory in some respects, partially articulates this "disappearing" of domestic labor. Branca, "Image and Reality: The Myth of the Idle Victorian Woman," in Mary S. Hartman and Lois Banner, eds., Clio's Consciousness Raised: New Perspectives on the History of Women (New York: Harper Colophon, 1974), 179-191. For a detailed account of the "nitty-gritty" of keeping house (again presented in rather conservative dress), see Caroline Davidson, A Woman's Work is Never Done: A History of Housework in the British Isles 1650-1950 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1982).

8Elizabeth Barrett Browning exploits the special status of sewing as representable women's work to attempt a revision of peripatetic. See my article, "'Nor in Fading Silks Compose': Sewing, Walking, and Poetic Labor in Aurora Leigh," ELH  64 (1997): 223-256.

9All quotations from Dorothy's Grasmere journals are taken from The Grasmere Journals, ed. Pamela Woof (Oxford and New York: Oxford U P, 1991), and are identified in my text by page numbers only.

10Another effect of such placements of women in landscape is no doubt the kind of objectification deplored in feminist critiques, particularly of men's writing. While I do not think the gender of the writer defines the difference, I would argue that Dorothy's identification of herself as narrator with the Traveller including their shared gender changes the connotations of this objectification.

11All quotations from Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland (1803) are taken from Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, ed. Ernest de Selincourt, vol. 1 (1941; New York: Archon Books, 1971) 195-409, and are identified in my text by page number only.

12Compare Dorothy's treatment of the situation with Anna Jameson's complaint, in her 1826 Diary of an Ennuyee, that "'all those minute details of domestic life, which, in England are confined to within the sacred precincts of home, are here [in Italy] displayed to public view. Here people buy and sell and work, wash, wring, brew, bake, fry, dress, eat, drink, sleep &c. &c. all in the open streets'" (qtd. in Gilroy 30).

13Barrell's subject is not the picturesque per se, but the participation of the picturesque in the "fully articulated discourse" of the division of labor, a discourse usually thought of as economic but pervading industrialized culture (84). His point about Pyne's "nearly exclusive concentration on outdoor employments" is that this concentration, along with such apparently anomalous inclusions as "vignettes of banditti . . . lounging on rocks and under trees," demonstrates the interested, "occupational" definitions of social knowledge implicit in both the picturesque and the overtly economic discourses of labor (114). "Visualizing the Division of Labor: William Pyne's Microcosm," Subject to History: Ideology, Class, Gender, ed. David Simpson (Ithaca and London: Cornell U P, 1991) 84-118.

14Although Barrell points out that "the professional artist in landscape and genre" generally departed from Gilpin's precepts, including the signs of labor that Giplin believed tainted the aesthetic with the moral sense (95), I have rarely seen a landscape artist from this period use a single cottage as Dorothy characteristically does, as the focal point of a larger landscape. An exception is Francis Wheatley's watercolor, "Keswick," housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Peter Bicknell includes a reproduction on p. 127 of his illustrated edition of William's Guide to the Lakes.

15Alexander gives considerable attention to Dorothy's love of shelter images in Women in Romanticism, but sees them as regressive longings for an impossibly secure home, not as aesthetic maneuvers. Alexander's explanations connect Dorothy's construction of subjectivity and her unsymbolic or "literalized" language, understanding Dorothy's shelter images as "expressions of the persistent desire to be housed, as opposed to constructing a home in the world" (88). In this, Alexander follows the line established by Margaret Homans in Women Writers and Poetic Identity (Princeton: Princeton U P, 1980) and refined in Bearing the Word ( Chicago and London: Chicago U P, 1986).

16I take these texts from Susan Levin's "The Collected Poems of Dorothy Wordsworth," Appendix One of Levin's Dorothy Wordsworth and Romanticism, 183-88. My own references to the poems are by line number only. As Levin notes, Dorothy incorporates "Sketch" into "Grasmere," yet there are five fair-copy versions of the short and noticeably different poem. Mary Moorman prints a version titled "A Winter's Ramble in Grasmere Vale" in her edition of the Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth (Oxford: Oxford U P, 1971); another manuscript version is titled "A Cottage in Grasmere Vale." The dates of both "Sketch" and "Grasmere" are uncertain. Although William Knight attributes his version of "Grasmere" to a "MS. of 1805," the poem is often signed with the date "Sept. 26th, 1829" (Levin 187); Levin argues that "its position in the Coleorton Commonplace Book indicates an early composition" and notes a version in Emily Trevenen's Album, which album itself is dated "1829" (187); Moorman, who prints an eight-stanza version not noted by Levin, says it was "written by D.W. in 1834, when she was an invalid, and preserved among the Dove Cottage papers" (Moorman 223 n.1). I treat both poems as relevant to the Dove Cottage years, the beginning of which they commemorate.

17Susan Wolfson reads the speaker's turning aside as a critique of William's anxieties about lost paths. Wolfson's commentary on "Grasmere A Fragment" cordially engages Margaret Homans' throughout. Wolfson, "Individual in Community: Dorothy Wordsworth in Conversation with William," Romanticism and Feminism, ed. Mellor, 139-66; Homans, Woman Writers, 50-4.

 

 

 

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