Hutchinson, £25 Order at a discount from the The Independent Bookshop

Book review: The Poets' Daughters, By Katie Waldegrave

Talented, spirited, the Lake Poets' offspring had mountains of their own to climb

Katie Waldegrave could have shown Dora Wordsworth and Sara Coleridge as mere casualties of their respective fathers' possessiveness and neglect: she has plenty of material. But her parallel lives are about affinity and love as much as bad parenting.

Get this book at the discounted rate of £18 from The Independent Bookshop or call 0843 0600 030


The Lake Poets favoured romantic wildness, and the gang of little Wordsworths, Coleridges and Southeys waded up the Grasmere watercourses and harassed neighbours unsupervised. In many ways they had a blissful dawn to be alive in, despite the usual long illnesses and shocking deaths of siblings.

All children inherit old jealousies and alliances; theirs were especially sharp and public. The girls might attract the attention of Social Services now. Dora, getting a bit too wild at nine, was sent off to boarding school by her Aunt Dorothy on an outside seat of the coach in the care of two drunken sailors. Wordsworth's sister seems to have disliked her niece, who would displace her.

But Laureate Robert Southey and deserted Mrs Coleridge (he and Coleridge had married sisters) made sure the children at Keswick had some stability and academic education in Latin and Italian as well as "accomplishments". When apart, Sara and Dora corresponded: a "vile Doro, your base neglect of me is intolerable" would get a quick reply back across the mountain.

In Dora's early teens her father's eyesight was failing and he began to make her his amanuensis in the image of Milton's daughters, though he already had a wife and sister in that role. He disliked the physical act of writing and composed aloud. Without secretarial backup, much might have been lost. Was Dora's work a privilege or a trap? Waldegrave traces the lifelong ambiguity and its impact on her health. Wordsworth opposed the only marriage she wanted, capitulating with ill grace when she was 36 - though her husband continued to venerate him.

Coleridge left when Sara was a baby, returned in her childhood to admire her beauty and intelligence, then disappeared in her teens. Wordsworth became her substitute father. At 20 she went to London to rediscover the real one, but the Sage of Highgate was too damaged by opium for family relationships. Perhaps inevitably, both women married "in", Sara to a cousin also devoted to his father-in -law.

The Poets' Daughters lacks the intensity of Frances Wilson's The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth, but its scope is wider. Waldegrave traces the literary genetics: the daughters were like the fathers in mind as well as looks. Wordsworth's Lakes reappear in Dora's lyrical evocations of Portuguese scenery, published as A Guide to Portugal against her parents' wishes. "Cerulean" or bluestocking Sara published her translation from the Latin of a learned work on Paraguay at 18. Her magical poem "Phantasmion" creates surreal land and seascapes like Coleridge's.

Both women's lives were darkened by depression, eating disorders and, in Sara's case, the deaths of three babies and many miscarriages. She too relied on opium. But writing revived her. As a widow she engaged in the theological battles of the mid-19th century and brilliantly edited her father's unpublished work, refusing to suppress material the Victorians would find shocking. "She shines with a light of her own," she wrote of Dora, "not merely with a portion of parental radiance". The praise applies equally to herself. Unlike their touchy fathers, they stayed friends all their lives.

Loraine Fletcher's 'Print/Capture: a memoir' is available via Amazon



Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.


Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss