picture
Answers To Frequently Asked Questions:

 

1 - Why did you choose to write this novel?

So:  I’m a freshman in college, sitting in the back of a class on the Romantic Poets.  We’re doing Wordsworth—we’ve recently done Blake, and I’m thinking Blake was more exciting.  We’re on this poem that has Biblical references like “Abraham’s bosom,” and it’s sounding pretty ponderous.  Maybe some of the other students are thinking that too, for the professor stops talking, leans forward conspiratorially on his elbows, and says, “Did you read the footnote to this poem?”  As college students are notoriously bad at reading footnotes, no one answers.   The professor now explains the footnote’s reference to “Wordsworth’s illegitimate French daughter.”  He tells us that the poet was in France during the early days of the revolution, was “hot” in it, to use the poet’s word, and that, while there, he fell in love with a French woman named Annette Vallon (her name wasn’t in the footnote, only her daughter’s), who later bore him a child…Well, this sounded more interesting than the poem we were reading, and I thought there’s a story here.  About twenty years later, I’m teaching the same poem (I now like it) and come upon the same footnote.  I think, no one has ever written that story, maybe I’ll give it a try—or something like that—a why not attitude, not knowing anything about how long it would take or what I would be in for.  But the topic interested me, and the more I found out about it, the more interested I became.

[Return to FAQ page]

2 - Was it hard writing from a point of view of a woman?

I’m not going to do it again, at least not in first person, or not a whole novel.  You know one of he last lines from Huck Finn, when Huck says, “If I’d a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn’t a tackled it.”  That’s how I felt sometimes.  I did try to start it in third person, but it didn’t seem right.  It was Annette’s story, and it had to be told in her voice.  Sometimes early on it would catch me up—Right, I’d think, she’s wearing a dress, or Oh, she’s riding side-saddle; she only has one stirrup, but after awhile I’d sit down and her voice would be there.  I think there are certain universals of human emotion and perception that we all share, and I could draw from that.  Also, it’s fun to get out of yourself when you write, into another point of view.  It’s just something you have to do as a writer anyway.  Think of a playwright—all those different perspectives, all spoken from first person.  And sometimes the ones that are least like the author are the most dynamic ones.  I’ll prefer Eliza Doolittle any day to Henry Higgins, and Higgins was probably a lot like Shaw.  It’s not as big a deal as one thinks writing from another gender: there’s a long tradition behind it, not just in theatre, but in poetry and in fiction.  It’s called persona, writing from a voice not your own.  Try Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath,” arguably his most interesting character; or Daniel Defoe, after he’s taken on the voice of Robinson Crusoe, who then writes in the persona of Moll Flanders, a rakish 18th century woman;  W.B. Yeats has some fantastic poems in the voice of “Crazy Jane”; and what about contemporary fiction like Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Goldman, or Tracy Chevalier’s Falling Angels or The Lady and the Unicorn, when, in different chapters, she switches from female to male voices quite fluidly?   In the novel Sight Hound Pam Houston even convincingly adopts the voice of a male dog!  Don’t ever let anyone tell you, you can’t write from some point of view because it’s too different from yours.  Those people don’t understand the imagination.

[Return to FAQ page]

3 - How did research change or influence the direction of the novel?

The more research I did, the more ideas I got.  The pile of books I went through on the French Revolution made me want to do scenes like the Battle of the Tuileries, even though my main character wasn’t there, and the noyades—sometimes reality is more crazy than fiction, and the massacre at the Tuileries and the infamous noyades are just a couple examples.  I think the real Annette Vallon probably did a lot more intense things than the ones I make up, and I just had to do enough research to be able to imagine the kinds of things she may have done.  William, too, was a very impetuous and passionate young man, and there’s research to suggest he did make that daring visit to France at the height of the Reign of Terror.  Also, research gave me the characters of the marquis and of Jeanne Robin—he is based on a real, swashbuckling marquis who had fought in the American Revolution and used those guerilla tactics in the Loire Valley; Jeanne was an actual, courageous cavalry woman in the Vendée.  Research also gave to me interesting smaller things, like the popularity of earrings in the shape of guillotines and blonde wigs made from chopped off heads.

[Return to FAQ page]

4 - Did you do research before or during the writing?

Both.  If I hadn’t researched Annette Vallon and found out she was more than just William Wordsworth’s lover, I wouldn’t have had much of a story to start with, but much of it I also did as I went along—timelines of events in the Revolution and how those coincided with William’s year in France, and after I’d written that, more research on the Reign of Terror when I got to that section.  One thing is not to do too much research before you start, for that can be an excuse for not starting—you can get lost in the research and still tell yourself you’re writing a novel, even if you haven’t written a word.  When I was on the Reign of Terror section, with a stack of books on my desk, I had to tell myself—it doesn’t matter how much you’ve read unless you can turn it into scenes—and I’d stop and do that.

[Return to FAQ page]

5 - How long did it take you to write the novel?

That’s an interesting question in my case, for I can’t quite say—I wrote the draft in a little over three years—while teaching and raising a family—then put it aside for about ten years.  When HarperCollins picked it up, I hadn’t even looked at it in over a decade, and at that time I rewrote the whole book in a year—again with obligations of teaching and family—so I guess that’s over four years in writing time, if that answers it.  But all that time in between made it easy for me to view the text with total objectivity—I was a different person when I wrote the first draft—and freely to cut, add, and switch things around.

[Return to FAQ page]

6 - How did you balance the demands of teaching, writing, and having a family?  How does teaching affect your writing?

As I implied with the previous question, I have to find a balance, for I don’t ignore my other obligations when I write.  I give my all to my teaching—put my passion into that; appreciate the company of family—I would never want to be the writer who says, Oh, I can’t do the dishes or grocery shopping because I’m an artist—that’s just too precious, and we all have lots of things we have to do.  I do have to work alone—but I can have the door slightly open in case I hear something I need to deal with.  And in that open door, during the first draft, my son, then very young, would wander and say interesting things out of the blue, as children often do—so I made up a character then who was about his age, and I would just type whatever my son said into the draft and have the character say it—this is how Gerard and Marie were created—they both have lines said to me by my son as I worked.  When I rewrote the book, though, I often worked late at night when the house was very quiet and even the dog and cats were fast asleep.  To help me multitask as well as relax, I also practice transcendental meditation, which for me is very practical: it relieves stress, clears my mind, and gives me energy for whatever I need to do next.

Teaching affects my writing in that it keeps me in contact with great writers that I teach, and in that I’m passing on my passion, so often I’m talking about things I just learned myself, if it’s a creative writing class, or I’m learning from the masters, with the students, in a literature class, and excited about how this writer or poet practices the craft.

[Return to FAQ page]

7 - Are there documents of the real Annette’s activities in the resistance?

Yes; the main document is the petition that was created to get Annette a pension for her services in the underground resistance.  The list of who signed the petition reads like a list of who’s who in France in the Restoration—so many marquis and viscounts—many who testify that she saved their lives, and that she tirelessly and selflessly risked her life in this service for almost twenty-five years.  I quote from this document in the chapter “To Thank Her” and include more of it in the essay, “Fact and Fiction in Annette Vallon,” that I recently wrote for the new Afterword that will be in the paperback (you can also access the essay on this website).

[Return to FAQ page]

8 - Is there evidence of Annette in Wordworth’s poetry?

Wordsworth was excellent at masking how Annette appeared in his poetry—she was, after all, a French catholic and mother of his illegitimate child.  He kept the knowledge of her pretty much to himself (his sister, later his wife, and Coleridge knew), but as poet, and as a poet who drew from his own experience, she was bound to surface (and be the source of intense emotions he had to deal with) in various ways in his poems.  Some of these ways he may even have been unaware of himself, as the subconscious plays such an important part in poetry writing.  I go into this in some detail in my essay, “Annette Vallon and the Poetry of William Wordsworth.”

[Return to FAQ page]

9 - Did you know the Calais section would make readers angry at Wordsworth?

My main concern in writing it was to try to make both of the characters sympathetic—or at least get the reader to understand both of their points of view.  It would be too easy just to make William the bad guy.  But if the reader gets angry at him, that’s fine with me: the reader is sympathizing with my main character.  Because I tried to make both of their feelings accessible—and many of those feelings were just unfolding and expressing themselves at that time—the Calais section was probably the hardest part of the novel to write.  But one can’t think of audience response when one writes, only of what the characters’ experiences are.

[Return to FAQ page]

10 - Why couldn’t Annette and William stay together after Calais?

I’d like them to stay together—to go to Annette’s cottage along the Loire.  And William seems here to be good “daddy material” for Caroline (he was later quite a devoted father to his children with Mary), but we have some difficulties: The war will soon resume, and they both know that.  William would be in danger if he went to that cottage.  Now why can’t Annette go to England, as originally planned, ten years earlier?  Does she want to go anymore?  Isn’t she very attached to her region, just as William is to his?  Doesn’t she have ties there in her resistance work, to which she’s devoted?   Would she, in her French sensibilities, be comfortable in English society or in the physical region of the north of England?  And William—he had made this engagement official; Mary was waiting for him (not to mention the pressure of Dorothy and relatives).  I think he felt fully the pull of duty and knew where his obligations now lay: in England.  But what he could do—what they could both do—was stay with each other for a full month in their own world, with Caroline.  It’s very strange that an engaged  man lives in daily proximity with his old lover for a month, but this is what they did (also see my discussion of this in the “Fact and Fiction” essay).  And there’s the point that they had both, in their own ways, moved on; they had their own lives that they were each deeply involved in—but they also had this month together.

[Return to FAQ page]

11 - What is the most interesting thing you found out in your research?

I think three things—one, that Annette and William’s relationship went on for years, even decades, through correspondence and through meeting, in Calais and in Paris (possibly, even one I don’t mention in the book, when William visits Paris in 1837 without sister or wife, with just his friend, Crabb Robinson).  This was no fling, and Wordsworth is no personality for just a fling during the heat of the Revolution; a quick perusal of his poetry proves him to have a very serious and sincere sensibility—and their life-long friendship shows this.

Second, that many biographers of William seem to treat Annette frigidly—as if to give her, her due would be somehow to diminish the stature of the great poet.  (I go into this in the essay “Fact and Fiction”.)  So I reverse this tendency in my novel.   

The third thing is the fact that the Annette Vallon truly was a dynamic, courageous, compassionate woman, risking her life to save others from prison or the guillotine.  She was a leader, and must have been very clever to avoid the Committee of Safety as well as the secret police of Napoleon, who kept watch on her as an “active intriguer.”  I sometimes felt that no matter what I made up it couldn’t equal what she probably really did.

Annette never married; she kept the name “Annette Williams” all her life, but in my book, she’s already most likely a very close friend of the marquis not too long after Calais—that is, after she knows for sure William is no longer waiting for her.  Look at the scene when the marquis returns from America, and how when everyone else leaves, they stay up by the fire.  And she visits him at Chateau Beauregard.  The “L’Envoi” also shows them having a life together—just the start of the chapter, with her on his arm—and the metaphor of his rebuilding his chateau and of the flight of Pegasus.  She has a lot of life yet to live.

[Return to FAQ page]

12 - Is there a surviving portrait of Annette Vallon?

Below is the only portrait we have of Annette, published in 1922 by Emile Legouis in "William Wordsworth and Annette Vallon."

The portrait below shows the younger man that Annette would have known. It is from the time he first published "Lyrical Ballads" with his friend Coleridge and four years before William and Annette met again in Calais.

[Return to FAQ page]

Additional Questions and Answers from an Interview with the Author in HarperCollins On-line Reader's Group Guide:

Q: As a professor of English, was there ever a sense of inevitability about your being drawn into writing a work of historical fiction that involves an important English literary figure? What about the story of Annette Vallon and her affair with the poet, William Wordsworth, first attracted your attention?

AOne writes about what one is interested in, and since my interests are often around English literature, I suppose my imagination could have got caught up in a number of intriguing poets and episodes of their lives off the page (Lord Byron, for instance).  William Wordsworth, however, is not the most likely of poets one would think of as an important character in a narrative.  But I was intrigued by a time in his life of which we know very little (see my essay, “Fact and Fiction in Annette Vallon,” in the paperback or on my website).  Moreover, I was intrigued with a footnote.

Some readers of the Romantic period in English literature will come upon a footnote (it is not, by any means, in all, or even in most, collections of his poetry) to one sonnet of William Wordsworth: “It Is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free.”  That footnote, if they hold a volume that contains it, is as far as most people’s knowledge of Annette Vallon goes.  So for me, as for any one else, Annette was only a footnote, but an intriguing one, for it suggested a Wordsworth much different than the one often presented to us by his poems or biographers or our teachers.

That footnote and Annette Vallon first attracted my attention when I was a freshman in college, in a class on the Romantic Poets.  We were discussing “A Beautiful Evening Calm and Free,” when the professor stopped and addressed the footnote about Wordsworth’s illegitimate French daughter—it mentioned Caroline, not Annette—and I remember thinking at that time that there was a story there.  Twenty years later, I found myself teaching the same poem and coming upon the same footnote.  I thought then that writing about the person behind that footnote—turning her from a secondary reference to a poem to a character in a novel--could be an interesting challenge.  I was teaching a lot of Wordsworth that semester, including much of his long narrative, The Prelude, about his childhood and youth, or as he calls it, about the “growth of a poet’s mind,” which includes passages about his stay in France.  I thought I had a different take than most biographers on his relationship with Annette (see my essay, “Annette Vallon and the Poetry of William Wordsworth.”) and wanted my novel, besides being her untold story, to lead readers to look at Wordsworth’s poetry in a different light.

 

Q: How did you prepare for the experience of inhabiting the perspective of an 18th-century female narrator?

A: I read the one book that is the basis of any knowledge we have of Annette: Emile Legouis’ William Wordsworth and Annette Vallon.  Through it I gained a picture of someone who had a life far beyond the lover of a famous poet (who wasn’t famous when she met him).  I found a woman who risked her life, again and again, to save the lives of others--hiding them, helping them escape from prison—someone incredibly brave, selfless and dynamic.  I also gained an idea of her upper bourgeoisie upbringing and of her family.  Then I read many books on the nature of the times: historical perspectives of the French Revolution in all its complex causes and effects, and books on late eighteenth century home interiors and on fashion.  The fashion books, of course, gave me a clear idea of what Annette and other women wore, but also gave me useful details, such as the guillotine earrings that her friend sports.

So from Legouis (what many biographers on Wordsworth have to say about Annette is not to be trusted, for they have their own agenda in writing about the great poet) I gained a sense of her background and of her as a strong woman.  From research I was able to discern her time and locale.  Then my imagination filled in the gaps as to what it would have been like actually to be her, to have been raised in a privileged world that was dismantled before one’s eyes, to have lost one’s father early in life and to dislike one’s mother’s new partner; to have been in love with a young poet who then must leave, not knowing when (or if) he will ever return; and, out of a sense of love and community, to risk one’s life repeatedly for others.  Annette lived in a world constantly changing and reforming before her, often in a menacing way or one that involved for her great loss, and faced it with stability, courage, and love: so I had to inhabit that consciousness, which is female because it is hers but is also universal in that those qualities of courage, selflessness, loyalty, and love, and the emotions of joy or loss are not limited to one gender.
           
Therefore, although I had to think and feel and perceive as she would--which sometimes involved remembering, for instance, that she’s wearing a dress when riding a horse, so she must be riding sidesaddle and using only one stirrup, or seeing out of her eyes as a new mother when her infant is kidnapped--certain universals of human emotion and perception helped me imagine her point of view.  The main preparation then, to inhabit this perspective, so different from my own, was reading to give me facts and imagination to place myself in her consciousness.  And that placement involves voice; once I heard her voice (or created it) in all its variations of emotion and predicament, every time I sat to write that voice would be there, and I knew how she would react to different situations.
           
Another preparation was writing persona poems, that is, poems that take on a different voice than one’s own, as in Robert Browning’s dramatic monologues, and through being aware of the persona tradition in literature, in which writers throughout history have adopted other voices, from Geoffrey Chaucer to Daniel Defoe to Tracy Chevalier.  From that tradition I knew that a writer is free to find and inhabit whatever point of view works best to tell the story.     

Lastly, if I had any questions regarding a woman’s perspective, I’d ask my wife.
 
Q: What do the letters from Annette Vallon to William Wordsworth that still exist suggest about the dynamics of their relationship?  

A:  They show us a woman distraught over whether her lover and father of her infant daughter will return to her.  They show us the universal of a woman and a mother stuck within the awful uncertainties of a world at war.  It is a tremendous risk for William to take if he comes back to France.  So Annette asks him when he will return; then immediately says that he better not.  We can feel her aching heart when she says that the baby looks more like him every day, and that when she holds the child in her arms she can imagine it is he whom she is holding.   These letters of course imply an intimacy between them, an intimacy that belongs to letters between husband and wife or the deeply committed; they certainly imply that he had planned to come back when he left.  William tells us in The Prelude that he only left “dragged by the chain of harsh necessity.”
           
The letters are all the more poignant because we realize we are reading words intended for William, which he himself never read, for they were impounded by the French police during the Reign of Terror.  So they lead us to think, how many other letters were lost?  What was William thinking when he expected to hear from her and didn’t, but heard instead horror stories of what was going on in France?  How did Annette feel when she had no idea whether he received her letters or not?  The letters we have make references to others that we don’t know about, which very likely also didn’t make it across the channel. 

Probably many letters of hers did make it to England, though, nine years later during the brief peace of Amiens, when she and William met at Calais in 1802, and another fourteen years after that, after Napoleon’s exile and his defeat at Waterloo, for Dorothy makes reference in her journal to receiving these letters.  Emile Legouis tells us that William and Annette most likely carried on a correspondence even long after 1820, their last definite meeting, and that William’s nephew and first biographer destroyed all evidence of their relationship.

These few remaining letters tell us more in what they don’t say than in what they say.  That is, they hint at spaces between letters and are the only words we have of a woman in love with a man who would later become a famous poet, of a woman whose life we can only try to piece together.  Since they were written in a time of great distress, we can’t take them as the definitive illustration of Annette’s character, for the brave fighter of the underground for over twenty years is not the same woman who, in acute grief and uncertainty, speaks to her lover.  Or is she?  The letters, combined with the history of her exploits as a Chouanne, suggest to us that Annette’s was not a simple personality.

There’s another intriguing aspect to the letters: one of them speaks at length to Dorothy, William’s sister, whom Annette had, of course, never met.  Annette is aware, though, of Dorothy’s difficult role in trying to get William back in the good graces of his uncle, and she speaks to Dorothy as to a friend—as if she’s perhaps answering a letter from Dorothy--someone who also has William’s best interests at heart, and she even looks forward to when they can all be together, as if confident in her future place in the family.

Most of all to me, though, the letters were an inspiration as to the voice and feelings of the real person.  (For more on them, see my essay, “Fact and Fiction in Annette Vallon.”)  Here is my translation of a part of one.  You decide what it suggests:

Come, my friend, my husband, receive the tender kisses of your wife, of your daughter.  She is so pretty, this poor little one, so pretty that the tenderness I feel for her would drive me crazy if I didn’t always hold her in my arms.  She resembles you more and more each day.  I believe that I hold you in my arms.  Her little heart beats against mine…[I say to her,] “Caroline, in a month, in fifteen days, in eight days, you will see the most cherished of men, the most tender of men” …Always love your little daughter and your Annette, who kisses you a thousand times on the mouth, on the eyes…I will write to you on Sunday.  Goodbye, I love you for life.

These letters can break your heart, especially if you read them in French, in her actual words, because of their candid devotion, their longing, and the fact that they never reached William.

Q: What became of Caroline, Wordsworth’s daughter by Annette Vallon?

A:  Caroline had three daughters of her own.  The first figures slightly near the end of my book.  This is Louise Marie Caroline Dorothée, whose name interestingly includes William’s sister, whom Caroline may have been in correspondence with off and on since they met at Calais, or perhaps, as Annette reflects in my novel, it was the only way to pass on her father’s name to her daughter.  Louise’s birth certificate does not forget him.  The godfather of her child is “Mr. Williams [sic] Wordsworth, propriétaire, residing at Rydalmount near Kindal [sic], Westmorland, the child’s maternal grandfather.” (Legouis, 106)  It’s touching to note that Caroline’s seeming spelling error as to her father’s name is actually the surname Annette had adopted as her own for all of Caroline’s life: “Williams.”  Caroline kept the surname Wordsworth until her marriage to Jean Baptiste Baudouin. 

Louise was born on December 27, 1816, and Caroline had two other daughters, Anne Léonide, born on December 15, 1819, but who died before her sixth birthday, and Marie Marguerite Caroline, born November 12, 1823.  Wordsworth would have met two of these granddaughters on his month-long visit to Paris in 1820, in which he, his wife, Mary, and Dorothy stayed in rooms found for them by Jean Baptiste, close by in the rue Charlot.  In her journal, Dorothy describes Caroline as “a mild, amiable little woman in appearance.”  By this time Annette had been living for some time with the Badouins on the left bank at 47 rue Charlot.

In this long visit of 1820, the last documented meeting we have between the poet, Annette, and his granddaughters (he may have seen them in 1837, when he traveled to Paris without his wife or sister), William most likely presented Annette and Caroline with a two-volume edition of his poems published in 1815.  One of these volumes has been lost, but one was still owned by the French family when Legouis did his research on Annette Vallon in the early 1920’s.  Nevertheless, it seems Wordsworth’s French relatives didn’t learn much English, and it’s interesting to imagine a scene that took place in 1846 (five years after Annette’s death and four years before William’s): Caroline’s younger daughter, Marie Marguerite, went to visit a retired professor of foreign literature and asked him to tell her about the poetry of her grandfather, of whom French critics had now spoken highly.  This professor then dedicated to the “granddaughter of the illustrious poet Wordsworth” a nine page booklet praising the originality of the poet, especially his poems on childhood, ending with, “O benevolent and venerable poet, may France always love and keep with reverence thy beloved children—thou who hast worked so long for the moral well-being of youth, and hast entrusted to an alien soil thy dearest affections!” (Legouis, 110)   It’s also significant to note that this dedication, in 1846, was made about seventy-five years before Annette’s letters to William were discovered, made public, and rocked the British literary establishment.  His family had kept the French relatives a secret, but the poet’s “dearest affections” were alive and well on “alien soil.”

An odd fact comes up in how Caroline and Jean Baptiste met, a true story to which I refer in my novel: William first became friends with Caroline’s future brother-in-law, Eustace, a French prisoner of war in the north of England near to where William lived—in fact, Eustace Badouin visited William so often that Coleridge thought that Wordsworth had a French son, not a French daughter.  On his return to France, Eustace went to see Annette and Caroline (we can only assume on request of the poet), and must have brought along his older brother, Jean Baptiste.  Moreover, Eustace carried on some kind of correspondence with the Wordsworths.  Dorothy writes in a letter of April 4, 1816, to Mrs. Clarkson: “He is very attached to his sister-in-law, and has given us a very pleasing account of her.”  I did not need to invent ironies for my fiction: that the daughter, estranged from the father, finds her future husband through a man who becomes a friend of her father while imprisoned in the country from which fate and circumstance have forever barred her is irony enough.

Q: How closely does your fictional rendering of Dorothy Wordsworth as an overprotective and possibly jealous younger sister track with her self-depiction in journals and letters?

A: We know that Dorothy was a keen observer of nature, and wrote in her journal her own kind of prose-poetry: “I never saw such a union of earth, sky, and sea.  The clouds beneath our feet spread themselves to the water, and the clouds of the sky almost joined them.” (Jan.3, 1798)  Or, “William called me into the garden to observe a singular appearance about the moon.  A perfect rainbow, within the bow one star, only of colours more vivid.” (Jan. 30)  We even know that a description in her journal of daffodils helped William to recall the event on which is based--or it even inspired--his famous, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.”
           
I don’t think Dorothy had a conscious “self-depiction,” though, in her journals or letters.  She most likely didn’t think anyone would ever read them, besides her brother and the persons to whom the letters were addressed.  In her journal, grand descriptions of nature stand side by side with everyday banalities, such as ”walked only to the mill,” the sole entry for Jan. 28, 1798, and the moon-rainbow passage ends with “walked to the blacksmith’s and the baker’s; an uninteresting evening.”  Or she goes to town to fetch gingerbread.
           
Significantly, virtually all the events she records involve her brother.  It is with him that she “walked upon the hilltops” (Jan. 26, 1798) or “walked from seven o’clock till half-past eight” or “Set forward to Stowey [the village where Coleridge lived]…a violent storm in the wood; sheltered under hollies” (Jan. 31).  It is for William she is fetching gingerbread in town.  When she writes, “Walked with Coleridge over the hills,” she doesn’t need to state that William walked too.  It’s implied.
           
In 1802, suddenly into this tranquil world entered again a person who threatened, at least in Dorothy’s mind, its equilibrium.  The Peace of Amiens was declared, and immediately letters between William and Annette crossed the channel.  We don’t know who wrote first, but Dorothy mentions in her own correspondences, “letter from France” or “from “A” and that William has to retire with a headache.  But it wasn’t only William.  What would happen to their walks in all weather if William married Annette and moved to France?  Or if Annette, who knew little or no English, suddenly entered the cozy group of Dorothy, William, and Coleridge, who could all talk poetry together?  Dorothy’s world—and the world depicted in her journal--would be overturned.
           
Nevertheless, William needed to marry.  His family was calling for it.  He was thirty-two.  Dorothy invited their old friend from childhood, Mary Hutchinson, to spend time with them, and apparently at first, William absented himself to go on walks.  But Mary was also the sister of Coleridge’s true love (not his wife), Sara.  The cozy group could now continue with Mary and Sara, and it did, and although it eventually fell apart with Coleridge’s health and circumstance, William, Mary, and Dorothy lived together the rest of their lives.
           
Still, the marriage of William and Mary, while not threatening like his relationship with Annette, must have been a traumatic event for Dorothy.  Most students of Wordsworth have heard of how she wore the wedding ring (albeit not on her ring finger) the night before the event.  She writes of that morning in her journal: 

I saw them go down the avenue towards the church.  William had parted from me upstairs [presumably when he got the ring back].  When they were absent my dear little Sara prepared the breakfast.  I kept myself as quiet as I could, but when I saw the two men running up the walk, coming to tell us it was over, I could stand it no longer, and threw myself on the bed, where I lay in stillness, neither hearing or seeing anything till Sara same upstairs…

Notice the phrase, “tell us it was over.”  Hardly the language of celebration. After breakfast, Dorothy accompanies them on their long journey north to the cottage they all will share.  That means she is with them on a kind of honeymoon trip.  Of the stay at the inn that evening, Dorothy says, “I prevailed upon William to go up with me to the ruins.  We left Mary sitting by the fire.” 
           
As the journey continues, it seems to become even more odd.  Reflecting on when a horse grew lame and they were obliged to stay for a long period, in a howling wind, inside the post-chaise, Dorothy writes, “William has since wrote a sonnet on this our imprisonment. ‘Hard was thy durance, Queen!  Compared with ours’.”  This seems a strange kind of poem to write the day after one’s wedding.  Dorothy ambiguously ends with exclaiming “Poor Mary!”  This refers to the “queen” in the poem, but in context (and Dorothy was not naive about nuance or irony), it also refers to her new sister-in-law.  She then mentions, “Wm. fell asleep, lying upon my breast, and I upon Mary.”  If you think of the logistics of this, Dorothy is in the middle, between the new husband and wife, a seeming symbolic position, and the one she takes in my novel, when she comes between William and Annette. 

It’s very possible that, besides the war between their countries, Dorothy was the main obstacle between William and his French lover.  As in answer to this question I have quoted extensively from her journal, I would say that the Dorothy of my novel is merely a dramatization of the one she presents to us in her own words.  

When William returned from France in December 1792 and for most of 1793, he was extremely distraught.  Some biographers attribute this solely to the loss of his ideals about the French Revolution, but, as indicated by his many poems of this period about deserted women and orphaned children, he was also suffering from guilt, heartache, and anxiety as to the state of Annette and Caroline.  At the end of 1793—perhaps after an aborted attempt to bring Annette and Caroline back to England--it was Dorothy, the sister from whom he had been separated when their parents died, who pulled him through, then became his good friend.  For this and because she has become his partner in nature, he gives her his gratitude at the end of “Tintern Abbey.”  Dorothy had given him his life back.  Could she give him up again?

[Return to FAQ page]

Back To Top

 

Homepage
About the Author
Book Club
Critics' Reviews
Readers' Reviews
Essays on Annette
Radio Podcast Link
Stories
Contact