William Wordsworth: A Life
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William Wordsworth: A Life

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Based on intimate knowledge of the poet's manuscripts, on a fresh look at contemporary records, and on a study of the mass of material that has appeared since the last serious biography, a quarter-century ago, this new account of Wordsworth focuses on what was most important to him - his life as a writer. The common notion is that the older Wordsworth betrayed his youthful, radical self to become a prosy Tory bore. By contrast, this intelligent and authoritative biography demonstrates that once the poet had returned to the Lake District, determined to live dedicated to poetry at whatever cost, his life took on a unity and purpose it had previously lacked. His politics certainly changed, and his poetic power waned, but from 1799 almost until his death in 1850, Wordsworth single-mindedly shaped his own life in submission to an imaginative possession whose importance he never doubted. It was, in its way, a heroic life. Wordsworth suffered numbing blows from the death of friends and family, including three of his own children. Critics reviled his poetry for over twenty years, and he never made enough money by his pen to live on - unlike his dear friend Scott. Yet his dedication to his art did not waver. In middle age he knew that contemporaries valued him as a moral sage; in old age he suffered the embarrassment of being a cultural icon. The lucid narrative that Stephen Gill draws out is the story of that hard-won triumph: its purpose is to bring readers back freshly to poetry that is full of human understanding and experience, and a tested, sober faith in 'Man's unconquerable mind'.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 544 pages
  • 152 x 226 x 38mm | 859.99g
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • Revised ed.
  • 8 pp illustrations, map
  • 0192827472
  • 9780192827470
  • 820,144

Review quote

a unique look at this Romantic poet * Windsor Star * An assured blend of old and recently-researched material which combines fluently into a vibrant study of the poet. Mr Gill avoids wild speculation and brings us the essence of the man thankfully devoid of spurious conjecture. * Tony Firth, Yorkshire Post * From the paperback: triumphantly reconciles a vast amount of material to produce a life of Wordsworth that is sensitive to modern scholarship and faithful to the age in which the poet himself lived ... Stephen Gill has written a biography of Wordsworth for our times, and it will remain the standard life of the poet for many years to come. * Nicholas Roe, University of St Andrews, Review of English Studies, Vol. XLI, No. 164, Nov '90 * eloquent and straight-forward retelling of Wordsworth's life * J.D. Gutteridge, Notes and Queries * Gill's narrative is well-paced and well-written. Gill's account is comprehensive and engaging, and skilful in its corporation of biographical detail. The Wordsworth specialist, as well as the general reader, will come away from it refreshed and inspired. * Charles Rzepka, Boston University, Essays in Criticism * it is robust and intelligent on his marvellous body of poetry * Observer * this biography contains much to interest scholars * Henry Bartlett, The Courier-Mail * all stolid good sense * John Linklater, The Bookseller * fine new biography ... Mr Gill's biography is up-to-date in its scholarship ... It neither sentimentalizes nor oversimplifies. * Richard Locke, Columbia University, Wall Street Journal * He offers a more factually meticulous version of the poet's early years to stand beside the mythopoeic self-presentation of the poetry. He understands the importance of Wordsworth's inner life. Gill's biography quietly but memorably reveals the drama of Wordsworth's life. * Merle Rubin, Christian Science Monitor * Gill has peformed a remarkable act of revisionary scholarship by shifting the bulk of the story to the years at Rydal Mount ... this is a distinguished work of literary biography ... The biographer's wide-ranging knowledge of the period adds immensely to the success of this study. It will be many years before another biography of Wordsworth is required. * Jay Parini, USA Today * the biography is both scholarly and readable ... If William Wordsworth: A Life brings new readers to the poems or old readers back it will have succeeded admirably in its aim. * Peter Dyson, University of Toronto, The Globe and Mail * compendious new biography of William Wordsworth ... solidly constructed * Chicago Tribune * a model literary biography * Bernard Bergonzi, The Tablet * Stephen Gill ... has written what must now be the definitive biography ... a multitudinous life about which, even after reading this thorough and admirable biography we still wish we knew more. * David Parkin, Yorkshire Post * This isn't a critical book ... and discussion of the poetry is carefully fused with Wordsworth's self-discussion. ... this biography is good value ... Always well-written, it wears its substantial scholarship lightly * Simon Petch. Sydney Morning Herald * not a general biography of the Great Lakes poet, nor is it merely a critique of his work ... It is an authoritative and readable study ... of Wordsworth's writing in an effort to lay bare the poet's life as a writer of poetry "full of human understanding and experience." ... a fascinating and enlightening study ... few will deny it's value in bringing the man and his work into fresh perspective * Evelyn Holtzhausen. Cape Times * an eminently accessible as well as definitive study of the poet's life * Sunday Times * When dealing with politics or family matters Gill can be very shrewd, and especially so in his subtle account of the growing strains between Wordsworth and Coleridge after 1800. And on textual matters Gill writes with an authority well beyond that of any previous biographer. Many of his poetry discussions are first rate, sensitive and illuminating. * Norman Fruman, Times Literary Supplement * a thorough and detailed study of Wordsworth's life in relation to the poetry ... Gill is a thoughtful critic as well as a careful biographer ... sympathetic study * J. B. Pick, The Scotsman * a lovingly told story * Christopher Hall, The Countryman * this biography clears new and central ground for future academic revaluations of the poet and his work ... It renders Wordsworth newly accessible and calls attention to his reciprocal relation to, and profound effects on, the national life. * New York Times Book Review * What Gill has done, very well, is to match the poetry to the poet's development. Gill, with his illuminating extracts, saves us from our own ignorance. * Anthony Hern, London Evening Standard * thorough and scholarly biography ... Many books have been on Wordsworth, but this one takes a fresh look at contemporary records and the mass of material which has been unearthed since the last serious biography, a quarter-of-a-century ago. * John Hurst, Cumberland & Westmorland Herald * admirable biography * London Review of Books * a large, very readable study by Oxford scholar Stephen Gill who makes use of much fresh material * Michael Field, The Star * Gill is an immensely learned, scrupulous and judicious guide ... It is a mark of a good biography that the peripheral figures - the friends and acquaintances - are brought to life by a few swift, bold strokes ... A new biography of Wordworth was certainly needed, and this one will be an indispensable companion for Lake Poet enthusiasts. Its insights are astute and its choice of quotation excellent; it could not have condensed more information into a single volume, yet it never becomes a mere procession of facts ... this volume is fluent and comprehensive. * Jonathan Bate, Country Life * in Stephen Gill's monumental work, exacting, controlled, measured and profound, we have a moving portrait of a great poet the confirming of whose reputation has been substantially advanced by Gill's scholarship and judgment. * Bruce Arnold, Irish Independent * not many biographies are so admirably devoid of pretentiousness, silliness, and banality * Chloe Chard, Weekend Financial Times * the first comprehensive biography of Wordsworth since Mary Moorman's 30 years ago * Blake Morrison, Observer * This is the kind of biography which any writer would be delighted to inspire, let alone to deserve ... it is a measure of the significance of this biography that its seriousness matches that of Wordsworth himself. * Peter Ackroyd, The Times * It is difficult to see how a biography of Wordsworth could be enthralling, but Stephen Gill has made his so. This densely particularised and humane biography returns us anew to the poet's questions with an inwardness and sympathy few previous writers have displayed. * Isobel Armstrong, Southampton University, TES * Gill has already proved himself as an editor of Wordsworth's manuscripts and now turns that research to elegant profit. * Anthony Lane, Independent * thorough, scholarly biography * Anthony Powell, Daily Telegraph * lively, painstaking book * Archie Hind, Glasgow Herald * Stephen Gill's admirable biography ... it succeeds, where such biographies often fail, in transforming the life into the work by actively exploring, not avoiding, the complex problems that Wordsworth's self-account presents to his biographer. * London Review of Books * Stephen Gill's new biography ... is enormously well-informed and avoids extravagant speculation, ... It provides an entertaining, shrewd, and manageably-sized narrative of Wordsworth's life * Peter Swaab, Sunday Telegraph * thorough, scholarly biography * Anthony Powell, Weekend Telegraph * all stolid good sense * Blake Morrison, The Bookseller * not least among the virtues of this excellent biography is the way in which Stephen Gill balances the inner against the external man ... This is the kind of biography which any writer would be delighted to inspire, let alone deserve ... it is a measure of the significance of this biography that its seriousness matches that of Wordsworth itself. * Peter Ackroyd, The Times * excellent biography of Wordsworth ... Gill is master of the very extensive primary and secondary sources, and a particular expert on the manuscripts, which the poet subjected to constant revision. * William Scammell, The Listener * Impressive new Clarendon biography ...William Wordsworth: A Life is every inch the new definitive work. Gill has taken full account of Wordsworth studies in the past 30 years, blended the new materials with the old, and come out with a book that is scholarly, readable, likely to last. * Jonathan Wordsworth, Sunday Times * The most scholarly and up-to-date book on Wordsworth... His judgement and interests are eminently sensible and show a full picture of Wordsworth. * Nikolai Tolstoy, Daily Mail *show more

About Stephen Gill

Editor Oxford Authors William Wordsworthshow more

Table of contents

List of illustrations; Short forms of citation; Introduction; PART I. 1770-1799; PART II. 1800-1822; PART III. 1822-1850; Notes; Appendix; Family tree of William Wordsworthshow more

Rating details

26 ratings
3.92 out of 5 stars
5 27% (7)
4 38% (10)
3 35% (9)
2 0% (0)
1 0% (0)
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