Critical Introduction to “The Grasmere Journal April – June 1802”

Approaching the work of Dorothy Wordsworth through the lens of print culture and textual scholarship, this paper explores the role of the editor by focusing on the range of strategies and techniques employed in preparing a text and assembling a literary edition. Critically, this paper works on conceptualizing these editing practices as a unique form of argumentation. Through a comparative exploration using traditional close reading practices alongside digital, text-analysis technologies, the entries written between April and June of 1802 from Dorothy Wordsworth’s The Grasmere Journal will be analyzed. This investigation will aid in constructing a critical understanding of the types of editing practices – deleting, excerpting, reframing, and correcting – used in various editions of her work. It will also be used to  identify the type of writer these publications depict Wordsworth to be.

The Grasmere Journal was composed between the years of 1800-1803 while D. Wordsworth and her brother were residing in the township of Grasmere located in the British Lake District. The journals were not written for publication but were rather private musings – similar to diary entries – that detailed the life of the Wordsworth family. While the journals did not receive any critical attention during D. Wordsworth’s lifetime, they captivated scholarly attention around the turn of the century. The first publication of The Grasmere Journal came in 1897 when William Knight assembled a pared down and heavily edited version of the work. In 1941, D. Wordsworth’s editor Ernest de Selincourt chose to publish a full copy of the journal entries to follow Knight’s truncated edition. de Selincourt’s publication remains the authoritative text for The Grasmere Journal to date. D. Wordsworth has amounted greater and greater attention throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as scholars as discovered more of her works – including her poetry from the Dove Cottage MS 120. These discoveries and the development of understanding D. Wordsworth as an important Romantic writer prompted Susan Levin, in 2009, to publish an edition including a myriad of D. Wordsworth’s writing – including The Grasmere Journal. While this edition contains the most stunted version of the journal entries, its presentation alongside other works by D. Wordsworth and various critical materials make it a full and informative edition of the text.

To ground this exploration of several editions of Wordsworth’s The Grasmere Journal, we turn to textual criticism theory and in particular to Paul Eggert’s essay “Apparatus, text, interface: how to read a printed critical edition.” Eggert argues that the central focus of literary editions is always the reading text (99). Annotations and indices often accompany this primary source but the reading text is always privileged over this contextual material because it is the necessary focal point for the audience (Eggert 102). Eggert argues that the act of selecting the resources to support, explain, and complement the primary reading text is a critical process which requires that the editor formulate a strategic approach to the text (104). The architecture of each edition is necessarily mediated by the editor’s own research interests, their goals for the critical apparatus, and with a distinct audience in mind, therefore rendering each reading text as “necessarily an embodied argument” (Eggert 98).

While Eggert firmly asserts that there is no right or wrong approach to creating an edition, he does contend that readers must be aware of the critical interventions made by the editor in the publication of a mediated, reading text (105). As multiple editions of a text are published, these strategic arguments become an extension of their unaltered, primary source (Eggert 97). This process of layering argumentative readings of a work on top of one another – in a palimpsestic manner – is what John Bryant refers to as the creation of a fluid text (qtd. in Hutcheon 170). Because “no text is a fixed thing,” the various editions of a work qualify it as a fluid object that morphs with each editor’s intervention (qtd. in Hutcheon 170). In the case of Wordsworth’s canon, The Grasmere Journal has been the subject of this type critical work for over 112 years: beginning with Knight’s edition in 1897, continuing to the publication on Levin’s 2009 edition, and (invariably) beyond. As the political, social, cultural, and intellectual climates of Wordworth’s editors has evolved over time, so too can we assert that the lens through which they interpret the work has also been altered. By engaging in a critical analysis of the introductions, as well as comparing the various edits of the source text, we can work to uncover the argumentative strategies leveraged by the various editors of The Grasmere Journal in both their approach to the text and to Wordsworth as an authorial figure.

This exploration looks to compare a selection of entries from three editions of The Grasmere Journal – Knight’s 1897 publicationde Selincourt’s 1941 publication, and Levin’s 2009 publication – against D. Wordsworth’s original manuscript. This investigation will rely on both traditional and digital methodologies: the introductions to each edition will be closely read using conventional literary practices and the edited reading texted will be comparatively analyzed using the textual analysis software of Juxta Commonsbeta. This program uses TEI to format and prepare separate texts for direct, comparative analysis in a user-friendly interface. While this analysis could be carried out through a traditional close reading, sourcing out the minute differences across the four resources would be painstaking. Instead, Juxta Commonsbeta prepares the text and conducts the grunt work. Additionally, it contrasts the source witnesses in a visual manner: allowing the user to explore both large-scale differences and minute changes, dependent on how they instruct Juxta Commonsbeta to present the information. For the purpose of this exploration, the side-by-side comparison was used as it best represented the changes between the manuscript and various editions of the journal entries in its highlighting of the textual differences. Finally, because of its open-source, digital platform, Juxta Commonsbeta produces publishable data with live links. This allows for scholarly transparency and opens up the resources to textual analysis and exploration by other scholars.

Juxta Commonsbeta is designed to highlight the differences between versions of a work, thereby exposing to the user both where and how the texts differ. The functionality of this program was part of the impetus behind specifically selecting these three critical editions of The Grasmere Journals for comparative analysis against the original journal manuscript: Juxta Commonsbeta relies on comparing two texts, so it is most useful when the selected witnesses share some commonalities as this allows greater emphasis to be placed on their differences. This balance of similarities and differences is made manifest across the journal editions because, while each edition does reproduce (at least in part) the entries written between April to July 1802, the significant interventions and editorial practices vary greatly between each publication. Knight’s publication was the first full edition of D. Wordsworth’s journals, and therefore interacted directly with the primary, manuscript source. However, Knight was very interventionist with his edits and this prompted de Selincourt to publish a full copy of the journals less than 50 years later. The most recent publication edited by Levin seemingly takes a step backward by using Knight’s edition as the base text – not the manuscript – arguing that this is “how the general public would have first encountered [D. Wordsworth’s] writing” (Levin 25). This processional and cyclic relationship between the three texts – the manuscript, Knight’s edition, de Selincourt’s edition, and Levin’s edition – lends itself to productive and provocative analysis in the Juxta Commonsbeta.

William Knight published the first edition exclusively dedicated to showcasing D. Wordsworth’s journals. While minor excerpts of the journal notebooks had been published previously, Knight’s was the first publication to print the journals – more or less – in full (Knight vii). Knight does state outright that he excised a number of “trivial details” from his edition as printing the journals “in extenso” was not desirable because of the sometimes (in his opinion) mundane dronings of the journal (vii-viii). The tone of this section of the critical introduction closely aligns with Eggert’s point about strategic approaches and the argument that is always inherent in editing a literary text. Knight’s language is defensive and opinionated. His assertion that “nothing [was] omitted of any literary or biographical value” is conclusively argumentative and presents a value judgment of the text that cannot be vetted by readers (viii). When specifically discussing The Grasmere Journal, Knight capitalizes on two qualities of the journal entries: their vivid description of the English countryside and their value as a contextual companion to her brother’s – William Wordsworth – famous poetry (ix-x). This second point reveals an integral – and possibly problematic – component of Knight’s motivation in publishing his edition of the journal. Because the journal’s value was determined partially due to their ability to “cast light on the circumstances under which [William’s] poems were composed,” D. Wordworth’s ability as a writer in her own right is undermined (Knight x). As Knight’s edition constructs D. Wordsworth’s writing as being in support of her brother, this argumentative vantage point could substantially alter the details of the text that are included, and could determine those that are seen as valuable and those that are scene as “trivial”.

Using Juxta Commonsbeta as an apparatus through which to survey Knight’s deletions from The Grasmere Journal reveals a very strong indication of his editorial argument. Using the original manuscript images available online, we find that many of Knight’s edits are extraordinarily small – only a few words – begging the question: why bother to delete them at all? However, when considered thematically, it is notable that all of the deletions remove details that would undermine D. Wordsworth’s appearance as a proper Romantic-era woman. In one entry, Knight removes D. Wordsworth’s mention of a lady slinging dung or of her riding precariously in the back of a cart to a friend’s house (de Selincourt 132-133). Both of these excisions refine D. Wordsworth’s ladylike qualities by censoring activities or observations that may not lend themselves to this versioning of the author. Later in the journal, Knight excises D. Wordsworth’s mention of her sweating on a walk with her brother (de Selincourt 142). Again, this edit was merely a sentence long and, yet, Knight took the care to remove the statement, as it contradicted a proper, ladylike appearance.

Another facet of this persona constructed by Knight is his deletions of moments when D. Wordsworth mentions illness; reflecting the same sentiments of refinement and perfection that are discussed in the paragraph above, as it would have been tasteless for women to publicly discuss bodily functions or pains. An extraordinary example of Knight’s editing in this case appears between the entries of May 27-29, 1802. The entry on the 27th, which is completely deleted in Knight’s edition, reads: “I was in bed all day – very ill. William wrote to Rd., Cr. and Cook. Wm. went after tea into the orchard. I slept in his bed – he slept downstairs” (de Selincourt 150). It is obvious that this entry is explicitly focused on D. Wordsworth’s illness. However, not only does Knight delete this passage but, more notably, he continues removing any references to this day of illness in the subsequent journal entries by deleting the phrases “I was much better than yesterday” or “I was much better” (de Selincourt 150). This is only one of the numerous instances where Knight excises D. Wordworth’s discussion of bodily pains or sickness. In fact, the deletions are so vast and various that I would argue his editorial intervention in this case violates his assertion that “nothing [was] omitted of any literary or biographical value” (Knight viii). D. Wordsworth’s continual battle with illness must be understood as a key feature of her person and life at Grasmere.

A second trend of deletions visible in Knight’s edition in is his effort to construct a more exclusive, triangulated friendship between D. Wordsworth, W. Wordsworth, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Knight fosters this relationship by removing the majority of references to D. Wordsworth socializing with other individuals outside of this elite literary circle. For example, the neighbouring Simpson family is mentioned multiple times across the manuscript journals entries but they appear very infrequently in Knight’s rendering of the text. This appears in the entry on April 29th, 1802; what appears in Knight’s edition is: The copses greenish, hawthorns green, . . . cottages smoking” (Knight 114-115). However, what is missing, as indicated by the ellipses, is: “[c]ame home to dinner, then went to Mr. Simpson’s we rested a long time under a wall, sheep and lambs were in the field” (de Selincourt 139-140). The Simpsons are mentioned on two other occasions in the manuscript copy of this entry but are absent completely in Knight’s version. By expressly limiting D. Wordsworth’s recorded interactions with people other than her brother and Coleridge, Knight creates the appearance of a stronger affiliation between them. By insinuating D. Wordsworth’s dependency on these two literary giants, Knight works towards his problematic goal of constructing her as an extension or complement to her brotherly overstating the exclusivity of this literary circle.

Click HERE to open the live Juxta Commonsbeta link

This brings us to the full edition of The Grasmere Journal, edited by Ernest de Selincourt and published in 1941. As briefly mentioned previously, de Selincourt’s aim in following Knight was to produce a full, barely-edited volume of the journals because, in the past, only “short extracts” were printed (v). Because of the public’s growing fascination with D. Wordsworth’s personality and her writings that accurately reflect this persona, de Selincourt chose to print, “for the first time”, the journals in their entirety. For de Selincourt, this faithful reproduction included retaining “characteristic spellings and [D. Wordsworth’s] capricious use of capitals” but permitted the correction of any obvious misspellings or “accidental droppings of letters” (vi). de Selincourt argues that the greatest values of The Grasmere Journal comes in its “genius for life” and its “supreme quality” (vii). By striving to present a virtually un-edited text, de Selincourt allows the journal entries to speak for themselves by refusing to impose his own interpretations or lens.

A comparative analysis between the manuscript and de Selincourt’s publication using Juxta Commonsbeta reveals the editor’s success in adhering to his strict aim of a total reproduction of The Grasmere Journal. Because the journal entries are unaltered and unedited, they leave little to be analyzed as to nature de Selincourt’s editorial approach. In fact, what can be read from this almost identical reproduction is how little an influence this editor wanted to impose on the text – this, in itself, is a specific editorial lens. de Selincourt strives to preserve what he sees as the text’s “private, intimate character” by barely intruding on the reading experience in his lack of distracting footnotes (vi). His footnotes mostly annotate intertexual references, and identify individuals and places – allowing the audience to be privy to knowledge that would have been obvious and inherent to D. Wordsworth’s composition. These efforts create an intimacy between writer and reader. Where Knight and Levin both outline pointed aims with their publications, de Selincourt’s goal seems only to produce a readable, accessible form that presents a version of the journals than it does willing transport the audience as close to the original manuscript as conceptually possible. Reflecting once again on the processional cycle of editions analyzed here, de Selincourt’s publication – while it chronologically inhabits the middle ground – presents a return to the roots in its virtually un-edited reproduction of The Grasmere Journal.

Click HERE to open the live Juxta Commonsbeta link

Jumping forward a century to Susan Levin’s 2009 publication of D. Wordsworth’s works – including The Grasmere Journal – it is important to note again that she builds directly on Knight’s editorial intervention around the turn of the twentieth-century (Levin 25). Because Levin does not turn back to the primary source text – D. Wordsworth’s original manuscript – Knight’s strategic and argumentative approach to the text is filtered into Levin’s edition. Coupled with this already mediated version of the text, we have Levin’s own editorial intrusions that add another layer to the fluid text. Where Knight’s edition adhered to two objectives in his edition of D. Wordsworth’s journals, Levin’s relates more broadly to three. First of all, it is important to note that Levin’s edition includes more than just D. Wordsworth’s journal entries but also her poetry and short, fictional, prose pieces (xi). This holistic approach to D. Wordsworth’s literary career supports Levin’s goal of revealing “a record of a women organizing her world […] among a group of extraordinary people” (Levin xi). While Levin does gesture to the circle of canonical romantic writers that D. Wordsworth was a part of, she also make explicit her second objective: to highlight D. Wordsworth’s “independent authorial presence” instead of assuming her “adjunct to the literary energies of Romanticism” (xi). Here it is notable that Knight’s and Levin’s approaches rub against each other. Because of this difference, it is problematic that Levin utilized Knight as her base text, as she could have very well missed some details that were crucial to her purpose but were a hindrance or of no value to Knight.

While I take great issue with Levin for not having turned to the original manuscript documents (or at least to de Selincourt’s full publication), her use of Knight as her source text does foster her third aim of the edition, which is to recreate works the way readers of different time would have experienced them (xi). Of course this objective is fostered through Levin’s use of editions published closer to D. Wordsworth’s lifetime but other than that, Levin does not endeavour to recreate readership reactions to the works or to pay attention to the text’s reception history. Furthermore, I find it hard to establish any meaningful value in facilitating this ‘historical readership’ perspective beyond the most pragmatic concerns of copyright. I feel that this perspective, even if carried out legitimately and carefully, holds very little importance to our contemporary reading of the text. If history is Levin’s concern, it would be much more appropriate and helpful to attempt to recreate the ‘historical authorship’ of the journals by printing the entries as D. Wordsworth composed them. Overall, Levin seems to be using this third aim of her edition as a scapegoat avoiding any copyright snares – a path paved with ease but one that is totally riddled with problems of perspective and authenticity. In regards to The Grasmere Journal, I would argue this is a failed aim of Levin’s edition that is only useful to marginally satisfy her decision to rely on Knight’s rendition of D. Wordsworth’s notebooks instead of the source text – and nothing more.

Turning to the Juxta Commonsbeta visualization, in addition to Knight’s various edits, Levin further pares down the excerpts between April to July, 1802 of D. Wordsworth’s The Grasmere Journal from Knight’s 71 entries to a mere 28. While some of the deletions do not bear heavily on the content of the journal or the readers’ potential to understand D. Wordsworth’s interactions, some of the other excerpts that are excised hinder Levin’s achievement of her edition’s stated objectives and possibly force a perception of D. Wordsworth as a writer. First of all, the entries spanning May 12-14, 1802 are deleted in Levin’s version. In these entries D. Wordsworth details her social interactions with her brother and Coleridge who were both intimate members of a very prominent literary circle (Knight 120-121). The passages discuss Wordsworth’s walks around the countryside and meals spent in the company of these two men – working to facilitate the readers’ comprehension of this close group of literary friends (Knight 120-121). Additionally, these entries showcase the beauty and simplicity of D. Wordsworth’s prose and her unique ability to capture the essence of rural England: “Butterflies of all colours. I often see some small ones of a pale purple lilac, or emperor’s eye colour, something of the colour of that large geranium which grows by the lake side” (Knight 120). Even though Levin is working with some obvious space constraints in creating this student edition, it is surprising that Levin would excise these descriptive passages, as they would invariably aid in her quest to establishing D. Wordsworth as a talented writer. The liveliness of these entries – the walks, the meals, and the visits from friends – help to construct a engaging persona for D. Wordsworth that is lost through Levin’s deletions. While the obvious restraints of print force Levin to be severe in her edits of the journals, these entries are a sore loss for her editorial objectives and the audience’s conception of D. Wordsworth.

In another deletion made by Levin between the dates of June 19, 1802 and June 25, 1802, readers are encouraged to conceptualize D. Wordsworth in a certain manner due to the information lost through the excised entries. In the entry dated June 19, 1802, D. Wordsworth mentions some swallows who have made a home outside her window (Levin 72). These same swallows are ruminated on once again during the entry dated June 25, 1802 when D. Wordsworth notices that their nest has fallen and the birds have disappeared (Levin 73). Levin’s placement of these two excerpts next to each other, through her deletion of the four entries present in between, emphasizes D. Wordsworth’s emotional attachment and deep fascination with nature. What the readership misses from these deleted entries is that D. Wordsworth’s attention, for the most part, is turned to things other than these swallows. She writes about receiving letters, reading Shakespeare’s plays, and spending time with William and Coleridge (Knight 133-134). While I am not arguing that D. Wordsworth was detached from nature during these other entries, or that she did not possess the bond highlighted in Levin’s edition, I will argue that Levin seems to be forcing this interpretation through her edited version of the text. She is presenting an argument – a lens – through which the audience will understand D. Wordsworth as obsessed with and intrinsically connected to nature, potentially in a more emphasized manner than is justified in this particular case.

Click HERE to open the live Juxta Commonsbeta link

As revealed through both the close-reading and visual rendering of D. Wordsworth’s The Grasmere Journal, creating an edition necessarily means constructing an argumentative approach to a text. For Knight, this argument hinges presenting to the audience an understanding of D. Wordsworth as a proper, ladylike companion for her famous poet brother. Alternatively, for de Selincourt, his publication presents an honest attempt at launching an unfiltered portal into the text rather than a coloured lens. However, as denoted by Eggert, this is an impossible task and it is important to read de Selincourt’s motivation to create an intimacy between D. Wordsworth and her readers as an inherent editorial argument. Finally, for Levin, the edition works to justify D. Wordsworth as a writer in her own right and to represent a snapshot of her literary career. As demonstrated, the editors use these explicit or implicit arguments to highlight or mitigate characteristics of D. Wordsworth’s writing and persona in The Grasmere Journal to construct a character that is most continuous with each editor’s objectives, whether directly stated or not.



Note: all citations from the D. Wordsworth journal entries have been pulled from the three print resources (Knight, de Selincourt, and Levin) instead of the manuscript pages because of ease of access and legibility. This means that any material that was excised from Knight’s edition or Levin’s edition has been cited as from de Selincourt’s publication (not the original manuscript) purely for practical reasons as the manuscript images are not open source and the publication page numbers in de Selincourt’s edition make it much easier to locate specific passages than fining them in the handwritten entries of the manuscript.


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