Dr Emily Bell is a BARS/Wordsworth Trust Fellow, living in Grasmere and collaborating with the Wordsworth Trust, researching the relationship between Wordsworth and the village community. You can follow her on Twitter (@EmilyJLB).
Thou art pleased,
Pleased with thy crags and woody steeps, thy Lake,
Its one green island and its winding shores;
The multitude of little rocky hills,
Thy Church and cottages of mountain stone
Clustered like stars some few, but single most,
And lurking dimly in their shy retreats,
Or glancing at each other cheerful looks
Like separated stars with clouds between.
(‘Home at Grasmere’, lines 117-25)
From March to early April I am living on Wordsworth’s doorstep in Grasmere, with a view of Dove Cottage out of my window. Behind my house, villagers and tourists alike go to watch the sun set over the lake, with its ‘one green island and its winding shores’. Every day, rural and international communities come together in this beautiful part of the world. The Wordsworth Trust has its own lively community of trainees and staff, turning Dove Cottage into a welcoming spot of warmth in the changeable March weather.
During my residency here, I am exploring this idea of ‘community’ and, specifically, neighbourliness. I am doing this by interviewing people who live in the village, collecting oral history about their relationship with the Wordsworth Trust and Dove Cottage itself, and examining how that might have changed over time. The aim is to bring oral testimony together with archival research focused on exploring Wordsworth’s own relationships with his neighbours in the village, the history of the Trust, and the development of the museum. I am also interested in comparing other eighteenth and nineteenth-century authors, how they engaged with the people around them, and the influence these relationships may have had on their posthumous reputations.
Wordsworth’s appreciation of the natural beauty of the Lake District, and Grasmere particularly, has been well studied and celebrated. What I am probing are his day-to-day interactions with the people of the area with whom, for example, he volunteered for the local regiment in 1803 (terrifying poor Mary and Dorothy). So far I have delved into newspaper scrapbooks and other items in the collections held by the Trust in the museum and the Jerwood Centre. I have also had insightful conversations with the incredibly friendly staff of the Trust and people in Grasmere, who have shared anecdotes from their friends and family, as well as their own experiences living alongside Dove Cottage.
The outcome of this fellowship will, I hope, be a rich account of the Trust’s position in the community that will feed into the 2020 ‘Reimagining Wordsworth’ project. It will draw attention to the importance of the local to Wordsworth and Dove Cottage, complement what we already know about his poetry with evidence of his interactions with specific individuals, analyse contemporary perceptions to expose the basis of Wordsworth’s reputation in the local community today, and provide opportunities to enhance and expand this relationship ahead of Wordsworth’s 250th birthday.
A bit more about Emily and her research background:
Emily completed her PhD at the University of York in 2017, and she is an Associate of the Department of English and Related Literature and the Centre for Lifelong Learning at York. Her thesis, ‘Changing Representations of Charles Dickens, 1857-1939’, examined Dickensian biographical discourse and its role in the author’s literary legacy, moving from Dickens’s speeches and journalism to biographies and reminiscences, commemorative acts by friends and family, and the formation of literary societies. Her on-going research centres on the role of communities and circles in literary identity formation in the nineteenth century, during authors’ lives and afterwards.