A very good friend of mine, who happened to have been an English major at a really amazing liberal arts college (I have some serious education envy on this point, but I digress), loaned me Sue Limb's book, The Wordsmiths at Gorsemere and told me that, as a former English major, I absolutely *had* to read it. So I did.
This book charmed me so much that I didn't know what to do with myself. I almost felt like I should thank it for being such a clever, lovely read by treating it to tea and scones at Lovejoy's (SF's yummiest and most Jane Austen approved tea house).
The Wordsmiths at Gorsemere is a sort of gentle parody of some of the most famous poets writing during England's Romantic period. Sue Limb tells her story through Dorothy Wordsmith's journal entries as she and her brother, the great poet William Wordsmith (aka Wordsworth), settle into domestic tranquility at Vole Cottage. Limb gives Dorothy's journal a handwritten look, complete with doodlings in the margins and Freudian scratch-outs (the Wordsworth siblings were apparently rather questionably close and the real Dorothy devoted her life to the service of her brother's towering "organ of the imagination"). It's really, really funny - especially when Limb's interspersed illustrations underscore the parody. My favorite was of Dorothy lifting an armoir while begging her "Beloved Wm" not to strain himself with two books. Limb also gives us bits of William Wordsmith's poetry, most notably "The Withered Turnip" and "The Sod Wall" done in Wordsworth's style (which is admittedly a little on the dry side).
During their stay at the idyllic Vole Cottage, their dear friend and fellow poet, Cholerick (Coleridge), comes to stay with them, bringing with him a little brown bottle of "medicine" and his famously sensitive bowels. Lord Byro (Byron) appears, bringing with him a pregnant Italian woman who proceeds to give birth in the upstairs bedroom while Byro himself seduces every female in sight. I especially liked the bit where a stray lightening bolt strikes Dorothy's stays and corset, zapping them right off of her when Byro enters the room. Also making an appearance are Percy Jelley (Shelley) and his lovely new bride Mary Godwit (Wollstonecraft Godwin) who are being pursued by her irate father because they married, instead of choosing to live together unshackled by matrimony.
The Wordsmiths at Gorsemere is just a really charming and incredibly well-thought-out little book. Sue Limb obviously knows her Romantics and strikes the perfect balance between gentle satire and great storytelling. I think that anyone could really enjoy this book and it's definitely worth finding. If you're a former English major, I'm going to follow my friend's lead and say that you absolutely should read it. But even if you're not, pick it up if you come across it - the illustrations, story and humor will get you even if you never had to take a course on the Age of the Romantics in college!