January 29, 2007

The Wordsmiths at Gorsemere

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!


amanda said...

ooo! look, a radio 4 series from '85 and '87:
With Tim Curry as Lord Byro?!

Annamaria said...

Oh my...I absolutely must have it...we had WAY too much time dedicate to the English Romanticism in high school (yes, Hungarian high school education does include WorldLit classes three times a week, but that's another story). What a frabjoyous idea!

Madeleine said...

Amanda: Thanks for the link! Oh my god, I would love to hear Tim Curry read Lord Byro - nummers!

Anna: You would Definitely love this book. I have to relinquish this copy back to Amanda, but I'm going to try to track one down for myself. Would you like me to see if I can find one for you too? If not you can borrow it from me when we get to Texsas :-)
And how come all of my friends got Super Envy-Making(tm) high school and college educations? sigh. That's just so neat.

Russ said...

Oh, no, the Romantics...


I think the Romantics are the original source of Chick Flicks... I mean, think about it. Even Frankenstein is about an inventor learning Valuable Life Lessons(tm)

Madeleine said...

Hmm...Well, I can't speak to Chick Flicks since I rarely watch them, and even more rarely enjoy them. But as for the Romantics, while I agree that some of them can be rather shudder-inducing (you should try the ones who did more drugs though - those are interesting) they tended write more about man's return to nature and a romanticized past as a reaction against the Industrial Revolution. From the little that I know, they weren't as concerned with teaching Valuable Life Lessons(tm). That, and technically speaking, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, though considered by many to be a romantic work because it was written in that period, is really more of a gothic story which doesn't seem to have so much to with the good doctor's redemption as it does with the monstrosity of man not taking responsibility for his inventions (Industrial Revolution again). Classic hubris situation, going back to the Greeks.
This response brought to you by Amanda and Maddie :-)

Annamaria said...

I keep telling the man he should read more Coleridge...:-)

Madeleine said...

Anna, can I just say that you're great? :-)

Russ said...

Everything I need to know about Coleridge I learned from listening to the Doors... :)

amanda said...

Coleridge, Coleridge
rah rah rah!
No offense to Mr. Morrison et al, but you should still read more Coleridge.
"Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is very cool.

"The many men, so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie:
And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I.”

Way better than Wordsworth.

Russ said...

Definitely better than Wordsworth.

To quote a deeply flawed but entertaining movie, "Yes, I've read a poem."

No, I was trying to take a cheap shot based on "People are Strange..."

Madeleine said...

Ah, I see! Now, that's actually a pretty good cheap shot. Sadly for the shot however, Coleridge has the well-equipped Amanda stadning ready to defend him (she wrote her thesis on "Rime of the Ancient Mariner":-)

amanda said...

Um... okay, for "full disclosure" I should have admitted that before sounding off.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever get to hear the radio shows? Would you like a copy?

Send me an email, and please don't publish this comment!

By the way, I think the Sherlock Holmes story containing "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" is Silver Blaze.