The Phantom Of Mary Hutchinson
: Spousal Presence and Absence in the Poetry of Wordsworth

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Philosophy (MPhil)


William Wordsworth sought a relationship with a reading public, which was in a state of flux, a consequence of significant changes taking place in the structure of literary production and dissemination. The burden of ‘philosopher poet,’ placed upon him by Coleridge, exacerbated Wordsworth’s sense of uncertainty regarding his position in the literary world. His earlier poetic output is therefore distinguished by a need for self-authorisation and self-affirmation, a desire to establish a reputation by creating unique, personal, literary credentials. This autobiographical imperative has been duly noted by critics. What has been given less attention is a countervailing desire to preserve the boundary between the public sphere of published poetry and the private domain of personal relations. Wordsworth is consistently aware that in authoring the self, he risks authoring the other, an act which jeopardises the valued sphere of private domesticity. This dilemma is experienced by Wordsworth as autobiographical anxiety, and it has a direct impact upon the way in which his poetry is presented. The results can include the self-silencing represented by his failure to publish The Prelude in his lifetime, and the silencing of others, such as the writing out of Dorothy from the published version of ‘Nutting’. In the case of his wife, Mary Wordsworth, the poet adopts strategies to distance, obscure and displace personal intimacy in his published writing. His motives for doing so are protective rather than repressive, but the effect of these strategies is to create an initial impression of diminished affection. A closer analysis reveals a relationship given broader and deeper poetic shape than is usually recognised. It is also a relationship, which he can more readily acknowledge in his later work, as his autobiographical anxiety recedes in the face of public acceptance of his poetry and the resulting slackening of the autobiographical impulse.
Date of Award19 Mar 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorJessica Fay (Supervisor) & Andrew Bennett (Supervisor)

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