Editorial Philosophies and Guidelines


Romantic-Era Women and the Scholarly Edition


In 1995, when “electronic edition” still had a futuristic ring and even the most inclusive of syllabi were constrained by which noncanonical texts were readily available in print, Marilyn Butler issued a call for scholars and publishers to prioritize producing high-quality yet affordable editions of important works by women. “We must have true scholarly editions of a significant body of women’s writing,” she argued, “not only to grasp the internal dynamics of an individual career, but to understand its group dynamics, its inter-relations with society and history.” Merely reprinting an old poem, play, or novel wasn’t enough, as “we mustn’t underrate how much a good edition adds to a ‘raw’ text—far more, indeed, if it’s discreetly presented than most readers retain much consciousness of.” Even a rudimentary critical apparatus, Butler suggested, tends to make us take a text more seriously, as there is an inherent aura to a work that comes shrouded in a “penumbra of knowledge, biographical, textual, intertextual and extra-textual.”


Butler, “Editing Women,” 274–75.

Around the time of Butler’s appeal, many important new editions of Romantic women’s writing did, in fact, appear in print. Since then digital publication has emerged as a key avenue for publishing women’s writing of the period, with the web offering key advantages over print for representing full-color, high-quality images of manuscripts and also for rendering diplomatic transcriptions. In the present instance, publishing on Romantic Circles offers a stable, open-access, and peer-reviewed platform that adheres to the editorial standards of the best print series while also facilitating web-specific features like hypertext links and high-resolution galleries of illustrations and manuscript pages.

Whether publishing in print or online, editors of Romantic-era women writers face particular challenges. Researchers studying most women writers lack the trove of archived manuscripts, letters, and notebooks that have been used to make modern editions of male Romantic writers the gold standard for exhaustively researched, copiously annotated, theoretically informed, and editorially inventive critical texts. Thus, while the trailblazing textual scholarship of Romanticists like Neil Fraistat, Jerome McGann, Donald Reiman, Charles Robinson, and Jack Stillinger has reinvigorated the field of scholarly editing, their weighty volumes have sometimes left editors of the period’s women writers uncertain how to follow suit.


Other influential modern editors of the male Romantics include contributors to the monumental Cornell edition of WW, the Princeton edition of STC, and the William Blake Archive.

As Daniel Robinson has observed in relation to his own edition of the writing of Mary Robinson, “the relationship of the previously neglected woman writer to the canon may be forever tenuous due to the nature of the archive, and this determines the work an editor can do. The quality of an edition, therefore, is contingent upon, in effect, the quality of the archive.”


Robinson, “Mary Robinson’s Poetry,” 53.

 For many women of the period, the archive consists mainly or exclusively of print editions. Therefore, with a few notable exceptions, those producing editions of women Romantic writers lack primary resources. This is true even for those working on writers like the prolific Ann Radcliffe or ultra-canonical Jane Austen, for whom we have only one manuscript fragment from her six printed novels.

From “The Poet’s Sister” to Major Author

With Dorothy Wordsworth, however, the opposite is true. She is a writer who published little in her lifetime, especially under her own name, but who left behind a wealth of manuscripts. Several of her works survive in multiple manuscript versions, almost all of which are conveniently archived at the Wordsworth Trust and, since 2012, available digitally through Adam Matthew’s Romanticism: Life, Literature, and Landscape database. Moreover, unlike most of her female contemporaries’, Dorothy’s writing has, since the Victorian age, been admired, edited, and even re-edited by a series of leading scholars.

Four years before Dorothy’s death, excerpts from her Grasmere Journals first appeared under her name in Memoirs of William Wordsworth, the biography her nephew Christopher Wordsworth Jr. published in the wake of the poet’s death. Twenty-three years later, Principal J. C. Shairp’s 1874 edition of her Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland A.D. 1803 proved so popular that it went into a third edition within a year. Then, in 1889, the preeminent Wordsworthian of late-Victorian England, William Knight, published the most extensive selections from Dorothy’s Alfoxden, Hamburg, and Grasmere journals to date in his eleven-volume Life of William Wordsworth (1889). Knight soon republished these excerpts, along with several more from her travel narratives and “mountain rambles,” in his landmark two-volume Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth (1897). This was the standard Dorothy Wordsworth edition until 1941, when Ernest de Sélincourt, the great Wordsworth editor of the early twentieth century, released his own two-volume edition of her journals. (De Sélincourt, like Knight before him, began by working on William’s writings but soon became one of Dorothy’s champions.) Although only minimally contextualized and annotated, and devoid of any detailed analysis of conflicting versions and other textual concerns, De Sélincourt’s Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth remains in many respects the closest thing to a proper scholarly edition of Dorothy’s prose works.

Another breakthrough moment for the study of Dorothy Wordsworth, and arguably for Romantic women writers more broadly, came in 1974, when the Romanticism section in the third edition of the Norton Anthology of English Literature, edited by M. H. Abrams, admitted her into what had previously been an all-male club. Yet, even while introducing excerpts from the Grasmere Journals, the anthology signaled that Dorothy’s inclusion had less to do with the intrinsic merits of her writing than with the light they shed on the domestic and writing life of her famous poet-brother.


This enduring sense of DW’s writings being more useful as secondary than primary sources partly explains the early, persistent, and, at times, exclusive focus on those passages from her Grasmere Journals that capture peak moments in WW’s and STC’s poetic careers.

Of course, the Norton Anthology was hardly the first to treat her journals as, above all, a study aid for the masterpieces composed by men of the “Wordsworth circle.” Knight, for instance, notoriously justified abridging her journals by explaining that they “contain numerous trivial details” and contending, “there is no need to record all the cases in which the sister wrote, ‘Today I mended William’s shirts,’ or ‘William gathered sticks,’ or ‘I went in search of eggs,’ etc. etc.” He preferred passages that would cast “a flood of light on the circumstances under which her brother’s poems were composed.”


KJ, 1:vii–viii, x.

 And while De Sélincourt was well ahead of his time when he declared that “Dorothy Wordsworth is probably the most remarkable and the most distinguished of English writers who never wrote a line for the general public,”


DWJ, 1:v.

the critical apparatus to his edition of her journals perpetuated the tradition of placing heaviest emphasis on moments when her writings might illuminate William’s life and works. Furthermore, his claim that Dorothy never wrote for the public demands some scrutiny, for although she rarely wrote with publication directly in view, she knew that much of what she wrote would be absorbed by William and published by him.

With the late twentieth-century feminist turn in literary studies, however, scholars began to be newly attuned to Dorothy’s distinctive gifts, and to the audience that her writing garnered, even in her lifetime. Susan Levin’s Dorothy Wordsworth and Romanticism (1987) was a breakthrough moment in this respect, as it at once made a persuasive case for revaluing Dorothy’s life and work and, in its latter half, offered the first anthology of her poems. Likewise, successive Oxford World’s Classics versions of The Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals, beginning with Helen Darbishire’s pocket-sized edition of 1958 and culminating in Pamela Woof’s masterful edition of 2001, treated Dorothy’s diaries as “classics” worthy of meticulous presentation and generous annotation. When the 2001 edition appeared, Nicola Trott rightfully celebrated how Woof “establishes the full independence of Dorothy Wordsworth as a writer” and “makes it abundantly clear that Dorothy’s writing was not merely fodder for his [William’s] own, nor indeed was it about him, except in so far as he entered a narrative already crowded with incident and observation.”


Trott, “Review,” 213.

The Digital Dorothy Wordsworth

As in Woof’s edition, Dorothy is the undisputed protagonist of this Romantic Circles electronic edition of her writings on the Lake District. To a degree matched only by Levin’s 2009 Longman Cultural Edition, our table of contents strays from the beaten path in including a range of lesser-known and even previously unpublished works demonstrating her abilities in multiple genres and stages of life. Moreover, excepting Woof, no previous editors have contextualized and annotated Dorothy’s works as thoroughly as we have here, and we pay unprecedented attention to the material forms of her texts and what they can teach us about the nature of her writing process, literary sociability, and intended audiences.

At a moment of belt-tightening in academic publishing in the humanities, a scholarly edition with this level of breadth and detail is increasingly imaginable only in the digital realm, where editors face fewer constraints in matters of length, layout, and illustration. Since the earliest online editions appeared in the mid-1990s, the best examples of the genre have appreciated and capitalized on the distinctive advantages of this new medium. As a case in point, the digital version of Charles Robinson’s Frankenstein Notebooks published two decades ago in the Shelley-Godwin Archive remains an essential resource. On a platform available to anyone with an internet connection, it offers high-resolution images of Mary Shelley’s manuscripts and scrupulous transcriptions, which combine to present the material contexts of this novel’s production and circulation in an entirely new light. Similarly, the Emily Dickinson Archive deploys digital tools to re-present a manuscript writer whose poetry has consistently been distorted by print mediations.

Following in the footsteps of leading digital editors, we have designed this edition to showcase the challenges of rendering Dorothy’s manuscripts into typographic characters. Thanks to the Wordsworth Trust’s generosity, we provide dozens of scans of the original manuscripts, providing many opportunities to compare them to our transcriptions. As the digitized pages from her notebooks make readily apparent, Dorothy often wrote to the moment, particularly when journaling, and did not always come back to revise or create fair copies. When necessary, she wrote in a neat, legible hand; otherwise, as readers of her letters know, she usually preferred to apologize for her “bad habit of scrawling” rather than labor over every word.


Letters, 4:293–94.

Consequently, merely transcribing some of her more private texts, like her Rydal Journals, presents countless editorial dilemmas.

Dorothy’s poems pose different challenges, as many survive in multiple drafts that are rife with variants. Since she published only a handful of these poems and did not regularly identify or collect final versions, no one manuscript can be said to have authority over another. Still other texts, like “A Narrative Concerning George & Sarah Green” and “Excursion on the Banks of Ullswater,” survive in multiple copies made for various purposes and audiences, some with substantial corrections and revisions.

Given such variations, we have been ecumenical in our editorial approach. As detailed in our introductions to specific sections, we have tried to tailor our digital presentation and editorial methodology to the distinctive features of individual texts and manuscripts. For instance, recognizing the challenges of engaging with the fragmentary and allusive Rydal Journals without a familiarity with Dorothy’s world ca. 1825–1835, we supplement our transcriptions with detailed contextual introductions, indexes of key people and places, and hundreds of hyperlinked endnotes. In contrast, with Woof and others having already thoroughly annotated the Grasmere Journals, we instead opt to provide a diplomatic transcription of the first of the four notebooks, emphasizing Dorothy’s revisions and the manuscript’s physical characteristics. And for her Lakeland “excursions,” we include interactive maps and dozens of illustrations to create a stronger sense of geography and material circumstances. In sum, we trust that editorial flexibility reflects Dorothy Wordsworth’s own flexibility and variety as a writer.

Just as we have tried to adopt best practices from earlier digital editions, we have followed the lead of pioneering editors of women’s writing in questioning the conventional belief that, as W. W. Greg put it in 1954, the editor’s task is “to present the text, so far as the available evidence permits, in the form in which we may suppose that it would have stood in a fair copy, made by the author himself, of the work as he finally intended it.”


Greg, Editorial Problem, x.

Authorial intention is a notoriously vexed subject in critical theory—“final intention” perhaps even more so, not least because it depends on the often shaky assumption that “final” versions exist. Further, as McGann has argued, this traditional focus on final intentions rests upon notions of “the autonomy of the isolated author,” an arguably masculine construction that “has the effect of desocializing our historical view of the literary work.”


McGann, Critique, 8, 121.

And Dorothy is an exemplary social writer, frequently customizing her texts for different readers and occasions and often writing in close collaboration with others. She also tended to leave multiple versions of texts side by side in her notebooks, making it all but impossible in many cases to determine her “final intentions.” The same facts make it impossible to adopt the tenets of an opposing philosophy of textual editing—one perhaps most famously embraced by the Cornell Wordsworth editors—that consistently privileges the earliest completed version. Even where the sequence of versions can be reconstructed in Dorothy’s notebooks—and usually it cannot—it is impossible to say that one version is better, more authoritative, or more important than another.

Fortunately, the nature of this digital edition allows us in several cases to offer multiple versions of a text, leaving readers to interpret each on its own terms. In such instances, we apply principles from the modern “versioning” school of textual editing, which has perhaps been most effectively modeled by editors such as Mays and Stillinger, who have taken pains to reproduce multiple versions of poems by Coleridge and Keats. As Amy Culley and Anna F. Fitzer have suggested, this approach treats writing “as a collaborative and social product” and discerning authorial intent as “just one in a sequence of textual negotiations.”


Culley and Fitzer, “Introduction: Editing Women’s Writing,” 7.

In its attempts to foreground the material, social, and geographical contexts of Dorothy’s writing, this edition also adopts key tenets of “the new textualism.” This approach, as described by Ann Hollinshead Hurley and Chanita Goodblatt, “focuses on the material properties of the manuscript or book, its print or performance history, and records of its dissemination.”


Hurley and Goodblatt, “Preface,” xi.

Such an approach is necessary given the sociable contexts in which Dorothy wrote and circulated her writing.

General Editorial Practices

While our editorial approach may vary from text to text, all sections of this edition adhere to the following practices:

  • References to the author: We default to the somewhat familiar “Dorothy” as an imperfect alternative to the potentially confusing “Wordsworth” (which still tends to connote the brother) or the clumsy repetition of both writers’ first and last names. Likewise, where William Wordsworth appears in our apparatus, he becomes “William.” For the sake of brevity, our endnotes use initials for Dorothy (DW), William (WW), and Mary Wordsworth (MW), Sara Hutchinson (SH), and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (STC). Endnotes reference William and Mary’s three surviving children (John, Dora, and Willy) by first names only (see the list of Abbreviations of Commonly Used Names).
  • References to the region: To avoid overusing any one toponym, we use “the Lakes,” “the Lake District,” “Lakeland,” and “Cumbria” interchangeably. In doing so, we are cognizant that the Wordsworths would have considered themselves residents of “the Lakes” and Westmorland but perhaps not of “the Lake District” (which, first gaining traction in the 1820s, would have seemed a neologism) or “Cumbria” (which had grown archaic). These latter labels became normative only in the latter half of the twentieth century, after the formations of the “Lake District National Park” in 1951 and County of Cumbria (encompassing the traditional counties of Westmoreland and Cumberland and slivers of Lancashire and Yorkshire) in 1974.
  • Spelling and punctuation: All transcriptions strive to replicate Dorothy’s spelling and punctuation precisely. When unconventional, inaccurate, or omitted punctuation in the manuscript might produce confusion, we provide punctuation marks inside editorial brackets (e.g., [,]). While our reading texts preserve Dorothy’s variant or archaic renderings of place names (e.g., “Ulswater” and “Scawfell”), our editorial apparatus generally privileges modern spellings (e.g., “Ullswater” and “Scafell”).
  • Citations: As per general Romantic Circles guidelines, all citations follow the short-form rules dictated in the Chicago Manual of Style (17th edition). See also our list of Abbreviations for Commonly Used Sources.
  • Titles: When Dorothy provided a title for a text, we reproduce it. In many cases, however, she saw no need for titles. For her unnamed poems, we have resisted the urge to offer standardized titles, adopting instead the first line and placing it within brackets. For her journals, also untitled, for ease of reference we use names commonly used by scholars—that is, Grasmere Journals and Rydal Journals. This practice adheres to the norm of formatting references to posthumously constructed texts (e.g., The Prelude of 1805) identically to those for lifetime editions (e.g., Lyrical Ballads of 1798). But when referring to the physical manuscripts or to specific journal entries we use the term “Grasmere journal notebooks” in acknowledgement of the fact that DW never appears to have considered the four notebooks now known as the Grasmere Journals a unified work. The fact that many teaching editions extract her Grasmere entries from notebooks that also contain other materials reminds us that “journals” are not necessarily identical with the manuscripts in which they are found. Especially when referencing these early journals, then, we attempt to distinguish between the text and its material instantiation on paper.
  • For Dorothy’s two “excursion” narratives, we adopt titles supplied for them in William’s Guide to the Lakes and retained by later editors, as these serviceably describe their contents.


1. Butler, “Editing Women,” 274–75. [back]
2. Other influential modern editors of the male Romantics include contributors to the monumental Cornell edition of WW, the Princeton edition of STC, and the William Blake Archive. [back]
3. Robinson, “Mary Robinson’s Poetry,” 53. [back]
4. This enduring sense of DW’s writings being more useful as secondary than primary sources partly explains the early, persistent, and, at times, exclusive focus on those passages from her Grasmere Journals that capture peak moments in WW’s and STC's poetic careers. [back]
5. KJ, 1:vii–viii, x. [back]
6. DWJ, 1:v. [back]
7. Trott, “Review,” 213. [back]
8. Letters, 4:293–94. [back]
9. Greg, Editorial Problem, x. [back]
10. McGann, Critique, 8, 121. [back]
11. Culley and Fitzer, “Introduction: Editing Women’s Writing,” 7. [back]
12. Hurley and Goodblatt, “Preface,” xi. [back]
13. Note, however, that the popularity of the “Lake District,” both as a concept and as a toponym, was probably helped along by William Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes, which from its 1835 edition forward had “District of the Lakes” in its title. [back]

Editorial Philosophies and Guidelines © 2023 by Romantic Circles, Michelle Levy, Nicholas Mason, and Paul Westover is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0