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Summary

A Times and Sunday Times Best Book of 2020.

A dazzling new biography of Wordsworth’s radical life as a thinker and poetical innovator, published to mark the 250th anniversary of his birth.

William Wordsworth wrote the first great poetic autobiography. We owe to him the idea that places of outstanding natural beauty should become what he called ‘a sort of national property’. He changed forever the way we think about childhood, about the sense of the self, about our connection to the natural environment and about the purpose of poetry.

He was born among the mountains of the English Lake District. He walked into the French Revolution and had a love affair and an illegitimate child before witnessing horrific violence in Paris. His friendship with Samuel Taylor Coleridge was at the core of the Romantic movement. As he retreated from radical politics and into an imaginative world within, his influence would endure as he shaped the ideas of thinkers, writers and activists throughout the 19th century in both Britain and the United States. This wonderful book opens what Wordsworth called ‘the hiding places of my power’.

W. H. Auden once wrote that ‘Poetry makes nothing happen’. He was wrong. Wordsworth’s poetry changed the world. Award-winning biographer and critic Jonathan Bate tells the story of how it happened.

©2020 Jonathan Bate (P)2020 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic reviews

"Radical Wordsworth deserves to take its place as the finest modern introduction to his work, life and impact." (Financial Times)

"Richly repays reading.... It is hard to think of another poet who has changed our world so much." (Sunday Times)

"An entertaining biography.... Excellent, intellectually rousing." (The Times)

What listeners say about Radical Wordsworth

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    4 out of 5 stars

Largely entertaining, however some of the claims's

at the end for WW's importance were a bit hyperbolic. My main complaint however was with the performance. I found the voices Mr Keeble put on when reading the quotes highly distracting from the substance (particularly when putting on a voice for Dorothy). Pity because otherwise it was very entertaining and informative.

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Wordsworth explained

Read English at Cambridge, but the syllabus never reached Wordsworth! So I was intrigued by this new work, and hopeful it would be the key to unlock the Romantic poets. I was not disappointed.
Jonathan Bates takes us through Wordsworth’s life highlighting significant points that contributed to his development as a person and as a writer. This is a fascinating story that sets the personal and historical background to Wordsworth’s output. Excerpts from Wordsworth are read in a distinctly northern accent, an audible reminder of where this nationally acclaimed poet came from..
I found the account of Wordsworth’s boyhood and youth of particular interest. Having read this book I have a much better understanding of the context of Wordsworth’s early work. I loved learning about his friendships with other poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, for example, and the politics of getting work published, and the placement of works within a published volume. I could relate to Wordsworth’s travels as a student, whilst on long vacation from St Johns College Cambridge, and I never knew before about his affair in France, that produced a daughter. The depth and quality of Wordsworth’s personal family relationships was fully explored, notably the love of his sister, who was brought up separately from him for a decade following the death of his parents, only reunited again in Wordsworth’s early twenties. Facts like his younger brother Christopher eventually becoming the Master of Trinity College Cambridge show what an extraordinarily high achieving family the Wordsworths were. The impact on Wordsworth of the French Revolution, and his travels around England, particularly the Wye Valley, also extended periods living in Sussex, Leicester and Somerset, place him geographically not quite as narrowly as I had once thought.
When I was about 8 I picked up a slim volume at a book sale entitled The Prelude. It was bound in soft burgundy leather, and I loved it. I longed to know more about the poet that experienced nature so intensely. Now I do.
The closing chapters of this book consider how Wordsworth shaped the thinking of subsequent generations, including the likes of Beatrix Potter and Matthew Arnold. It explores how our view of the natural world was transformed by Wordsworth’s early poetry and led to movements to preserve and protect it. The creation of a national park in America was inspired by Wordsworth, also the idea of the Lake District, leading to an influx of tourists that has never been reversed and that transformed the economy of this beautiful region
Darwin’s The Origin of Species, coincided with a withdrawal of faith in God and led people, including Freud, to explore the idea that union with nature could provide a quasi religious experience as intense and moving as that derived from any conventional religious belief system. The impact of Wordsworth’s beliefs and poetry in our lives is shown to be immense. I feel inspired to re-read the poetry of Wordsworth and his contemporaries with renewed insight.
This is a book I think I will return to again and again.

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Absorbing but unfortunately accented

I found the book interesting and informative. Unfortunately, every time the reader adopted a “Northern” accent to supposedly represent Wordsworth, I found myself squirming inwardly. It felt like the accent was being mocked, though of course this was not the intention.This detracted from my enjoyment of the poems. Perhaps better if someone whose natural accent is from the North of England should read the whole book.

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  • Drone Boy
  • 02-07-21

Okay For An Oxford Don's Mega Rant

Radical Wordsworth was an average, okay listen. Sorry, but it was not intellectually mind blowing. Yes, Johnathan Keeble does an interestingly terrible Dorothy Wordsworth performance, and Bate will provide you with a good overview of Romanticism, its philosophical and continental origins, Wordsworth's poetry, and why Wordsworth remains important today, although he does go into overkill when it comes to WW's greatness, and his thesis that WW's later poetry sucked because he started getting laid seemed to be lacking in evidence. But the book felt a little skittish, as there was no consistent theme or focus, but segments of what i would describe as "mega rant": an incessant shower of intellectual waffle redolent of some ugly academic bird's squawking. Nevertheless, I would still recommend this title to an aspiring undergraduate student of English Literature or to Prince Charles. By this i mean to say it is a bit of an upper class English white man who went to Oxford kind of book, so if you are out there Prince and not playing polo, you should read this book. More seriously though, i found the structure of this book to be a little disjointed, repetitive and rambling in areas. It could have done with some editing, as the style of writing is very much redolent of lecture notes translated into thematic chapters, and while fresh in areas, much of the content was tired. It was one of those books that probably got published because of the author's status, and not because of the book's exceptional quality.