As a child in England, Amelia Worsley, assistant professor of English, often traveled with her family to the Lake District, where Romantic poet William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, lived and wrote. Worsley began studying William Wordsworth’s poems as an undergraduate at Cambridge and recognized “lots of references to places I spent my summer holidays.” She later encountered Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals about life in Grasmere. In graduate school she had an “eye-opening experience” discussing the poetry with scholars at the sites where it was written.
Worsley’s new course seeks to recreate that experience for Amherst sophomores, juniors and seniors. The 12 students, selected through an application and interview process, are spending the first half of the spring semester delving into the Wordsworths’ published writing and criticism thereof, to formulate questions that will guide their individual research projects.
For spring break they’ll fly to the Lake District (with every student’s travel expenses covered by the College) to conduct research at The Jerwood Centre, an archive holding more than 90 percent of the Wordsworths’ original manuscripts, journals and letters. “They’ll be able to understand things about the texts that wouldn’t be possible without looking at the manuscripts,” Worsley says. For instance, the Wordsworths collected and carefully arranged many poems in notebooks, but the order of those texts has not been preserved in published versions, “so the manuscripts tell a different story.”
The class will visit Wordsworth family homes and several sites made famous in the writers’ work, including Piel Castle and Furness Abbey, with their surrounding towns and countryside. “Seeing the actual lay of the land helps you to understand not only how important nature and landscape is to these writers, but also how landscape informs sociability,” says the professor. “You can start to imagine how and why Wordsworth described encounters with people on public roads in the way that he did when you see those public roads.”
Upon returning to Amherst, the classmates will complete research projects and share them through presentations and panel discussions. Worsley’s aim is to prepare students for the academic conferences they may someday attend—on Wordsworth or whatever else opens their eyes.