Our last day was a flurry of hard work, as the students assembled their final project: an exhibit in the Wordsworth Museum.
The Wordsworth Trust has a major grant to redesign its exhibitions, and Jeff Cowton, curator of the Wordsworth Trust, enlisted the class as part of their efforts: he wanted them to find a way to present literary manuscripts to the general public in an interesting way. That means finding the story each manuscript contains within it, and figuring out how to tell the story clearly and concisely, with impressive visual illustrations.
The class decided to tell the story of how a poem is made, and chose two examples. In the first, Wordsworth developed a new poem out of another he was already writing, and students told that story by overlaying two manuscript pages with clear plastic, using color-coded lines and text boxes to do so. The poem, “Old Man Travelling, or Animal Tranquillity and Decay,” was one of the original Lyrical Ballads. Jeff praised their design, saying that no manuscript had ever been presented in that way, and that it represented a major step forward.
Their second example focused on revision and transcription of one of the most famous episodes from Wordsworth’s autobiographical poem, The Prelude: the stolen boat episode, an episode he wrote and rewrote for over 40 years. What impressed them was how many family members contributed to the composition process: William himself, his sister Dorothy, who produced the first fair copy of the poem in her best handwriting, his wife Mary, who also produced a full fair copy, his clerk John Carter, who transcribed the poem in his best handwriting, and his daughter Dora, who helped her father produce the last fair copy of the poem, the basis of the version published in 1850, after Wordsworth’s death.
So they placed a copy of the first edition, open to the stolen boat episode, in the center, and surrounded it with silhouettes of the contributors, and a sample of their handwritten versions of the opening lines of the episode, and they called the display “a family affair.”
And indeed it was, as was the project itself, since after two weeks of such intense effort and togetherness, we became a family, dedicated to the beautiful landscape of the English Lake District, and the poet and his family who lived and wrote there.