Two Remarkable Women
Samuel Taylor Coleridge - behind this great man were some great women whose stories are rarely told. The tale of their lives and their struggles during Coleridge's time at the Cottage are revealed through a new guided tour ‘Romantic Women’. Read on to find out more...
Ten years before the Coleridge family moved into the Cottage at Stowey, three girls from Bristol; Sarah Fricker, just sixteen, and her younger sisters, went from carefree girls to working seamstresses, forced to earn a living to feed their family.
Before their fortunes turned, Sarah and her sisters, Edith and Mary, were enjoying life as comfortable, accomplished young women from a respectable middle class family. They had been highly educated in a school run by Hannah More, a famous advocate for female education, and Sarah was particularly skilled in maths, English and French.
After their father went bankrupt, the family lost everything. The Fricker sisters showed their mettle by turning their accomplishments in needlework to a trade as seamstresses, bringing in what money they could to support their family. However necessary for survival, the sisters’ new lives as working women threw upon them shades of disgrace that they felt keenly for the rest of their lives.
From Sarah to ‘Sara’
When Sarah met Samuel Taylor Coleridge eight years later, there was significant pressure for her to make a match with a suitable, wealthy man. Charming, penniless, and an outspoken revolutionary, Coleridge could not have fit this description more poorly. When Sarah married him, she defied the expectations of her family and society, further darkening her name in fashionable circles. Not long after the birth of their first son, Hartley, the Coleridges moved to ‘Stowey’ to live out Coleridge’s ideal of having an inexpensive lifestyle in harmony with nature. He dropped the ‘h’ from her name, calling her ‘Sara’.
Freezing, dirty, and infested with mice, the “hovel” at Stowey offered a lifestyle very distant from the one Sarah had enjoyed as a child. To make matters worse, many local people struggled to accept the notorious revolutionary and his wife. Cooking and cleaning now fell to her rather than a servant, and chores, along with caring for baby Hartley filled her days whilst her husband visited friends, and roamed the hills writing poetry.
“Fire and ardour”
Meanwhile, another unconventional woman had moved to the area. Dorothy Wordsworth was described as “all fire and ardour”, and her minute attention to detail led to extraordinarily detailed journals describing daily life. Her brother, William Wordsworth, frequently used her writing to inspire his own poetry, and her contribution to his work, and the Romantic poetry movement, is often unacknowledged.
Dorothy was the opposite of calm, practical Sarah. Coleridge and William had already become fast friends in Bristol, and they and Dorothy wandered the hills discussing poetry, nature and philosophy, calling themselves ‘The Concern’. It was a group from which Sarah was resolutely excluded.
Despite the significant changes in her lifestyle, Sarah’s practicality and good nature held steady, and prepared her well for the events that were about to unfold…
Sarah and Dorothy played a huge role in the lives of two of the greatest Romantic poets. To find out more about these two extraordinary women, and their lives at Coleridge Cottage, more is revealed on the ‘Romantic Women’ guided tour.