The object of this Guide is to introduce the reader to key critical readings of the great autobiographical poem by William Wordsworth (1770–1850), The Prelude. Commenced in 1798 and periodically expanded and revised until Wordsworth’s death in 1850, the work was never published during the poet’s lifetime, although the manuscript was known to a small circle of friends and relatives, including his sister Dorothy (1771–1855), his friend and collaborator Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), and the essayist Thomas De Quincey (1785–1859). Despite this history (or perhaps because of it), The Prelude has come to assume a central place in Wordsworth’s literary output. Stated barely, the synopsis of the poem sounds unremarkable: in fourteen books (thirteen in the 1805 version), it charts the poet’s intellectual and emotional development from childhood to early adulthood, encompassing his earliest recollections of growing up in the Lake District and his time at school and Cambridge University, his time spent in London and travelling through France, and his first-hand experiences of the immediate aftermath of the French Revolution in the early 1790s.
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