A Reading of "The Ruined Cottage"

A Reading of "The Ruined Cottage": A Social History of a War Widow

"The Ruined Cottage" has long been taken as the first major poetic achievement that betokens Wordsworth's 'growth' as a poet.  The critics's appreciation of "The Ruined Cottage" as a work of art is in fact based on an implicit assumption that Wordsworth's political awareness is inimical to his poetic genius, for their preference of 'The Ruined Cottage' to 'Salisbury Plain Poems' has much to do with the pedlar's distinctive narrative tactic which enables the most apolitical rendering of the most political issues at the time. This paper is an attempt to reread "The Ruined Cottage" as a story of an impoverished war widow of the 1790s's England in order to challenge such underlying assumption of the main current Wordsworth scholarship. What is intended in this historically informed reading of "The Ruined Cottage" is not to undermine its entirely deserving status in Wordsworthian canon but simply to remind ourselves that the seemingly "natural" process of Margaret's moral and physical deterioration is in fact socially determined and that its original poetic appeal to the contemporary readers derived not so much from the pedlar's transcendental understanding of human suffering as from 'I''s humane, sympathetic response to a war widow's socially rectifiable misery. Eventually, such a reading will suggest that the modern appreciation of "The Ruined Cottage" is not just an expression of its poetic merit, but more significantly another piece of evidence that testifies to the ideological orientation of the modern critical practices. 

Ewha Journal of Korean Culture Studies(1995)