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Summary:

When young James Dixon, a local jack-of-all-trades recently returned from the Battle of Waterloo, meets writer Dorothy Wordsworth, he quickly realizes he's never met another woman anything like her. In her early thirties at the time of the meeting, Dorothy has already lived a wildly unconventional life. As her famous brother William Wordsworth's confidante and creative collaborator--considered by some in their circle to be the secret to his success as a poet--she has carved a seemingly idyllic existence for herself, alongside William and his wife, in England's Lake District. One day, Dixon is approached by William to do some handiwork around the Wordsworth estate. At William's urging, he takes on more and more chores--and quickly understands that his real, unspoken responsibility is to keep an eye on Dorothy, who is growing frail and melancholic. The unlikely pair of misfits form a sympathetic bond despite the sometimes troubling chasm in social class between them, and soon Dixon is the quiet witness to everyday life in Dorothy's family and glittering social circle, which includes literary legends Samuel Coleridge, Thomas de Quincy, William Blake, and Charles and Mary Lamb. Through the fictional James Dixon--a gentle but troubled soul, more attuned to the wonders of the garden he faithfully tends than to vexing worldly matters--we step inside the Wordsworth family, witnessing their dramatic emotional and artistic struggles, hidden traumas, private betrayals and triumphs. At the same time, Winter slowly weaves a darker, complex "undersong" through the novel, one as earthy and elemental as flower and tree, gradually revealing the pattern of Dorothy's rich, hidden life--that of a woman determined, against all odds, to exist on her own terms despite societal norms. But the unsettling effects of Dorothy's tragically repressed brilliance take their toll, and when at last her true voice finally sings out, it is so searing and bright that Dixon, compelled equally by love and grief and fear, must make an impossible choice.

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