The Idiot Boy - Wordsworth

  • Created by: Shelley
  • Created on: 20-05-13 18:37

In his 1800 preface to 'Lyrical Ballads' Wordsworth remarks that the purpose of this poem (and the Mad Mother), is to trace "the maternal passion through many of its more subtle windings". The poem is a clear demonstration of the principles Wordsworth set out in his preface; it illustrates common emotions in a rural setting, using plain language and eschewing the formality of most 18th century verse.

Wordsworth's use of speakers that are much like himself do not particularly connect with the characters in the poems, this impotence of the poet-narrator prevents him from harnessing the creative power Wordsworth identified as a "spontaneous overflow" of joy. In 'The Idiot Boy', both the mother Betty and her idiot son, Johnny, achieve the spontaneous overflow that characterises a successful creation, but the poet cannot, and repeatedly laments his inability to describe in poetic form what the story contains. In a few instances, the thoughts of the character and narrator are blended and create a kaleidoscopic and indefinite shifting of perspective. This gives the impressions that the character is telling their own story and bringing the reader closer.

The mock-heroic aspect of poem throughout, as Betty cries out with plenty of melodrama "O woe is me! O woe is me!" and is often overly theatrical e.g. she rushes past the pond in case of drowning herself "Lest she should drown herself". Why would Wordsworth do this after developing her character and instead begin to take away from her depth? Is Betty Foy a character of ridicule? Wordsworth's tone is often bordering on disdainful- does Wordsworth honestly feel for the characters in his poems?

Contextually, Betty is a name often given to lower class, domestic servant characters in literature from this period and so it can be presumed she is of this class. Her surname, 'Foy, however, is likely to mean 'faith'. This combination epitomises the movement of the 'Lyrical Ballads': the grand actions and powerful sympathies of 'common' people. Additionally, she has…


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