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"The book All Before Me, written by Esther Rutter, explores the healing effects of both physical places and poetry."

“The book All Before Me, written by Esther Rutter, explores the healing effects of both physical places and poetry.”


The central idea of “genius loci” is the essence of a location, often associated with providing protection or nurturing. This concept is the basis for Esther Rutter’s refreshing combination of personal recollections, literary chronicles, and travel accounts. Incorporating elements from three books, she delves into her own harrowing mental breakdown and gradual recovery, as well as the lives of Romantic poet William Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy, and their colleague Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Rutter also discusses the efforts to preserve the Wordsworths’ cottage in Grasmere, within the larger context of the Lake District. While the reader may occasionally sense the conflation of multiple works, the book is still brimming with intriguing anecdotes, succinct historical summaries, and, most importantly, a deep appreciation for the influence of place and poetry on the human spirit.

Rutter’s move to Grasmere was not her initial effort to immerse herself in a completely unfamiliar environment in hopes of finding a new path for her life. When she was 21, she ventured off to a small village in Japan to teach English, living on her own in a leased apartment with limited knowledge of the language. This was not a luxurious gap year experience stemming from a privileged upbringing – Rutter writes poignantly about the struggles and disruptions in her family life – but rather an endeavor to intimately experience another culture and way of life.

The author Esther Rutter.

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She was functioning well until she experienced a sudden decline in her mental state, leading to a sense of losing her sense of self. This included intense anxiety, restlessness, and a pervasive feeling that she would never be happy. She was eventually hospitalized and received compassionate care, but her path to treatment and diagnosis was unclear. After a sudden discharge from the hospital, she found herself back where she began, but fundamentally changed.

When did Wordsworth join? After recovering and unsure of how long the improvement would last, Rutter applied to be one of several interns who spend a year working at Dove Cottage, the small white house in Cumbria where William and Dorothy lived for a long time. Despite its humble appearance, the cottage played a significant role in the creation of some of Wordsworth’s greatest works, including early versions of his lengthy, autobiographical poem The Prelude, which wasn’t published until 1850, the year of his death. This remarkable piece combines introspection and outward exploration, expressing the idea of having the whole world in front of you and approaching it with a joyful and fearless heart.

Rutter was offered the job, despite the fact that she cried during the interview, and this may have actually played a role in her being chosen. Her task for the next year was to assist with the maintenance of Dove Cottage, as well as give tours and organize poetry readings. It’s understandable that the unique demands of the job, combined with the breathtaking scenery, would create a strong sense of connection. However, Rutter also starts to recognize a deeper sense of belonging. She realizes that this feeling she is experiencing can be defined as “kith” – a sense of being fully oneself in a particular place, feeling mentally and physically at home.

All Before Me also explores how William and Dorothy, who had been

As children, they were separated when their mother passed away. Eventually, they built their own home after facing challenges along the way. One notable instance was when they were in Germany and were essentially abandoned by Coleridge, who chose to spend time with different friends instead. This left the siblings alone, freezing, and with very little money. It was in Grasmere where the Wordsworths first began to connect the beauty of nature with community and creativity. This attachment to their surroundings is what makes the small town of Townend more than just a stop on a literary tour, but a representation of a deeper artistic drive.

William and Dorothy did not spend all of their lives in Grasmere, and

Rutter also does not do this, but she demonstrates how when a certain place has left its mark on you, it is possible to bring it along with you to new places.

Source: theguardian.com