2015 年 39and40 巻 p. 37-50
William Wordsworth’s poem ‘The Ruined Cottage’ portrays the tragedy of Margaret, who lost her family in the economic plight caused by failed harvest and ‘the plague of war’. The most memorable image in this poem is that of Margaret’s garden, which gradually becomes overgrown due to neglect. Although this gradual collapse eventually stands as a poetic symbol of nature’s enduring care and governance, it may also imply Wordsworth’s discontent at some forms of poor relief at the time. In the late eighteenth century, cottage gardens were associated with domestic comfort and protection. And in the context of the cottage improvement for the poor, they were considered to be spaces that improved the morality of the poor and instilled industry in them by providing comfort and a pleasurable pursuit. Industriousness was often considered the prime virtue of the labouring poor. In their pamphlets, advocates of cottage improvement repeatedly described clean, neat cottages and cheerful, industrious dwellers to advertise their propaganda that claimed industriousness as the primary virtue of the poor and hard work as resulting in happiness and comfort. Conversely, the advocates described wretched, shattered cottages as symbols of dwellers’ indolence, abandonment of housework and social vice. However, such an ideology ignored the reality that dwellers’ sufferings were caused by the desolation of their dwellings. Reflecting on Wordsworth’s discontent at the ignorance of the poor’s feelings, Margaret’s garden sets such well-meaning social schemes against the deeper human tragedy of her situation; as the narrator says, both ‘poverty and grief / Were now come nearer to her’. The garden is gradually destroyed by her poverty and pain, and the ensuing desolation ironically — and all the more powerfully — reflects upon the grievous ruins of cottage dwellers’ lives. In this essay, I attempt to interpret the significance of Margaret’s desolating garden by considering its image as a symbol of Wordsworth’s revolt against the ideology of social improvement in the eighteenth century.