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OpenLearn Live: 14th December 2015

Updated Monday, 14th December 2015

What did Dorothy Wordsworth give to her brother? Then more free learning through the day.

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On Friday, we went beyond dark matter, discovered Recovery Colleges and caught up with The Hunt

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Today's posts

Star Wars VII

Today is the long-awaited premiere of the seventh Star Wars movie (and the first whose ordinal number matches the order of its release, too). We're quite excited by it, and have assembled a collection of articles which use the trilogy of trilogies as a jumping-off point for further thinking. We'll be sharing some of them here across the week, and you can find them all in our Star Wars hub.

As a starter... how would you go about building a working lightsaber?

The first challenge is making the blade of your lightsaber an acceptable size, let’s say around three feet or so. To do this, you would have to make the laser beam come to a stop at a certain point. This won’t be easy since light has a rather strong natural tendency to keep travelling if it doesn’t encounter any obstacles.

One solution could be to place a small mirror at the tip of the blade. But can you imagine how embarrassing it would be to show up in the battlefield with a lightsaber surrounded by a whole supporting structure for a tiny mirror at its end? Apart from being really fragile, such a blade wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone.

Read the full article: How to build a real lightsaber

When should you buy a plane ticket?

If you're hoping to get away for the holidays - either to embrace them fully, or to get as far away from people in ironic (or unironic) bad sweaters - you might not yet have bought your tickets. You could be leaving it to the last minute. But does this strategy make sense? We've got some advice on when you should buy plane tickets:

The airlines’ yield managers start looking at flight bookings about two months before the departure date. This implies that it generally does not pay to book more than two months in advance: studies show that initially the airlines leave the cheapest price buckets empty, and yield managers may move some seats into those buckets if a couple of months before the departure date the flight is emptier than expected.

Read the full article When is the best time to buy a plane ticket?

I was born on Christmas Day: Dorothy Wordsworth

We're getting closer to Christmas Day, and this week we're taking our start-up segment to meet some of the people who share a birthday with Christmas Day.

You might assume that there's as much chance of someone having a December 25th birthday as any other day in the year - 1 in 365 - but the (modern) reality is somewhat different, as births which can be scheduled are unlikely to be scheduled for the quietest day of the year in Western hospitals. Many babies won't wait, but those that can are encouraged to appear at a different time.

The first of our Christmas Day babies is Dorothy Wordsworth.

Dorothy Wordsworth Copyright free  image Icon Copyright free: Public domain

Dorothy was a poet and diarist born on December 25th 1771. Although talented in her own right, she's perhaps better known as "the sister of William". After their father died, the pair (and their three less-celebrated sibilings) were split up; William and Dorothy reunited in 1795 and remained pretty inseperable afterwards. At first in poverty and Dorset, and eventually in Grasmere and fame.

The closeness of sister and brother raised eyebrows - although mostly amongst critics who came along later. F W Bateson and later Donald Reiman suggested that their relationship might have gone beyond that of siblings. Reiman wrote in 1978:

[William had to remind himself] (probably subconsciously) that Dorothy was unacceptable as the object of a romantic or sexual attachment’.

Other writers reject the idea of incest, though, most forcefully Frances Wilson:

The relationship between the Wordsworths was organized around a notion of perfect and exclusive brother-sister love which was imaginatively assimilated by them both to the point where it became the source of their creative energy, but its physical expression would have been of no interest to them’

Writing in The Guardian in 2008, James Fenton attempted to make sense of an event where Dorothy wore the wedding ring intended for Mary, the woman William was about to marry. The activity might seem odd to our eyes, but:

It was a private ceremony that no doubt had a private meaning - but whether that meaning was incest, or indeed an end to incest, seems impossible to know. Afterwards, Dorothy fails to go to the church for the ceremony, but does (contrary to modern custom) accompany William and Mary on their honeymoon. The marriage is a success. We know that William and Mary loved each other with an abiding passion, and that Dorothy and Mary never exchanged a cross word. So, if there was sexual jealousy on Dorothy's part, it seems to have evaporated with a bizarre speed.

Fenton concludes that it's all something of a puzzle.

If the full nature of Dorothy's life with her brother is unsolveable, her influence on his work is less arguable. She supported William as a writer, but also served as an influence and guide. As an example, this is an extract from Dorothy's journals in 1802:

I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about & about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed & reeled & danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing.

Two years later, Wordsworth wrote what would be his most enduring work:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

He may have been the more adept poet, but he owed something to his sister's eye.

Listen to our podcast about the Wordsworths' life at Grasmere

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