My final words when I wrote about the sixth book of Dorothy Richardson’s ‘Pilgrimage sequence were:
“At the end of the last book I was apprehensive that these books were becoming difficult; but at the end of this book that thought was gone.”
I’d waited until I’d written about the book before I started the next, and when I had finished writing I turned the pages to begin this next book straight away. I was knocked back by a difficult opening: gone were the journeys, the scenes of home, that had pulled me into the earlier books.
That thought came back.
I was by no means going to give up, because I’ve come so far, because I always knew that the journey was going to be difficult, and because I had found along the way that the rewards more than outweighed those difficulties. But I put the book to one side for a while.
When I decided that it was time to try again my book had vanished. I checked the library catalogue, and I found that there was a 1923 edition in my library’s reserve stock. I placed an order; because even if my copy turned up I was very interested to see what such an early edition would be like.
The book that arrived not a first edition, but it was a first re-printing. It was a small, sturdy red book. There was no introduction, no afterword, no extra material at all; just ‘Revolving Lights’ itself.
That reminded me that by 1923 interest in Dorothy Richardson’s work had diminished. I can understand that. I might have been less inclined to follow this long journey through a few – albeit pivotal – years of one woman’s life if I had been reading then, not knowing how long it would go on and having to follow threads over years between books.
I might have been disappointed that Dorothy Richardson’s path didn’t evolve as the way those of many of her peers did.
Now though, with the benefit of hindsight, I realise that there is nobody else who did what Dorothy Richardson did, and no other body of work like ‘Pilgrimage’.
My little red library book felt so much more readable than my green Virago omnibus; I having a single book in my hand and less content on each page made it for me to be held in the moment. I even came to think that the long chapter that had seemed so difficult was actually a tour de force.
It follows Miriam’s thoughts as she leaves a socialist meeting and makes her way home. As she walks she thinks about so many things. The ideas that were raised at that meeting. Her relationship with Michael Shatov. Why she and her sisters are so different. A conversation about books that she had with someone she didn’t name. Her relationship with the city she had come to love. And what her future might hold.
The writing was lovely; different themes, tenses and styles tumbled together, and I never doubted for a moment that I was being drawn into the inner life of one woman.
I came to understand her feelings about many aspects of her life much better than I had before.
After that the remaining chapters felt like business as usual.
The second chapter follows on Miriam on a visit to friends of Michael Shatov, where she is a little uneasy. The third follows her to a house party at the home of Myra and Hyppo Wilson. There she is as easy and as confident as I can ever remember her being.
It becomes clear that he was the unnamed writer of the first chapter.
In a very short fourth – and final – chapter Miriam is at work, but her head is full of her dialogues with Hyppo Wilson. Even when she is being told that there are changes to come.
That the book ends with a letter from him to Miriam indicates how very important he has become.
There was little room in this book for home, for work, for friends, for sisters; but there was room for that.
As a whole this book felt odd; one chapter of one thing and three of another.
I wish it all could have been like the first chapter; a series of walks on different days could have laid out the evolution of Miriam’s thinking and the evolution of her life.
I wish that all of the steps of ‘Pilgrimage’ were available as little books; I think they would make so much more sense, and be so much more accessible, that way.
This has been a rather odd stage in my journey through Dorothy Richardson’s work; but it has left a clear impression and it does leave me wanting to take the next step forward.