When I started to read this, the eighth of the thirteen volume series of novels that Dorothy Richardson titled ‘Pilgrimage’, I found that the pattern of a new home and a new beginning at that start of each book, a pattern that had run through the earliest books of the series and then faded away, seemed to be beginning again.
Miriam was still in London, but she had moved from Mrs Bailey’s boarding house where she had been happily settled for some time to a very different home.
“An old little street. A scrap of London standing apart, between the Bloomsbury squares and the maze of streets towards the city. The light gleaming from its rain-washed flagstones gave it a provincial air and a freshness unknown to the main streets, between whose buildings lay modern roadways dulled by mud or harsh by grimy dust.
Whenever during all her London years Miriam had passed the spot where it opened into the thoroughfare, the little by-way had drawn her eyes; always stating its sequestered charm. Entering it now for the first time she had a sense of arriving nowhere.
Yet she was an inhabitant of Flaxman’s Court. Up there on the upper floors of the house that remained so quiet before her claim, were room as quiet, her own.”
It wasn’t clear why she had moved, it was one of the many things in Miriam’s world that remained unexplained. I have learned as I read her story that was something I had to accept, and I have learned that it is important to observe passing observations as they often prove significant.
It might have been that she was uncomfortable with the relationship that had developed between Mrs Bailey and another boarder; it might be that she didn’t want to be there when the Canadian doctors who had thought so little of her that they left without saying goodbye, made a promised return visit; it might be that the letter that from her friend’s husband that she found when she returned home at the end of the last book caused her some embarrassment; or it might be that she simply felt it was time for a change, or that it was time she found somewhere a little less expensive …
I’m not trying to reach a conclusion; I’m simply trying to explain that with careful reading there is much to appreciate and much that you have to think about in this series of books.
Even if the title of this book had been something other than ‘The Trap’ I would have known from the start of the book that Miriam would not be happy in her new home. She was sharing a room with another single lady, Miss Holland, and they had only a curtain dividing the room to allow them any degree of privacy. It wasn’t right for Miriam, who valued, who needed, her own space, and though she and Miss Holland were polite and got on well enough they had very different outlooks and were fundamentally incompatible.
Life went on.
Miriam continued to attend political meetings; she continued to work in Wimpole Street; she joined a women’s group; she visited friends; she was courted by Dr Densley, who she had met through Miss Dear ….
But always the story returned to that room in Flaxman’s Court.
There were moments when Miriam was happy, when she found the peace she sought in a space that she had been able to make her own, but there were too many things pulling her down. Her difficult relationship with Miss Holland; an intrusive landlord; noise from tenants in the room below ….
I felt for her, but I was also infuriated by her, because she was so rigid, so unable to accept the compromises that human relationships both require and reward.
I put the book to one side for quite some time.
I prepared to write that this was the weakest book in the series.
But then I began to think that there was something that Miriam was pushing to the back of her mind that was making her unhappy. Her relationship with her friend’s husband, the writer Hyppo Wilson – inspired by Dorothy Richardson’s long relationship with her friend’s husband H G Wells, went unmentioned, even though he had written that letter that she was so happy to receive at the end of the last book.
Was she troubled, was she feeling guilty, about that relationship?
Had something changed?
I doubt that I will ever have answers to those questions, but they made me curious to read more.
I was delighted to find that she did what single women still have to do to this day. She picked herself up, she told herself that she was responsible for her own life and her own happiness, and she set out to make a fresh start.
The writing was light and beautiful again; because Miriam was looking out into the world again.
Maybe it was the death of her sister Eve; maybe it was ending her relationship with Dr Densley; maybe it was seeing her sister Harriett emigrate with her husband and child; maybe it was taking her next steps as a writer; maybe it was seeing Wells – not Wilson this time, Wells – in the distance; maybe it was something else entirely.
Whatever it was that made Miriam decide that it was time for a change and to break with Miss Holland, it has me eager to continue reading.
I am sure that there will be times when she infuriates me; that there will be times when I find the gaps in the story and the things that remain unexplained maddening: but Miriam and her world are so very alive; Dorothy Richardson’s writing is like nothing else I have ever read; and I still want to follow this series of books to the end.