The tenth of the thirteen volume series of novels that Dorothy Richardson titled ‘Pilgrimage’ – picks up the story of Miriam Henderson exactly where the ninth ended. She is on a train, travelling home, after a two week holiday in Switzerland.
She is happy and confident throughout that journey; but when she arrives back in London it seems that little had changed. She is still working at Mr Hancock’s dental practice; and she is still sharing a room with Miss Selina Hastings,back on friendly terms, or at least having reached an accommodation, after their relationship seemed have reached breaking-point at the end of the book before last.
Things are happening though, and things will change.
Much of this book follows Miriam as he encounters and she thinks about many of the people who have passed through her life. It might have been a test to see how much I remembered. She visited Dr Densley, who had become a suitor after that met when Miss Eleanor Dear was his patient. There were aspects of the life of a doctor’s wife that appealed to Miriam, but whem her thoughts suddenly shifted it was clear that she did not see her future there. Miss Dear herself had died. The Brooms, who Miriam came to know at her second teaching post, who she had visited often, were still in her life; as was Sissie Bailey, her former landlady who I am sure hadn’t been mentioned since Miriam, for reasons that were never made clear, left her boarding house.
What was telling was what wasn’t mentioned. The setting – London – had always been at the centre of Miriam’s thoughts, but now it seemed to be taken for granted. Maybe that, maybe the tour of friends and acquaintances was suggesting that Miriam was preparing to move, to change her life.
Michael Shatov was also absent, probably because two other relationships were central to this part of Miriam’s story.
When she was in Oberland Miriam had know that, back in London, Hyppo Wilson was waiting for her to make a decision. It was unsaid, but it was clear what that meant, and when she came home to a letter professing love any element of doubt was gone. The relationship was consummated. Miriam had felt no physical attraction, but otherwise her feelings remained opaque.
The pattern of the relationship was so familiar though; an intellectual bond, pushed into something else by a male who had to be dominant, not realising that he might be changing everything …
Meanwhile, Miriam was being pursued by a bright young woman – who even went into her room to write ‘I love you’ on her mirror. She was intrigued, she was flattered, but she was unsure of what it might all mean.
All of these different things came together to make a book that felt rather muddled and messy. There was much to hold the interest; but there was a lack of shape to this chapter of Miriam’s story, and that bothered me. It didn’t help that the steam of consciousness often seemed more random and less penetrable than it had before.
The last chapter went some way to redeeming things.
Miriam was spending a weekend at the country home of Hyppo and Alma Wilson. It was clear that Alma was either blind to the relationship between her husband and her friend, or that she was choosing to ignore it. Her brightness suggested the latter, and that she knew her husband’s foibles and understood and would maintain her position. That helped Miriam to understand her own position, and time and space in the country allowed her to think over may things.
She knew at heart that she was just a passing fancy for her young lady admirer. She thought about her sister Eve, who had written to he urging her to break with Hyppo Wilson; I was so pleased that Miriam who often failed to appreciate her sisters came to appreciate that. She thought of her sister Harriet, who had emigrated to Canada and who seemed to be making a success of her new life. Maybe that gave her food for thought.
Certainly she loved being in the country, and there was some lovely prose.
There were some rather odd passages, but I think that was when Miriam fell ill and so I am going to overlook them. I’ve learned that I have to do that sometimes, otherwise I would be completely bogged down, trying to understand things that Dorothy Richardson – through Miriam’s sub-conscious – will never make clear.
Over the course of the book it became clear that Miriam had matured, that she had a greater sense of who she was as a woman, in relationships and in the world,
And at the end it was clear that she had gained understanding, maybe made some decisions; because she seemed happier and more purposeful than she had for some time.
I do hope that will herald a new direction, that the next book will show that she has made decisions and is going to act upon them.
Miriam Henderson and Dorothy Richardson can both be infuriating; but they can also be inspiring, and ‘Pilgrimage’ is like nothing else I have ever read.
I’ll be glad to reach the end, but when I reach the end I want to read more about Dorothy Richardson and understand how she drew on life, how she came to write as she did, and why she chose to devote as much of her life as she could to writing about one woman’s consciousness.
The next book – a very short book – is already in my sights