The End of my Pilgrimage with Miriam Henderson

The twelfth of the thirteen volume series of novels that Dorothy Richardson titled ‘Pilgrimage’ was the first not to be published as a single volume. It made its first appearance in the first 4-volume edition that was published in 1938, and it opens at a point in the life of Miriam Henderson when she has finally stopped thinking about changing her life and actually done something. She has left her job, she has left her lodgings, she has left London, but she has no firm plans for the future.

The opening chapter found her on visiting Chichester with her old friends, sisters Grace and Florence Broom. The writing was quite dense, I was a little worried that this might be the point where Dorothy Richardson became ‘difficult’, but I decided to take what understanding I could from this chapter and move on. I understood that while Miriam still had no love for the Anglican church she had become more tolerant and accepting of faith, I understood that she had not found her path but was confident that she would, and I understood that letting go of many things had made her happier and more relaxed than she had been for a long time; maybe ever.

pilgrimageknopf1938That first chapter was opaque, but I found the rest of this book wonderfully readable.

It was Michael Shatov who found the right place for Miriam to settle for a while. He introduced her to the Roscorla family, who kept a farm at Dimple Hill and had a spare room they let to boarders. They accepted her in the belief that she was recovering from an emotional breakdown and needed to rest and recuperate.

Miriam loved the peace and beauty of the  countryside, she enjoyed watching the regular routines of farm life, and, most of all,  she was fascinated by the Roscorlas’ Quaker faith. All this was communicated in swathes of lovely, descriptive prose.

I could have happily read writing like this for such a long time. I share Miriam’s interest in Quakerism. I loved that Miriam’s hosts had a wonderfully Cornish name.

There were hints that she was writing, but no more than that. That’s still the way with Dorothy Richardson

The pictures of the Roscorla family are wonderfully clear.

Miriam is clearly smitten with Richard; she forms a friendship with his sister, Rachel Mary, and she grows to like their brother Alfred; but the mother of the three siblings never warms to her. She is disapproving when Miriam talks with a male visitor, and that reminds Miriam that she is not at home and that the ways of this family are not her ways.

Miriam has matured in many ways over the course of this series of books; but there are times when her social skills are as lacking as they were when she set out for Germany in the very first book. That’s understandable in a girl but rather less so in a grown woman who is a guest in someone else’s home.

It becomes clear that it is time for her to move on.

She returns to London for the wedding of Michael and Amabel; and then she accepts an invitation to visit a friend from Oberland.

And that is the end of this book.

20160106_193046It was the last book that Dorothy Richardson completed, but the beginnings of another book named ‘March Moonlight’ emerged when ‘Pilgrimage’ was reissued in 1967, ten years after the death of its author.

This final book is a patchwork, tacked together from pieces that suggest that there could have been more books if Dorothy Richardson been given a longer and less difficult life.

There is:

  • The overseas trip set up at the end of the last book, where Miriam is entangled in complex relationships with a number of people who I am sure haven’t been mentioned before and I don’t feel I have been properly introduced to.
  • A visit to her sister Sally’s suburban home. I had quite forgotten that Miriam had another sister, and I think she might have forgotten too, but she enjoys her visit and being part of family life for a while.
  • A visit to Michael and Amabel, who were struggling with the practical realities of married life. I was astonished when Miriam offered sensible advice and then retreated.
  • A return to Dimple Hill, where Miriam makes worse mistakes than she did before and there is a permanent parting of the ways.
  • A final return to London where Miriam finds new lodgings, meets old and new friends, and comes to realise that she has made her choice to be alone, to write, and to live on the little money she has. That’s not a firm conclusion, but it is an idea that emerges.

There is much incident but little character development.

But this final book is so clearly unfinished and unpolished; and maybe not a book at all but a collection of sketches and possibilities for books that would never be written.

One sentence on the last page caught my eye.

“Until the autumn of 2015”

I’m inclined to thank that is when this series of book should have ended; when the first volume of this series of books was published.

I wish that she had been given the time to get there, or that she had done things a little differently to get there quicker.

But she made her choices about how to live and how to write, for better or for worse.

Miriam Henderson has been infuriating at times but she has been utterly believable, and the portrayal of her consciousness has been like nothing else I have ever read.

I’ve run out of things to say about her but I shall miss her.

I plan to read more about Dorothy Richardson next year, because I want to understand her and her alter ego a little better.

Clear Horizon by Dorothy Richardson (1935)

The last chapter in Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage – the tenth of thirteen – ended at a point when Miriam Henderson had been given the life and space, during a visit to the country, to come to understand herself and her situation a little more than she had before, and to made some decisions about what she might do next in life. That made her  happier and more purposeful than she had been for quite some time.

This next chapter – the last to be published as a single volume – finds her back in London, and its focus is on how we let go and move on.

It is clear that things have changed since Miriam was last in the city. She looks back at her life there and the people she has known with affection and nostalgia. She considers a little matchmaking, bringing Michael and Amabel together; hesitating as she realises it will mean losing something of her relationships with each of them but ultimately deciding it is the right thing for her to do.

I found it so easy to empathise with Miriam and  in these opening pages; and I loved the writing that was as beautiful as it has ever been and a little more classical and conventional than it had been before.

A wonderful moment of revelation told her that she was going the right thing:

 “And it was then that the wordless thought had come like an arrow aimed from a height downwards into her heart and, before her awakened mind, dropping its preoccupation, could reach the words that already were sounding within it, in the quiet tone of someone offering a suggestion and ready to wait while it was surveyed, she was within that lifting tide of emotion.

With a single up-swinging movement, she was clear of earth and hanging, suspended and motionless, high in the sky, looking, away to the right, into a far-off pearly-blue distance, that held her eyes, seeming to be in motion within itself: an intense crystalline vibration that seemed to be aware of being observed, and even to be amused and to be saying, ‘Yes, this is my reality.’

She was moving, or the sky about her was moving. Masses of pinnacled clouds rose between her and the clear distance and, just as she felt herself sinking, her spirit seemed to be up amongst their high, rejoicing summits.”

It wasn’t clear where she would go or what she would do, but it was clear that she was taking her leave.

A meeting with Hypo Wilson makes her realise that he has little understanding of her and her life,  and when they part company she acknowledges to herself that he is simply the husband of her friend, and that other relationship between the two of them has gone.

Miriam continued to work for the Lycurgans (the Fabian Society) while Amabel, passionate as ever, was eager to be more active and joins in suffragette protests. She is arrested, and when Miriam visits her in prison she realises that that their friendship had faded.

I wondered for a while if Amabel might have been Miriam’s alter-ego; the woman she might have been if she had made different choices  There was something about the timing of her appearance in this series of books, the manner of her arrival, her character and behaviour …

It was an interesting question to ponder, but, on balance,  I’d say probably not. Because I think that Dorothy Richardson’s purpose was to share Miriam’s consciousness, that she was honest, serious and purposeful. I know she left things out – and sometimes that made it difficult to keep track of who was who and exactly what was going on – but I really don’t think she invented.

20160106_193046Miriam’s leaving of the job she had held for many years was more difficult; I completely understood her feelings as she thought about somebody else doing the things she has done for so long, without the depth of knowledge and understanding she had built up over the years.

I knew that one of Miriam’s sisters had emigrated and that another had died, but I had completely forgotten that there was another one. Sarah was ill, she needed Miriam’s support, and she needed an operation that neither of them could afford. It was fortunate that Miriam had a friend who was a doctor; he made sure that Sarah  had what she needed and he expressed concern about Miriam’s own physical and mental health.

There were hints that Miriam had been pregnant, and that either she had miscarried or that it had simply been a scare, but they were the faintest of hints and I really couldn’t form a conclusion. That does seem to be the way with Dorothy Richardson; she only shares some of Miriam’s sub-consciousness and I can’t help thinking that she was either unwilling or unable to share her deepest and most profound emotions.

I appreciated many of the elements of ‘Clear Horizon’ but I wish that there had been a little more about Miriam’s steps into the future and a little less filling in the details of the decision she made at the end of the last book.

I know that Dorothy Richardson must have had reasons for what she did; she was in her sixties, she had been working on Pilgrimage for more than quarter of a century, and she knew that interest was declining when she wrote this book. But I can’t help feeling that there is so much more she could write about Miriam’s life, that she has barely written about Miriam as a writer at all, and that there isn’t going to be enough room for everything I want to read in the two books that are left.

There isn’t. I know that, I know that the last book is unfinished, and that maybe this sequence of books could never be finished.

I’m glad I’m still reading, but I’m ready to know where it will end.

Dawn’s Left Hand by Dorothy Richardson (1931)

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.

20160106_193046Much 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

Oberland by Dorothy Richardson (1928)

The ninth of the thirteen volume series of novels that Dorothy Richardson titled ‘Pilgrimage’ – and the first novel in the last of the four Virago omnibuses – is the story of a holiday. It opens as Miriam is travelling by train to the part of Switzerland known as Oberland.

How the trip was financed, why she joined a tour group alone, wasn’t at all clear; but if nothing else I have learned to expect much in Miriam’s life to be unexplained, and I know that the best way to appreciate her story is to live with her in the moment  and to be acutely aware of seemingly insignificant details that could well be important clues.

20160106_193046I caught her excitement as she travelled through Europe again, as she had in the first novel of this series when she travelled to Germany to take up a teaching post. The book – Pointed Roofs – seems so long ago now. Much has changed, Miriam has grown up a great deal, but she is still the same rather opinionated, rather awkward, young woman.

I’ve written before about how well Dorothy Richardson wrote and held her readers in Miriam’s consciousness; but what I don’t think I’ve written, and think now that I should, is how very well she maintained and developed her character and her consciousness through a long series of books written over many years.

The trouble is, it takes more than that to make a novel appealing to a reader.

I found much to appreciate in this book.

There was some lovely  writing, and a very different setting:

“The leap of recognition, unknowing between the mountains and herself which was which, made the first sight of them — smooth snow and crinkled rock in unheard-of unimagined tawny light — seem, even at the moment of seeing, already long ago.

They knew, they smiled joyfully at the glad shock they were, sideways gigantically advancing while she passed as over a bridge across which presently there would be no return, seeing and unseeing, seeing again from the first keen vision.

They closed in upon the train, summitless, their bases gliding by, a ceaseless tawny cliff throwing its light into the carriage, almost within touch; receding, making space at its side for sudden blue water, a river accompanying, giving them gentleness who were its mighty edge; broadening, becoming a wide lake, a stretch of smooth peerless blue with mountains reduced and distant upon its hinter side… “

She was so clearly happy and relaxed exploring this new world. She viewed different goods in shop windows, and was particularly taken with Swiss biscuits. She was exhilarated by tobogganing, but she refused to ski. Understandable maybe, given that she wasn’t among her own friends, and that she was in Edwardian dress.

“Long after she had sat erect from her warm ensconcement, the sunlit mountain corridors seemed to be saying watch, see, if you can believe it, what we can do. And all the time it seemed that they must open out and leave her upon the hinter side of enchantment, and still they turned and brought fresh vistas. Sungilt masses beetling variously up into pinnacles that truly cut the sky, high up beyond their high clambering pinewoods, where their snow was broken by patches of tawny crag. She longed to glide onwards through this gladness of light.”

When there was just Miriam, when she was out in the world, this chapter of her story was a joy.

But when she was caught up with the tour group, when she was inside her small pension. it was dull.

Those scenes were well done, but there was no development, nothing new. And her interactions with the other members of the tour group felt rather pointless when I knew that they would be disappearing from her life in a matter of days.

I was homesick for the London life that illuminated the books that preceded this one.

I wondered why, when the years of the authors life were passing more quickly that those of her alter ego, when she must have realised that she was working at something that could never be finished, she chose make a two week holiday the subject of an entire novel.

Maybe she wanted to do something a little different, something a little more conventional. There were moments when I thought she could have been a very different kind of novelist; but there was also some below par writing in this book, because Miriam’s life had lost its momentum, and that made me think that the path she had chosen was the best one.

Maybe she realised that she didn’t have the time to do everything she might wish to with Miriam’s life, and the books that I have still to read will be more focused on particular aspects of Miriam’s experiences.

Or maybe she simply wanted a break from the ongoing story.

Miriam thought of Michael a number of times, but this book ended with her thought that back in London Hyppo Wilson was waiting for her to make a decision.

The next book could be very interesting.

I’m still glad that I started this series of books, I’m still eager to move forward; but I also have to say that I will be very glad when I reach the end of the final book.

The Trap by Dorothy Richardson (1925)

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.

20160106_193046Even 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.

Revolving Lights by Dorothy Richardson (1923)

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.

20160106_193046It 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.

Deadlock by Dorothy Richardson (1921)

When I started to read this, the sixth of the thirteen volume series of novels that Dorothy Richardson titled ‘Pilgrimage’, I thought that little had changed in the life of Miriam Henderson, and that this might be the point at which I ran out of things to say.

I was both right and wrong.

In many ways this book is the same as the books before it, catching Miriam’s life in London, catching her relationships with the people around her, and focusing on certain experiences that shape her thinking. But, because her life is evolving, her thinking is evolving, there is just enough difference to keep things interesting.

And the writing is still lovely.

The opening finds Miriam still comfortably settled in Mrs Bailey’s boarding house.

“Miriam ran upstairs narrowly ahead of her thoughts. In the small enclosure of her room they surged about her, gathering power from the familiar objects silently waiting to share her astounded contemplation of the fresh material. She swept joyfully about the room ducking and doubling to avoid arrest until she should have discovered some engrossing occupation. But in the instant’s pause at each eagerly opened drawer and cupboard, her mind threw up images. It was useless. There was no escape up here. Pelted from within’ and without, she paused in laughter with clasped restraining hands the rest of the evening must be spent with people . . .”

Her situation is the same but I came to realize that something intangible had changed; she had passed through that undefined, unnamed point in life when you cease to a newcomer to grown-up living and simply become one of the grown-ups.

I saw that in her life and home and in her life at work.

And, because she was the same Miriam I met in the first volume of Pilgrimage -she was sensitive, she cared, but she lacked emotional understanding – she had a few ups and downs.

Her sisters were both in a seaside town; where Eve had been encouraged to open a shop, and Harriett and her husband had followed to run a boarding house. When Miriam visited she found it hard to understand why Eve was happy with what she saw as so little or why Harriett was staying in a less that happy marriage for the sake of her child.

She was bored with her job, and she resented that it took so much time away from the things she really wanted to do. When she spoke out about a book she was reading – a book on the inequities of employment – she was shocked to be dismissed. It really didn’t occur to her that anyone might think she was talking about her own situation and take offence.

But they were not at the centre of this book, because there was a significant development in Miriam’s life.

20160106_193046Mrs. Bailey had a new lodger, a  Russian Jew named Michael Shatov, and Miriam, who was known to be bookish, was asked to help him improve his English. This possibility engaged her in a way that her work never could, and they became friends immediately; happily discussing literature, politics, philosophy and many of the issues of the day.

Their conversations about Russian literature were fascinating, and they pointed to a particular book that might have had a significant influence on the development of Dorothy Richardson’s writing.

” ‘There is in this book the self-history of Tolstoi. He is Lavin, and Kitty is the Countess Tolstoi. That is all most wonderful. When we see her in the early morning ; and the picture of this wedding. There is only Tolstoy for those marvellous touches. I shall show you.’

‘Why does he call it Anna Karenina ‘ asked Miriam anxiously.

‘Certainly. It is a most masterly study of a certain type of woman.’

The fascination of the book still flickered brightly; but far away, retreated into the lonely incommunicable distance of her mind. It seemed always to be useless and dangerous to talk about books. They were always about something else If she had not asked she would have read the book without finding out it was a masterly study of Anna. Why must a book be a masterly study of some single thing ? Everybody wisely raving about it …”

It felt significant that Miriam agreed to go out walking with Mr Shatov – in the last volume of her story she had been reluctant to walk with Mr Mendizabal – and it was. There relationship grew as they attended lectures, visited museums, and ate out together. Miriam blossomed and Mr Shatov became Michael.

That was lovely to watch.

Sadly though that wouldn’t last. Michael became Mr Shatov again, and by the end of this volume it became clear that he and Miriam might continue to be friends, but no more than that. Maybe because Miriam couldn’t accept his belief that a woman could be content as a wife and a mother. Maybe because she came to realise that Judaism encompassed a faith as well as a culture and a way of life. Or maybe there were other reasons .

Dorothy Richardson’s writing continued to be as opaque as it was beautiful.

There was a hint of something in Mr Shatov’s past. There was a passing mention that Miriam continued to visit her friend Alma and her writer husband, Hyppo Wilson. There was a reference to a cycling accident. Life went on, but this book was focused on a particular side of Miriam’s life.

This was the story of the meeting of two minds, and wide-ranging dialogues that followed.

In many ways I think this the most conventionally written of the Pilgrimage sequence of novels that I have read so far. There is a clear story arc, there are wonderfully vivid descriptions, and the conversations illuminate the characters so well. But there’s more that that, and I am aware that I have almost begun to take Dorothy Richardson’s way of writing take for granted; forgetting that other writers rarely shift perspective, tense, or style as naturally and as cleverly as she does; forgetting that she has taken care to remain with the consciousness of Miriam Henderson; forgetting just how innovative, just how modern she was ….

I am appreciating the threads that run through this sequence of books now.

I love the conviction that I can see underpinning those dialogues. And seeing how the world around me has changed in between reading this book and writing about it how I wish that more people were reading, thinking and talking as Miriam and Michael did.

I have to say as well that this book holds some of the loveliest and most distinctive passages of writing I have ever read. Many of them catch London and Miriam’s relationship with her home. One of them catches her first encounter with a new-fangled gramophone quite brilliantly.

Writing that catches life like that will stay with me.

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.

Interim by Dorothy Richardson (1920)

When I started to read this, the fifth of the thirteen volume series of novels that Dorothy Richardson titled ‘Pilgrimage’, I found myself swept straight back into the consciousness of Miriam Henderson.

It seems that early in every book there will be a new home.

This new home was a happy home, the women there were comfortable in each others company. They talked about anything and everything, and as they celebrated Christmas together they happily recalled Christmases past.

“Did you have a Noah’s ark she asked smiling at the fire. Yes ; Florrie had one. Uncle George gave it to her. They began describing. Didn’t you love it ? broke in Miriam presently.  Do you remember? She recalled the Noak’s ark as it had looked on the nursery floor, the offended stiffness of the rescued family, the look of the elephants and giraffes and the green and yellow grasshoppers and the red lady bird, all standing about alive amongst the little stiff bright green trees. We had a farm-yard too, pigs ; and ducks and geese and hens with feathers. We used to stand them all out together on the floor, and the grocer’s shop and all our dolls sitting round against the nursery wall. It used to make me perfectly happy. It would still.  Everyone laughed. It would. It does only to think of it ….”

It took me a while to realise that Miriam was not in a new home of her own, that she was staying with friends for a while. There were small details that told me that, and when Miriam went out by herself to walk through the streets of London it became clear. It was clear that she was still walking alone through life.

“She wandered along the little roads turning and turning until she came to a broad open thoroughfare lined with high grey houses standing back behind colourless railed-in gardens. Trams jingled up and down the centre of the road bearing the names of unfamiliar parts of London. People were standing about on the terminal islands and getting in and out of the trams. She had come too far. Here was the wilderness, the undissembling soul of north London, its harsh unvarying all-embracing oblivion Innumerable impressions gathered on walks with the school- girls or in lonely wanderings ; the unveiled motives and feelings of people she had passed in the streets, the expression of noses and shoulders, the indefinable uniformity, of bearing and purpose and vision, crowded in on her, oppressing and darkening the crisp light air. She fought against them, rallying to the sense of the day. It was Christmas Day for them all. They were keeping Christmas in their homes, carrying it out into the streets, going about with parcels, greeting each other in their harsh ironic voices. Long ago she had passed out of their world for ever, carrying it forward, a wound in her consciousness unhealed.”

The writing was lovely and it caught such a range of emotions. Though she didn’t address the point herself, I realised that the lives that Miriam saw were the kind of lives that she and her sisters had been raised to live, that they would have lived had their father’s business not have failed, had their mother’s heath not broken down.

20160106_193046Home is very much the focus of this book.

Miriam’s home is still in the same place, but it has changed. Her landlady has carried out her plan of changing from a lodging house to a boarding house, providing meals in a shared dining room and opening up other rooms of her house so that those who live there are much more in each others company. Miriam is both curious to see and know more of the people around her and anxious about dealing with this new situation.

She is used to being single and independent, but that makes her intriguing to the new  boarders: the French Mr Bowdoin, the Spanish Mr Mendizabal, and three Canadian doctors who have come to London for the summer to study. She returns their interest, fascinated by their different and diverse backgrounds.

Miriam is unprepared for this. She has learned to do her job at the dental surgery, and now that she has had time to settle in it has become a routine; she continues to read avidly and she has learned much by regularly attending lectures; but she lacks experience of simply socialising in mixed company; it doesn’t help that she has no family around her, that she has no mother to guide her.

Though she had come such a long way there were still traces of the Miriam who didn’t quite know what to do in social situations, who couldn’t see what lay behind the things that people said and did; the Miriam I recalled from the earliest books in this series.

Her response to the sight of Mr Bowdoin’s room, when he held a musical soiree there, was amusing:

“This was Bohemia! She glanced about. It was the explanation of the room. But it was impossible to imagine Trilby’s milk-call sounding at the door It was Bohemia; the table and chairs were Bohemian. Perhaps a big room like this would be even cheaper than a garret in St. Pancras. The neighbourhood did not matter. A bohemian room could hold its own anywhere. No furniture but chairs and a table, saying when you brought people in, “I am a Bohemian,” and having no one but Bohemians for friends.”

She spends a good deal of time with Mr Mendizabal simply because he was expansive and she found him interesting. She was unsettled though when she wanted to go for a walk alone, when he insisted that he would accompany her and she didn’t know how to pull away. She didn’t understand how that would appear to others, and she was upset when the Canadian doctors left without saying goodbye.

She had been interested in Dr von Heber, and he had seem interested in her.

“Once more she was part of a novel; it was right, true like a book, for Dr. Heber to come in in defiance of everyone, bringing his studies into the public room in order to sit down quietly opposite this fair young English girl. He saw her apparently gravely studious and felt he could * pursue his own studies ‘ all the better for her presence. She began writing at random, assuming as far as possible the characteristics he was reading ‘into her appearance. If only it were true ; but there was not in the whole world the thing he thought he saw. Perhaps if he remained steadily like that in her life she could grow into some semblance of his steady reverent observation. He did not miss any movement or change of expression. Perhaps you need to be treated as an object of romantic veneration before you can become one. Perhaps in Canada there were old-fashioned women who were objects of romantic veneration all their lives, living all the time as if they were Maud or some other woman from Tennyson. It  was glorious to have a real, simple homage coming from a man who was no simpleton, coming simple, strong and kindly from Canada to put you in a shrine….”

Her landlady, who probably only realised how naïve Miriam was when she saw her distress, took it upon herself to tactfully explain one or two things. That sent Miriam spiralling into a lovely but rather dense stream of consciousness that touched upon to many things: the passing of time, the changing of the seasons, the lesson of life, the inevitability of ageing ….

I wish that the book had ended there, but it went on a little longer, with Miriam being caught up in the troubles of a friend of a friend for a second time. That pulled the book out of shape, undermining what little structure there was.

I knew that Dorothy Richardson’s writing was impressionistic, I knew that there were gaps in the narrative, I knew that I had to accept that and live in the moment, appreciating how brilliantly Dorothy Richardson created Miriam’s consciousness on the printed page.

I did and I do, but I found that more difficult in this book. There were times, I thought, when she could have made things a little clearer for her reader without any diminution of what she wanted to achieve with her writing.

I am still finding much to love, but there have been times when I wondered of the author was making things difficult for her readers on purpose.

I still want to carry on though this series of books until I reach the end, but I am more apprehensive about the road ahead than I was.

The Tunnel by Dorothy Richardson (1919)

The fourth book of Dorothy Richardson’s ‘Pilgrimage’ gas pulled me from the first to the second of my four green Virago omnibus editions, and to starting anew at this place felt right, because there has been a sea change in the life of Miriam Henderson. After three live-in teaching positions, where she always considered home to be her family home, she has established a home of her own, in a room in a house in Bloomsbury.

A room of her own:

“She closed the door and stood just inside it looking at the room. It was smaller than her memory of it. When she had stood in the middle of the floor with Mrs Bailey, she had looked at nothing but Mrs Bailey, waiting for the moment to ask about the rent. Coming upstairs she had felt the room was hers and barely glanced at it when Mrs Bailey opened the door. From the moment of waiting on the stone steps outside the front door, everything had opened to the movement of her impulse. She was surprised now at her familiarity with the details of the room . . . that idea of visiting places in dreams. It was something more than that . . . all the real part of your life has a real dream in it; some of the real dream part of you coming true. You know in advance when you are really following your life. These things are familiar because reality is here.”

She is earning her living by working in a dentist surgery, in a job that seems to bring together the roles of receptionist, bookkeeper and dental nurse. She finds her workload difficult to manage; and it is clear that she is the kind of person who worries that she has failed if she hasn’t completed every single task perfectly; but she enjoys playing her part, she takes a pride in her successes and she appreciates having a place in the team.

The scenes where Miriam is at work are particularly vividly drawn. I was caught up in every moment with Miriam; but I have to say that I am so glad that dentistry has moved on since then.

20160106_193046I can’t say exactly when ‘then’ was, because Miriam’s thoughts and thoughts and perceptions were all I had to guide me through this book; but I can say, because I know Dorothy Richardson’s dates and because I knew some of the books that Miriam was reading – one of which was published in 1899 – that this story must have been set in or a little after that year.

(I was delighted that Miriam loved ‘Red Pottage’ as I loved it too, and it was the book that I had to finish before I returned to her story a month or two ago.)

That makes her choice to live alone as a single woman and to earn her own living quire remarkable.

Reading Dorothy Richardson requires the ability to notice small things and to accept that there are some things that you many never know. I spotted a reference to Miriam’s employment having been found by a family friend, but how she found her lodgings, how she came to know her friends, I don’t know.

But to complain about that would be missing the point. This is the story of Miriam’s journey, filtered through her consciousness, and the best way to appreciate it is to stay in the moment with her. And there is so very much to appreciate.

Miriam was captivated by London.

“Strolling home towards midnight along the narrow pave-ment of Endsleigh Gardens Miriam felt as fresh and un-troubled as if it were early morning. When she had got out of her Hammersmith omnibus into the Tottenham Court Road she had found that the street had lost its first terrifying impression and had become part of her home. It was the borderland of the part of London she had found for herself; the part where she was going to live, in freedom, hidden, on her pound a week. It was all she wanted. That was why she was young and glad ; that was why fatigue had gone out of her life. There was nothing in the world that could come nearer to her than the curious half twilight half moonlight effect of lamplit Endsleigh Gardens opening out of Gower Place ; its huge high trees, their sharp shadows on the little pavement running by the side of the railings, the neighbouring gloom of the Euston Road dimly lit by lamps standing high in the middle of the roadway at long intervals, the great high quiet porched houses, black and still, the shadow mass of St. Pancras church, the great dark open space in front of the church, a shadowy figure-haunted darkness with the vague stream of the Euston Road running to one side of it and the corridor of Woburn Place opening on the other. The harsh voice of an invisible woman sounded out from it as she turned off into her own street. …” Dressed up — he was — to the bloody death.” . . . The words echoed about her as she strolled down the street controlling her impulse to flinch and hurry. The woman was there, there and real and that was what she had said.Resentment was lurking about the street. The woman’s harsh voice seemed close. Miriam pictured her glaring eyes. There was no pretence about her. She felt what she said. She belonged to the darkness about St. Pancras church . . . people had been garrotted in that part of the Euston Road not so very long ago. . . . Tansley Street was a soft grey gloaming after the darkness. When she rattled her key into the keyhole of number seven she felt that her day was beginning. It would be perpetually beginning now. Nights and days were all one day; all hers, unlimited.”

She spends time with other women who have rooms in the same house as her; she visits her sister Harriett, who is happily settled as a wife and mother to be, and her sister Eve whose situation is less happy; she attends lectures with a work colleague; and books and music continue to illuminate her life.

She even learns to ride a bicycle, and, after an awkward start, she relishes the freedom that gives her.

It was difficult to form a clear picture of the whole of Miriam’s life, but I saw the arc of the story clearly: that in her room and out in the world Miriam was establishing a life if her own.

She made contact with an old school friend and was invited to stay with her and her writer husband in the country. Miriam felt a little out of her depth when she met their literary friends, but she was fascinated by them and she realised that she wanted to be part of their world. On the train home she remembered things that had been said that she wanted to remember that she wanted to use to impress her friends – that reminded me of the Miriam of the earlier books who had been uncomfortable in social situations, and of how far she had come – and she thought much on things that her friend’s husband had said.

“Gazing out at the exciting silent pines — so dark and still, waiting, not knowing about the wonders of English — Miriam recalled her impressions of those of the authors she knew. It was true that those were their effects and the great differences between them. How did he come to know all about it and to put it into words? Did the authors know when they did it? She passionately hoped not. If they did, it was a trick and spoilt books. Rows and rows of ” fine ” books ; nothing but men sitting in studies doing something cleverly, being very important, ” men of letters ” ; and looking out for approbation. If writing meant that, it was not worth doing. English a great flexible language ; more than any other in the world. But German was the same? Only the inflections filled the sentences up with bits. English was flexible and beautiful. Funny. Foreigners did not think so. Many English people thought foreign literature the best. Perhaps Mr. Wilson did not know much foreign literature. But he wanted to ; or he would not have those translations of Ibsen and Bjornsen. German poetry marched and sang and did all sorts of things. Anyhow it was wonderful about English — but if books were written like that, sitting down and doing it cleverly and knowing just what you were doing and just how some-body else had done it, there was something wrong, some mannish cleverness that was only half right. To write books, knowing all about style would be to become like a man. Women who wrote books and learned these things would be absurd and would make men absurd. There was something wrong. It was in all those books upstairs. ” Good stuff ” was wrong, a clever trick, not worth doing. And yet everybody seemed to want to write.”

That there was so much reflection is telling I’m sure. There has been little reflection in the parts of ‘Pilgrimage’ that I have read so far and that disappoints me, particularly now that there has clearly been some upheaval in the Henderson family.

Miriam and Mr Wilson didn’t meet again in this book, but I am quite sure that they will in the next.

I found much to love in this book. There is a wealth of detail, I am still so taken with Miriam and with Dorothy Richardson’s writing;  but I am finding the gaps in the narrative and the literary impressionism a little more difficult than I did in the earlier books of the series.

That might be because this is a longer book than those, or it might be the stage that Miriam has reached in life.

Time will tell ….