We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Dorothy Richardson's _Pilgrimage_ · 16 June 07

Dear Marianne,

Last summer around this time I wrote you a letter telling of a summerlong reading and conversation journey a group of us on Women Writers Through the Ages at Yahoo were embarking on: we were beginning a reading and discussion of several books by Virginia Woolf, beginning with A Room of One’s Own and ending with The Years. As a result of this public letter, we gained some new active members on our list who share the list’s outlook (literary & scholarly, progressive & feminist) and taste too. So I thought I’d again announce a similar journey we are to begin this summer: a reading and discussion of Dorothy Richardson’s many volumed roman fleuve: Pilgrimage. As I did last year, I’ll simply send to you the posting I sent to friends on Women Writers:

Dear List friends,

I’ve gone ahead and done a calendar for the first two volumes of Pilgrimage. I sat down this morning and looked at all four volumes, and it seemed to me we would not be getting into the novel properly were we to stop at Pilgrimage 1. If others or even most of those who do try to read the book don’t want to go on for Pilgrimage 2, I’ll take the responsibility of having guessed wrong (that is, thought these books are really worth reading and readable).

I own the volumes in 3 different editions. I probably bought the 4th and last one first. My Pilgrimage 4 is 1957 Knopf and Modern Library Book, and looks like the sort of library student book I once got in library booksales or would pick up in used bookshops when Edward and I used to go to these regularly, seeking to find good books we might like to read.

From my marginalia I find I started reading Pilgrimage 4 too, but gave up, either because I was reading too late, was too tired, had not enough context and stimulation (when all alone you tend sometimes to give things up) and finally (most probably) I couldn’t get on with beginning with the first volume in 4 without having read any of the previous volumes or anything about Richardson.

I see that the biography I read, Dorothy Richardson by John Rosenberg, was bought around the same time; my hunch is I came across this one in a scholar’s catalogue (it looks like just the sort of book I’d once find that way) and I bought and read it (for I find I read it) in an attempt to reach something of Richardson before I gave up altogether. I may have sought for copies at the public library in Alexandria and discovered I couldn’t find Pilgrimage 1, never mind the other volumes. As I’ve written before, the public libraries in Alexandria stock mostly junk and conventional classics and are wholly inadequate as book places (as are most of the public libraries in NYC—all but the borough branches).

Well, I was very moved and distressed at what I read of Richardson’s life in Rosenberg’s books—she lived for many years in an unheated tin shack meant for summer time living by middle class people with this unemployed man, not enough to eat. I was not puzzled why she ended this way (not selling herself for sex, refusing to be complicit in whatever was wanted, no money from her family, no connections, nothing to tempt anyone who could do something for her for real and unwilling or unable to make social contact of the type that might fetch minimum money without having to endure too much), only appalled for her. I was bothered by her not trying to push the man she lived with to earn some money too.

Pilgrimage 1 and Pilgrimage 3 I have in cheap paperback popular library editions. Both have pictures in the front of supposedly glamorous sexy women which are little sickening to me. Pilgrimage 1 sports a woman with supposedly luscious lips (outlined in luminous lipstick) and long traight blonde hair haloing down her head and shoulders, looking out at me with a come hither expression. At the back are ads for Desk Reference books. Pilgrimage 3 has a woman who might be in a TV series as some rich professional man’s wife dressed to the nines for a inner engagement, complete with pearls, fake diamonds earrings; she could be someone’s mistress in a particularly stupid movie or say Dallas or Sopranos. At the back I find ads for “real women’s” books. I will spare everyone the names (?) of the authors’ and titles of their novels. Walter Allen does the introduction; he used to be hired reguarly to do these things during a time the literary world was smaller; a Partisan Review scholarly type was what he was.

Pilgrimage 2 is the respectable Virago type book. It has a decent introduction which seems feminist or woman-centered in orientation. I have to say that staring at Gwen Johns’s picture of a young women reading is not comforting because what we see is a suffering woman, perhaps depressed. She’s not just thin and silent and put in a picture that looks damaged from neglect; she herself is literally sitting there stiff and uncomfortable, with a cup on the edge of the table, and a single teapot. It’s not quite the same woman as on our website nor the same pose—the woman on our website has a towel at least. (Johns did 10 versions of this painting of a thin strained woman reading.)

It’s a real toss-up whether Richardson is well served by putting a woman like this on her cover. Between the three the beige cover of the Modern Library is at least non-referential to women as they are seen by others with agendas (John wants to show us a rejected woman ill from the way she is treated; others may see in her confirmation of their alienation from women who read) or a desire to make money by pleasing fools who think they are going to read lruid movie stuff. I suspect the Popular Library covers hurt sales didn’t help them—I refer to Pilgrimage 1 and 2’s covers—like books about domestic abuse which are titled Sluts and Bastards (an excellent book of this title was described on Women’s Studies the other day, and someone said she would never have guessed what was the content of the book from its title and thus never bought or looked for it in a library).

Out of curiosity, I looked at the GMU library catalogue and discovered they have not one biography (neither Fromm nor Rosenberg), Honeycomb (doubtless a stray copy someone gave to the library) and one volume of the Pilgrimage volumes. DISGRACEFUL. The situation was similar for Iris Murdoch; Marguerite Yourcenar, they have volumes only they are taken out and kept on the shelves of the French department so no one but someone who teaches for that department can really reach these either. Our film studies section of books is paltry; the films bought are often self-indulgent extreme movies or junk (popular culture is “in” still).

All the above is to explain the pages I’m going to cite come from different editions, but that I hope they show proportionally what these novels are:

Pilgrimage 1 (Popular Library):

Pointed Roofs, 170 pages (12 chapters)
Backwater, 175 pages (10 chapters)
Honeycomb, 141 pages (11 chapters)

Pilgrimage 2 (Virago)

The Tunnel, 276 pages (32 chapters)
Interim, 162 pages (11 chapters)

Pilgrimage 3 (Popular Library)

Deadlock, 218 pages
Revolving Lights, 163 pages
The Trap, 110 pages

Pilgrimage 4 (Knopf, Modern Library)

Oberland, 116 pages
Dawn’s Left Hand, 131 pages
Clear Horizon, 129 pages
Dimple Hill, 149 pages
March Moonlight, 103 pages

So all the novellas are novellas; even the one longer book (Deadlock) still comes in under 300 pages. She could have presumably called them “book” within a larger oeuvre, the way Ethel (Henry Handel) Richardson did her Fortunes of Richard Mahoney.

And here’s our calendar for the first two books:

For Sunday

June 23rd, Pilgrimage 1, “Introduction” and “Foreword” (by Allen & DRichardson)
July 1st, _Pointed Roofs, Chapters 1-4
July 8th, Pointed Roofs, Chapters 5-8
July 15th, Pointed Roofs, Chapters 9-12
July 22nd, Backwater, Chapters 1-5
July 29th, Backwater, Chapters 6-10
Aug 5th, Honeycomb, Chapters 1-4
Aug 12th Honeycomb, Chapters 5-8
Aug 19th, Honeycomb, Chapters 9-11

One week break

Sept 2nd, Pilgrimage 2, “Introduction” (by Gillian H. Hanscombe)
Sept 9th, The Tunnel, Chapters 1-5
Sept 16th, The Tunnel, Chapters 6-10
Sept 23rd, The Tunnel, Chapters 11-15
Sept 30, The Tunnel, Chapters 16-20
Oct 7th, The Tunnel, Chapters 21-25
Oct 14th, The Tunnel, Chapters 26-30
Oct 21st, The Tunnel, Chapters 30-32
Oct 28th, Interim, Chapters 1-4,
Nov 4th, Interim, Chapters 5-8
Nov 11th, Interim, Chapters 9-11

The above is intended to be a ball park map. Basically everyone has a month to read Pointed Roofs and anything on Richardson you care to to begin to contextualize; Backwater is two weeks, and then Honeycomb three weeks. After a week break (and people go away for August: I will be away myself the 10th to the 17th in August), we have a month and one half for The Tunnel, and three weeks for Interim. Read at your own speed; half way through each book (except for Backwater), I’ll declare “spoilers off” (we don’t usually use this ugly cheapening phrase for our reading experience, but it’s handy) and then whoever wants to can discuss the book as a whole. I’ve started Gloria Fromm’s literary biography, Dorothy Richardson, and I recommend it strongly. Pilgrimage is highly autobiographical, and yet Miriam Henderson is not Dorothy Richardson.

I’ve now managed to put our new calendar on my website. I’ve added an appropriate cheerful (I hope others like it too) picture of Cornwall by Laura Knight: Summertime, Cornwall, 1917, which seems to me to be perfect for the era. Two women friends sit on a rock and look out to see, one reads what is perhaps a guide book of some sort, the other is talking, lapping up the sun.

I did notice one thing about the pagination (the numbers of pages in each chapter) and the chapters too. It’s all highly uneven. Some chapters very long and others very short. I don’t think this is sheer artistry. Rather it shows distress and her not being certain she would have a publisher. The only other many volume work I’ve read in recent years and remember is Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time. His novels are nothing if not artistic. His chapters and books are of uniform length—as are Trollope’s and lots of professional writers. Editors tell you they want so many pages and that’s it. Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and to some extent Pride and Prejudice show uneven chapters: why? they are revisions (the first was an epistolary novel) and cut (P&P was much longer, and was “lopped and chopped” much), and she didn’t know she could publish them and had no editor to please by even chapters.

I think the unevenness as I look at it also shows considerable distress as well as deep reverie—where what you write is not aimed at conventional selling of yourself. That makes me want to read the books all the more.

Here is another of my poems from Vittoria Colonna, Per cagion d’un profondo alto pensiero:

By losing myself in a deepening
dream my lovely wanderer is always
with me. I bear him carved into my heart,
as vivid as if he were really here.
On the gentle breath of his radiance
like a bird my ecstatic spirit flies
high to Paradise, far from this world, free
from mortal cares, moving lightly at last.
A scissors cut the single noble thread
which twisted our lives into one; he’s gone
and the life I lived through him is vanished.
He who was everything to me is now
with God—but I know a luminous peace,
waiting, reason suspended, in a dream.


Posted by: Ellen

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  1. From Kathy:

    “Richardson’s Pointed Roofs (the first novel in Volume I) is available at Gutenberg. The University of Illinois also published a paperback reprint of the Virago edition of Pilgrimage I (available at Amazon, starting at $7.95).”
    Elinor    Jun 17, 10:25am    #
  2. I was reading in Alison Light’s Forever England, a study of women writers of the 1930s who are neglected or dissed as second rate to the “great males” (like Orwell, Graham Greene); these include Ivy Compton-Burnett, Dorothy Sayers, Jan Struthers (Mrs Miniver), Daphne DuMaurier, Rosamund Lehmann.

    It struck me that Dorothy Richardson should not be considered a “freak” case apart, or a female Proust, but that she fits very well into the perspective Light conjures up.

    I’m thinking Richardson’s problem has been she has been wrongly categorized because the woman-centered outlook of Light had not been invented in her period (Woolf had tried, but had been slammed by the treacherous likes of Q. D. Leavis), and has not penetrated our culture very much still.

    The picture on the cover (a Laura Knight), the poems cited, much much seems to be relevant to Dorothy Richardson, and especially the element of Englishness—for Richardson though perhaps pernicious instead of ever-so-beautiful and melancholy and restful as in Miniver and Sayers and (on the surface) DuMaurier.

    Elinor    Jun 17, 10:28am    #
  3. Kathy writes of her popular library editions of Pilgrimage:

    “Yes, but I felt very lucky to find the Popular Library paperbacks in a bookstore. Popular Library seems to have marketed them as romances. I’m sure an editor loved writing this description on the first page of Pilgramage 3: “DEADLOCK, in which Miriam Henderson plunges into an affair with a man of an alien race, an alien faith, surrendering her body, and fearful of losing her identity itself when she discovers what marriage to her lover would mean … ”

    The above is at once absurd, a caricature of what is still presented as women’s helpless erotic enthrallment in intelligent books or texts (e.g., Munro’s “Passion”), and thus literally sickening (it sickens the culture it unconsciously parodies).

    When I was in my mid-teens, the only bookstores I could find in my local neighborhood were speciality expensive small stores owned individually, and these were few and far between. The big blockbuster kind of store we find in so many neighborhood in the US (UK too) and perhaps Canada nowadays (and I saw in Paris) did not exist. To get to a large store with modern offerings in NYC you had to go to Manhattan or a central part of the borough where there were many large stores. Locally there were simpy racks of books in what were called drugstores—such stores were everything stores, where you could also buy cosmetics, housewares, and not very large.

    What was marketed to women and men were formulaic books and known classics. It was there I first bought my first copy of Mansfield Park, a popular library for 40 cents where I was told it was a “rollicking comedy,” and my first copy of Jane Eyre and Rebecca. No there was no author anything like Atwood anywhere about, all I had was what the distributor’s chain thought romance. These Dorothy Richardson volumes I have strike me as just the sort of thing I’d see then. One I got some time ago (the second since we had the election) and that first one has the price as part of the cover #8212;that’s what was once done (before quick inflation). So it’s listed as $1.95. I probably paid $1.00 at the Northern Virginia Booksale for that; it would have been 40 cents in the mid-1960s. My other copy bought on the Net for less than $6 with postage has a $2.95 price on the cover.

    I don’t watch TV but imagine daily images of women are to be seen on nightly shows which look like the women pictured on these Pop Lib covers.

    It’s no wonder Richardson fell out of print when she was marketed this way. She does belong to the Virago milieu of say Margaret Kennedy and Winnifred Holtby.

    Elinor    Jun 20, 10:30pm    #

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