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Dorothy Richardson: Pilgrimage

This was Richardson’s lifetime work and tells the story of Richardson herself – in the form of Miriam Henderson. It is both a Bildungsroman and an example of stream of consciousness. While not stream of consciousness as used by Édouard Dujardin or James Joyce (in the Molly Bloom dialogue in Ulysses), where there is a continuous monologue from one character, the story in these thirteen novels represents the thoughts, impressions and feelings of Miriam Henderson rather than outlining any plot or developing characters. In fact, it comes across more as an impressionistic panorama of one woman’s feelings and journey through life, more than anything else. At the time this book was written, it was very experimental. The earlier novels predate both Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. However, it now appears far less experimental and seems much more conventional. This, in part, explains why it has been neglected and, though still in print in England, is not always considered a key text of English literature.

The novel sequence follows the career of a relatively independent young woman as she works at various teaching/governess jobs (first in Germany and then back in England), before becoming a dentist’s assistant and doing other similar clerical jobs. In the early books, virtually all of the major characters are women and there is a very conscious attempt to give the woman’s perspective. This is not to say that there aren’t any men. There is her father (who goes bankrupt), various suitors (whom she generally rejects) and other peripheral men, but they all hover on the edges. This changes somewhat when she meets Hypo Wilson (based on H G Wells with whom Richardson had an affair) but it is still clearly the women’s viewpoint that is all important. Indeed, Richardson herself said that she wanted to produce a feminine equivalent of the current masculine realism.

Her use of the impressionistic style coupled with the feminine equivalent of the current masculine realism as well as her discussion of many of the key issues of the day – from suffrage and Fabianism to the German question and Darwinism – make her writing a key modern text. It is a long slog through all thirteen books but not unrewarding.

Publishing history

First published 1915-1967 by Duckworth

[The thirteen volumes are: Pointed Roofs (1915); Backwater (1916); Honeycomb (1917); The Tunnel (1919); Interim (1919); Deadlock (1921); Revolving Lights (1923); The Trap (1925); Oberland (1927); Dawn’s Left Hand (1931); Clear Horizon (1935); Dimple Hill (1938); March Moonlight (1967)]