Starting Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage

For her achievement with the thirteen novels that make up Pilgrimage, Dorothy Richardson ought to be recognised as one of the world’s great novelists. Though I confess to only having read the first four in the sequence, I enjoyed them more than any other novel I’ve read. I don’t make the statement lightly.

By the end of her first novel, Pointed Roofs, I’d started to understand what Richardson was trying to do; as I concluded the third, Honeycomb, the originality and profundity of these novels left me with that feeling of new life that comes after immersion in an icy, dark, deep winter lake. For sustained immersion is what Richardson achieves, into the consciousness of her protagonist Miriam Henderson. In May Sinclair’s review of Pilgrimage, she applied, for the first time, the term stream-of-consciousness to a novel–though Richardson disliked the term.

Other novelists use similar techniques–Joyce, Woolf, Lispector–with differing degrees of effectiveness, but I’ve never been as convinced as I am with Pilgrimage that I am plunged into another’s consciousness, channeled through the pen of Richardson. This is what literature is for, at least for this reader, an opportunity, however brief, to meet the consciousness of another, momentary respite from our solipsism and isolation.

I’m likely to be reading Pilgrimage for some time, as these are not novels to be rushed. Richardson takes all sorts of liberties with time. You must be on your guard to get most of the essence of Miriam Henderson’s encounters with the world. Making sense of the world through the eyes of another is no less taxing than trying to understand people and situations oneself. But her writing is beautiful and exciting. The way Richardson describes the play of light in a room, the minutiae of everyday life, the fragmentary nature of her brushes with others offers a fresh, bracing perspective.

If you have opportunity and an interest, track down John Cowper Powys’s Dorothy M. Richardson. It is a forty-eight page celebration of depth, a fan’s deep and loving appreciation of Pilgrimage. At one time, I might have dismissed it as hyperbole but no more. To borrow from Constance Garnett’s Karamazov, the experience of reading Pilgrimage, so far, is not a matter of intellect or logic, though these novels have enough of both, it’s more about loving life–and literature–with one’s inside.

12 thoughts on “Starting Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage

  1. Once upon a time I found two volumes of her Pilgrimage at the British Council in Bucharest but have never been able to find the rest. So I read them out of order and without the complete immersive experience. You make me want to give it another go…

    • Dorothy Richardson considered it a book of thirteen chapters. Reading out of sequence is to lose a lot of the thrill of being immersed in Miriam Henderson’s intellectual and emotional development.

    • I didn’t find it difficult, at least not in the way that Woolf can be. Dorothy Richardson does the hard work by teaching you to read her work as you are reading. With each book you get more and more into what she is trying to do (and for the most part proceeding). Pointed Roofs takes a little initial perseverance because it starts a little like. Victorian family saga, but doesn’t take long to turn into something else.

  2. Congratulations. I hope you will find reading Pilgrimage as immersive and mind-changing an experience as I did. You can find my own posts on the experience here: http://neglectedbooks.com/?tag=pilgrimage, and those of Kate MacDonald, who was reading it at about the same time here: https://katemacdonald.net/category/authors/dorothy-richardson/. We capped it off with a dialogue you can find here: http://neglectedbooks.com/?p=4158. Frankly, after Pilgrimage, much of what I’ve read seems a little like moving from 3D to 2D. Richardson demands much of her reader, but it’s well worth the investment.

  3. Congratulations. I hope you will find reading Pilgrimage as immersive and mind-changing an experience as I did. You can find my own posts on the experience here: http://neglectedbooks.com/?tag=pilgrimage, and those of Kate MacDonald, who was reading it at about the same time here: https://katemacdonald.net/category/authors/dorothy-richardson/. We capped it off with a dialogue you can find here: http://neglectedbooks.com/?p=4158. Frankly, after Pilgrimage, much of what I’ve read seems a little like moving from 3D to 2D. Richardson demands much of her reader, but it’s well worth the investment.

    • Thanks for your comment. I couldn’t agree more about Pilgrimage. I’m already wondering what on earth will come close to this immersion. I enjoyed your dialogue with Kate MacDonald, and I’ll look forward to reading all the posts for when I’m finished. Your blog is an old favourite.

  4. I’m very interested in the Powys, because he was a favourite author of Iris Murdoch, who is my favourite author. I have yet to read one of his novels but think I should look out for his work on Richardson while she is still relatively fresh in my mind.

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