Conning over the store of ideas . . .

“The surrounding golden glow through which she would always escape into the recovery of certainty, warned her not to return upon the lecture. But she could not let all she had heard disappear unnoted, and postponed her onward rush, apologising for the moments about to be in spent in conning over the store of ideas. In an instant the glow had gone, miscarried like her private impressions of the evening. The objects about her grew clear; full of current associations; and she wondered as her mind moved back across the linked statements of the lecture, whether these were her proper concern, or yet another step upon a long pathway of transgression. She was grasping at incompatible things, sacrificing the bliss of her own uninfluenced life to the temptation of gathering things that had been offered by another mind. Things to which she had no right?”

Another rich passage from Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage, from the Revolving Lights chapter. I could quite easily spend a day contemplating, gathering associations and making notes on this paragraph alone.

Richardson uses language exquisitely, writing clear, poised sentences. Her use of language appears quite modern, but occasionally her word usage reminds that she was writing almost a hundred years ago. Who today would write that she was “conning over the store of ideas”? Almost lost is this use of con as to know or commit to memory. We are poorer without it, limited only to its slang: to swindle.

I’m also intrigued by the broad sweep of this passage, of the comparative worth of insight a person arrives at independently, compared to those “offered by another mind”

6 thoughts on “Conning over the store of ideas . . .

  1. ‘Her own uninfluenced life’ is good, too. I know what you mean about processing a densely written text; I’m doing it with a Charles Newman novel. Pilgrimage is still waiting expectantly on my shelf…Your posts are nudging me.


  2. You’ve never seen a swindle described as a con? Do you know of con used as to know or commit to memory? Pointed Roofs is so very different from where she takes this story.


  3. Hi Anthony — Just passing through and noticed your discussion of the homonyms “con” and “con.” 🙂

    The word Richardson uses in the phrase “conning over the store of ideas” comes from the Saxon word connan (OE, cunnan), which in turn comes from the Teutonic word Konnen, both of which mean to know, to study, to fix in the mind. You’ll find “con” (and sometimes “can”) often used this way in Chaucer, Spencer, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Burke and others; both forms (con and can) still appear in my Websters Unabridged 1913 dictionary. Today, we retain the present participle “cunning” as an adjective to mean “knowing” or “skillful.”

    However, the “con” that refers to a swindle is not related to Richardson’s conning. This “con” is an American English word, shortened from “confidence” as it was used in the mid-19th-century American English phrases “confidence trick,” “confidence game,” and “confidence man” (e.g., Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade). The shortened form con first appeared around the end of the 19th century.

    It sounds as if you’re very much enjoying Dorothy Richardson’s PIlgrimage! I’ll be sure to read your final impressions after you’ve read all the chapters.


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