It was writing about Dorothy Richardson in my other blog that made me think about starting Unreliable Narratives. I had been attracted to Richardson via Louisa Treger’s excellent ‘The Lodger’ – a fictional retelling of part of the Richardson’s life, particularly her affair with HG Wells. The post in Running Past had looked at Richardson’s final Pointed Roofs in Beckenham, but was, in reality, an opportunity to write about Richardson’s fiction.
Dorothy Richardson is the almost forgotten pioneer of stream of consciousness writing in English, predating the internal monologues of Virginia Woolf in Mrs Dalloway (1925) and James Joyce’s Ulysses (serialised from 1918) by several years.
Pilgrimage, is effectively a series of 13 autobiographical short novels which were published separately, although were subsequently brought together in four volumes. They describe the life of Richardson’s thinly disguised alter-ego, Miriam Henderson.
‘The Tunnel’, part of the second volume of Pilgrimage, is the fourth in the triskaidecalogy (or tridecology, if you prefer) and is a real coming of age novel, both as an author and for her semi-fictionalised self. ‘The Tunnel’ marks a growing confidence from Richardson as a writer, a writer who has honed her skills in terms of her narrative style and in her description and is using them to explore ideas, explore her own consciousness, and to explore her new urban environment. There were hints of the former in the closing pages of the previous novel in the series, ‘Honeycomb.’
The coming of age as a person sees Miriam/Dorothy move from being a live-in governess to rich children to becoming a dental assistant on Harley Street, living in Bloomsbury lodgings. There is an explosion of new ideas and experiences from reading, from lectures, and from the people she meets – including a thinly disguised HG Wells. The novel explores her nascent feminism
They invent a legend to put the blame for the existence of humanity on woman and, if she wants to stop it, they talk about the wonders of civilisation and the sacred responsibilities of motherhood. They can’t have it both ways. They also say women are not logical.
The highlights for me, though, are the descriptions of the Edwardian central London which are really brought to life
The trees in Endsleigh Gardens came along, gently waving their budding branches in bright sunshine. The colour of the gardens was so intense that the sun must be going to set behind Euston station. The large houses moved steadily behind the gardens, in blocks, bright white, with large quiet streets opening their vistas in between the blocks, leading to green freshness and then safely on down into Soho. The long square came to an end. The shrub-trimmed base of St. Pancras church came heavily nearer and stopped. As Miriam got off the bus, she watched its great body in clear sharp outline against the blue. Its clock was booming the hour across the gardens though the houses and down into the squares. On this side its sound was broken up by the narrow roar of the Euston Road and the clamour coming right and left from the two stations.
It is a fantastic novel, beautifully written novel, one of my favourite’s using internal monologues.