I have written about Richardson’s work a couple of times before, both here, in relation to The Tunnel and in my other blog, Running Past, about the first volume of Pilgrimage, and particularly Pointed Roofs. Pilgrimage, is effectively a series of 13 autobiographical short novels which were published separately although were subsequently brought together in four volumes by Virago; they describe the life of Richardson’s thinly disguised fictional self, Miriam Henderson. The Interim is the fifth novel in the tridecology and sees Richardson’s fictional alter ego still in the lodging house in Bloomsbury, still working as a dental assistant.
If The Tunnel can be seen as a book about exploring London and exploring ideas, The Interim is perhaps more about exploring people – observing those passing through the lodging house where Miriam has an eyrie-like room in the eves, overlooking the roofs of the city. It is a masterclass in people-watching, perhaps only bettered by Patrick Hamilton’s ‘Slaves of Solitude’, written 25 years later in a very similar setting. Possibly a lodging house is a setting that ideally lends itself to the observation of others.
The focus on the people though doesn’t mean a move away from some sublime descriptions
Windows were being pushed open up and down the street. The new year changed to a soft moonlit breath stealing through the darkness, brimming over the faces at the doors and windows, touching their brows with fingers of dawn, sending fresh soothing healing fingers in amongst their hair. Eleven … twelve. Across the rushing scale of St Pancras bells came a fearful clangour. Bicycle bells, cab whistles, dinner bells, the banging of tea-trays and gongs. Of course. New Year. It must be a Bloomsbury custom. She had had her share in a Bloomsbury New Year. Rather jolly … rowdy; but jolly in that sort of way. She could hear the Baileys laughing and talking on their doorstep. A smooth firm foreign voice flung out a shapely little fragment of song. Miriam watched its outline. It repeated itself in her mind with the foreign voice and personality of the singer. She drew back into her room.
The Interim was published in 1920 but much of it was serialised the year before in the ‘Little Review’, an American journal which promoted modernist writing set up by Margaret Anderson with links to the likes of Ezra Pound. ‘Little Review’ had begun serialising ‘Ulysses’ in 1918 an continued until 1921 when the US Post Office refused to distribute, claiming it was obscene; there was a subsequent trial which found against ‘Ulysses’ and the ‘Little Review.’
It is apt that the work Richardson and Joyce appear side-by-side, both were ground breaking, but is seems strange that Richardson’s work has been largely forgotten – she deserves a much wider audience.