A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
This began as a replacement Christmas present. The Fitbit-type gadget I got for Christmas failed to sync with my phone, contra its advertising. After much struggle we got the money back and I was left with a mission: what retrospective present would I like my husband to buy me, since I was now abjuring all gadgets forever? I went to my favourite Brussels antiquarian bookshop to see, and returned with the four-volume 1938 Cresset Press edition of Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage crammed into the basket of my bike, a very 1930s start to 2016.
Pilgrimage is one of the great modernist novels that no-one ever reads because it’s so long. It consists of 13 books, and I now own twelve of them. The thirteenth was published after 1938, so I’ve borrowed that from a blogging friend, Brad Bigelow of The Neglected Books page, because he lives in Brussels too, and is also reading Pilgrimage. Is there something here in the beer? It’s remarkable that two ex pats in a non-anglophone city were both reading this sequence of novels at the same time, given how obscure they are (books and bloggers), but that’s a private hobby that we share: reading, and blogging about, the books that time and publishers have forgotten. Pilgrimage isn’t truly forgotten, in the sense that it exists in all literary histories, is mentioned in English literature survey books and in lectures, but no-one ever teaches, it, reads it, or talks about it casually as they might mention reading an Elizabeth Bowen or a Stella Benson. It’s not even in print any longer. Dorothy Richardson’s monomania for writing about the interior life and thoughts of her alter ego Miriam Henderson, former schoolteacher and book reviewer, describing her life from the 1890s until 1910, has rather repelled republication since the Virago edition, until now. The Dorothy Richardson project is getting up steam, its website has been revamped, and new scholarly editions are on line for publication up until the end of the decade. This is all good. But what about the ordinary reader, who might want to pick up a bit of Pilgrimage from the library and see what it’s like? That’s who Brad and I have been writing for.
I hauled myself through these thirteen books, getting through some of them faster than others. Brad and I had a long conversation on email about our respective reading experiences, and we proceeded to blog. This week I’m posting the remaining reviews every day, partly to create an intense Dorothy Richardson festival on my site, and partly to clear the decks so I can get back to reading science fiction. I enjoyed the entire reading experience, though some parts were definitely slower and harder work than others. Reading Pilgrimage immerses you in the 1890s, in what it was like to be a New Woman, to live alone and work independently in London, with all the fun, terrors, peculiarities and loneliness that implies. Miriam loves London, and London loves her.
Start reading what I thought about each volume of Pilgrimage with Pointed Roofs, and follow the links to the next volume at the end of each blog post. The last one will be posted on Friday 20 May.