I’ve been having the most vivid dreams since I’ve been falling asleep to the voice of Miriam in my head for the past month. Alas, I’ve reached the end of the journey, the final volume containing the last five books of Pilgrimage. The volume starts off incredibly strong—I absolutely love the descriptions of Switzerland in Oberland, evoking memories of reading Mann’s Magic Mountain (1924), which was published three years before Oberland. In it, Miriam has saved up for a delightful trip, taking herself alone to Switzerland to a ski chalet, tobogganing down the snowy hills and chumming it up with her fellow travelers for a fortnight. She will continue to reminisce about the wonders of Oberland throughout the remaining books.
Dawn’s Left Hand details Miriam/Richardson’s affair with Hypo/HG Wells, kicked off by attending an opera with him and his wife, Miriam’s friend Alma. She continues working at the dentists’ office in Wimpole Street, has moved out of the shared rooms with Miss Holland and back into her boarding house with Mrs. Bailey on Tansley Street. “Whatever else awaited her at Tansley Street, these moments waited there. And daily moments of return to a solitude that whenever she crossed the threshold of her empty room ceased to be solitude.” She meets the French/Irish woman Amabel at the Lycurgan/Fabian society, and they both fall madly yet platonically in love with each other.
Miriam introduces Amabel to Michael, the Jew she refuses to marry, in Clear Horizon and they go on to marry in the later books. Amabel also gets deeply into the suffrage cause, participating in marches and getting jailed. Miriam also introduces Amabel to Hypo, and he whisks away with Miriam to her Donizetti coffee shop to focus attention solely on her. “His swift glance towards the next table revealed his everlasting awareness of neighbours-as-audience, and his search, even here, for a sympathetic witness of his tolerant endurance of a young person’s foolish remarks, or for escape into some interesting aspect of his surroundings.” Ah yes, I have also spent time with such a narcissist. As she begins the process of cutting loose from Hypo, she receives a letter that she wants to return to him.
But anything would have been better than responding, to his zestful sketch of himself, so thoroughly in the masculine tradition, and which any ‘sensible’ woman would indulgently accept and cherish, with something that had been dictated by a compensating complacent vision of herself as the Intimate Friend of a Great Man; but without the justification so amply supporting his complacency, without a single characteristic to qualify her for the role, or a sufficient background of hard-won culture to justify a claim to it. His rebuke, though addressed to a non-existent person, the meekly admiring follower he desired rather than an opponent facing the other way, was well earned. But his manner of administering it, insufferable.
At the end of Clear Horizon Miriam decides to cut all ties to London and her previous life. As she discusses this with Hypo, he mentions that she has ten years of material she could use in a dental novel.
‘You know, you’ve been extraordinarily lucky. You’ve had an extraordinarily rich life in that Wimpole Street of yours. You have in your hands material for a novel, a dental novel, a human novel, and, as a background, a complete period, a period of unprecedented expansion in all sorts of directions. You’ve seen the growth of dentistry from a form of crude torture to a highly elaborate and scientific and almost painless process. And in your outer world you’ve seen an almost ceaseless transformation, from the beginning of the safety bicycle to the arrival of the motor car and the aeroplane. With the coming of flying that period is ending and another begins. You ought to document your period.’
‘You’ve been a great chucker-up, I admire that. But I’m not sure that you’re being wise this time, Miriam. What are you going to do?’
Whence this strange prophecy? Nothing she had written or said could have suggested that she was going away for good. Even in her own mind the idea had risen only in the form of a question to be answered in the distant future, at the end of her reprieve that seemed endless.
‘Nothing. I’m going away.’
‘I don’t know.’
With that, she leaves her London life forever. Dimple Hill has her beginning her journey with the Broom sisters (Grace and Florence) but then settling in as a border with a Quaker family. “I realized one of the Quaker secrets. Living always remote, drawn away into the depths of the spirit, they see, all the time, freshly. A perpetual Sunday.” This book was completed in 1938, the final book Richardson would live to see completed. March Moonlight was cobbled together posthumously, a process I’m not entirely a fan of. This last book is a strange hodgepodge of rolling up bits from the past, and according to her biographer, it was written in sporadic bursts over the last few decades of her life while she was living hand to mouth with her poet husband, both sickly and struggling to make ends meet.
Now that I’m finished, I’d have to say that my favorite books were The Tunnel, Oberland, Dawn’s Left Hand, and Clear Horizon. As soon as she leaves London, the interest fades quickly. I’m immediately on the hunt to purchase this complete set, but find that it is nearly impossible to get. I think I heard rumblings of an annotated, scholarly version hitting the presses in a few years, and will probably wait to grab that for my next reading.