Feature: Portrait – Dorothy Richardson

Depending on the literary circles you find yourself in you may or may not have heard of Dorothy Richardson, but I’ll hazard the guess that most of you haven’t read her.

Dorothy was born in Abingdon on May 17th, 1873. Before her 23rd birthday she had lost her mother to suicide and her father went bankrupt – young Dorothy moved to Bloomsbury to work as receptionist and assistant in a dental office. During the next decade she associated with several writers, european exiles and political radicals – including the Bloomsbury group – becoming a supporter of feminism, socialism and vegetarianism. During this time she had a brief affair with H. G. Wells, getting pregnant by him and suffering a miscarriage. This seemingly gave her the final push toward becoming a writer, and between 1908 and 1914 she published several reviews, essays and journalistic pieces in the Saturday Review, as well as two books on the Quaker movement.

In 1915 she published Pointed Roofs, the first part of her literary masterpiece The Pilgrimage, and became one of a very small group of authors – along with Proust, Joyce, Woolf and Faulkner – who forever changed the literary scene by creating modernist literature.

Richardson’s The Pilgrimage was the first literary work to be described as stream of consciousness writing – though the author herself objected to the term, preferring to call it “inner monologue'”, and even said her work wasn’t a novel at all. In 1923, Virginia Woolf said that Richardson “has invented, or, if she has not invented, developed and applied to her own uses, a sentence which we might call the psychological sentence of the feminine gender.” and today The Pilgrimage is considered a feminist classic as well as one of the first modernist novels.

The semi-biographical work spans 13 novel-length parts, published with decreasing frequency from 1915 until 1967, when the final unfinished part she had been working on up before her death was published. It features a protagonist (modeled after Richardson herself) uncomfortable with the established femininity of nineteen century England, who explores the city whilst also crafting her own identity somewhere between the feminine and masculine, using the posibilities offered by the big city to further her cause.

For years, Richardson supported both herself and her husband, Alan Odle – a bohemian artist 15 years younger than her – mainly on freelance work for periodicals.

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