Saturday, 31 March 2012

Journey To Paradise - Dorothy Richardson

You might think anyone whose life’s work was invested in a massive novel of 2110 pages (each of the thirteen chapters a novel in itself) would have problems with the shorter form. Yet Dorothy Richardson’s genius with words seems to have known few bounds. This collection of short fiction and autobiographical sketches demonstrates just how accomplished she was at reducing whole worlds to a few pages without losing anything in the process.

The works clearly have a commonality with the much longer Pilgrimage series. Indeed, they offer an insight into aspects of Dorothy Richardson’s life before the opening of her first novel. Childhood, from the very earliest memories that often recur in Pilgrimage are here explored in detail. Sitting in the garden as a very young child; visits to relatives; the bliss of holidays by the sea.

Each is a delicately and subtly cut jewel that reflects all forms of light and changes as the perspective alters. What is even more amazing is that one of the earliest exponents of modernist literature is, to my mind at least, the best. Perhaps that is the enthusiasm of discovery, but much as I love Virginia Woolf (who has always held top place), I fear she must move over and make place on the top step of the podium for Dorothy Richardson.

Sadly this, and much of her other short work (not to mention her non-fiction) is difficult to come by. All power to Virago for ensuring Pilgrimage is available. Perhaps they should get this volume back into print as well as the perfect introduction to the work of a still neglected writer.