Richardson, Dorothy (1873–1957)

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Richardson, Dorothy (1873–1957)

English writer associated with the development of modern psychological fiction who wrote Pilgrimage, a work of autobiographical fiction consisting of 13 novels, or "chapter-volumes," published between 1915 and 1938. Name variations: Dorothy M. Richardson; Mrs. Alan Odle. Born Dorothy Miller Richardson on May 17, 1873, in Abington, Berkshire, England; died on June 17, 1957, at a nursing home at Beckenham in Kent; third child of Charles Richardson (a successful merchant of wine and provisions turned "gentleman") and Mary Miller (Taylor) Richardson; educated at home and in various private schools, including Southwest London College; married Alan Odle (an artist), in 1917 (died 1948).

Raised with three sisters in the comparative luxury afforded by her father's upward social mobility; educated by a governess and in private schools until reversals in the family fortunes resulted in her acceptance of a teaching position in Germany (1891); returned to England after six months to teach at a private school; after father's bankruptcy (1893), took a position as governess in London's West End; began a career as a dental assistant-receptionist-secretary in London (1896–1908); also began an association with H.G. Wells that developed into a brief affair and remained a longterm friendship; at his suggestion, began to write essays and reviews for journals; supplemented meager income by translating; published first book, The Quakers Past and Present, and an anthology, Gleanings from the Works of George Fox (1914); published Pointed Roofs, her first novel and the beginning of the extended work that would become Pilgrimage (1915); continued writing individual novels or "chapter-volumes" in ongoing series, along with other writing and translations (1916–38), culminating in the publication of Pilgrimage in four volumes (1938); began a 13th part of Pilgrimage entitled March Moonlight (1944).

Major writings:

Pilgrimage (four volumes, 1938); (individual "chapter-volumes") Pointed Roofs (1915), Backwater (1916), Honeycomb (1917), The Tunnel and Interim (1919), Deadlock (1921), Revolving Lights (1923), The Trap (1925), Oberland (1927), Dawn's Left Hand (1931), Clear Horizon (1935). Dimple Hill, not published separately, was included in the 1938 four-volume "omnibus" edition of Pilgrimage; March Moonlight, unfinished and previously unpublished, was included in the 1967 reissue of Pilgrimage.

Dorothy Richardson devoted her creative life to a single project: a work of fictionalized autobiography that would capture with truth, completeness, and reality the life story of her heroine Miriam Henderson. Miriam's narrative, like Dorothy Richardson's, is the record of her quest to understand her unique and unfolding identity and her relationship to the people, circumstances, and events of the world she inhabits. Richardson pursued this project, begun in 1912 when she was 39, with a singular consistency of purpose until incapacitated by the illnesses that led to her death in 1957. The result, a novel in 13 parts entitled Pilgrimage, embodies the inevitable difficulties of such an undertaking. In its attempt to be a truthful and complete representation of the consciousness of its main character's developing interior life, the work lacks the resolution and closure traditionally associated with the novel form. While adhering strictly to Richardson's conception of experience and reality as essentially subjective and timeless, the novel nonetheless provides a detailed and objective historical record of the time, locales, intellectual and cultural milieus, and pervasive moods that characterize the external world through which Miriam Henderson journeys in her quest for an intense personal vision that will finally be transcendent. As a novel consciously informed by an aesthetic of truth to inner experience, it exposes the often problematic and unsatisfying qualities of fiction that attempts to erase the boundaries between life and art. Perhaps most important, the very consistency with which Richardson maintains her technique in representing the perspective of the single, subjective consciousness of Miriam over a period of some 23 years unfortunately demonstrates how an initially revolutionary technique can become conventional before exhausting its chosen subject matter in a 2,000 page, four-volume novel. Such difficulties account to some extent for the history of Dorothy Richardson's critical reputation as a novelist. Originally praised for her innovation in rendering interior states of mind and feeling, she later lost critical esteem as her technique was surpassed by the virtuosity of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf . More recently, Pilgrimage has been revalued for its significance as a historical and cultural document.

The subject matter of Richardson's novel is essentially autobiographical. Miriam Henderson's life clearly reflects the life of Richardson, whose inner world seemed to expand and deepen as external circumstances narrowed her choices and increased her material difficulties. The third of four daughters of Charles Richardson and Mary Taylor Richardson , Dorothy Miller Richardson disappointed her father by not being born the male heir he had hoped for. Charles had inherited a successful family business from his father Thomas, a grocer and wine merchant in Abington near Oxford. Within a year of her birth, Thomas Richardson died and Charles inherited £8,000, which enabled him to advance his social status by selling out the business and establishing himself as a member of the newly prosperous middle class. Using his income and leisure to pursue his interests in the arts and sciences, he scrupulously avoided further social contact with those involved in "trade" and was for a while able to provide his family with a comfortable home cared for by a staff of servants, private schooling, frequent vacations to the sea, and time to pursue personal interests.

Wells, Catherine (d. 1927)

English author. Name variations: Amy Catherine Robbins. Born Amy Catherine Robbins; died in 1927; married H.G. Wells (English novelist, sociological writer, and historian), in 1895; children: George Philip Wells (b. 1901); Frank Wells (b. 1903).

Catherine Wells was 20 years old when she enrolled in a biology laboratory being taught by H.G. Wells at University Tutorial College in London in 1892. Just a year later, at the end of 1893, Wells left his first wife Isabel Mary Wells and eloped with Catherine, whom he always called Jane. The two lived together without benefit of clergy (being evicted several times by landlords outraged by their immoral behavior) until Wells was divorced, and married in 1895. H.G. Wells was notoriously promiscuous with both long- and short-term partners, a fact of life which Catherine apparently accepted with equanimity, although sources also state that they ceased physical intimacy after the birth of their second son in 1903. Among his lovers during their marriage were Dorothy Richardson , Margaret Sanger , and Rebecca West , with whom he fathered one of his several out-of-wedlock children in 1914. When journalist Hedwig Verena Gatternigg attempted suicide in Catherine and H.G.'s home after arguing with him, Catherine took her to the hospital. The couple remained emotionally close throughout their marriage, although some have noted H.G.'s tendency, in his personal writings, to objectify her as the standard Victorian "angel of the home" (oddly enough, given the circumstances of their early years together). He once wrote of his wife, "She stuck to me so sturdily that in the end I stuck to myself. I do not know what I should have been without her." Catherine Wells died of cancer in 1927, after having suffered for some time. A year later, H.G. published her stories and poems in The Book of Catherine Wells.


Steffen-Fluhr, Nancy. "Paper Tiger: Women and H.G. Wells," in Science Fiction Studies. No. 37, vol. 12, part 3. November 1985.

As a child, Dorothy was early impressed by the intensity of her responses to the natural world, both in the garden of her home at Abington and at the seashore at Dawlish where the family spent holidays. During a financial setback in 1881, the Richardsons moved to Worthing on the Channel coast for reasons of economy and for Mary Richardson's health. Dorothy remembered this time of her childhood as unsettling and vaguely unhappy. When her father recovered financially in 1883 and moved the family to Putney, a fashionable suburb outside London, she recalled their new, luxurious home as a "continuous enchantment." She and her younger sister Jessie Richardson were taught at home by a governess for two years before enrolling in 1885 in Miss Sandell's "ladies school" (later Southwest London College), where Dorothy studied languages, mathematics, literature, science, logic, and psychology, and had the opportunity to develop her interest in music. The Richardson daughters were educated like most middle-class Victorian women who would never have to make their way independently in the world. Their mother, like many Victorian wives of her class, suffered frequent periods of depression during which she complained of the "uselessness" of her life.

Charles Richardson, in his role as paterfamilias, probably lived beyond his means and certainly speculated unwisely, for the family fortunes again began a downward turn in 1888, this time a decline from which they would not recover. Within two years, his daughters, who had enjoyed the social, cultural, and educational privileges that came with their father's elevated class standing, were forced to seek employment. At 17, Dorothy applied for a position as a pupil-teacher in Germany and left home early in 1891, accompanied by her father, to assume her duties as an English teacher in the province of Hanover.

This separation from her old life marked the beginning of Richardson's personal pilgrimage and became the impetus and subject matter for her life's work. Her experiences in Germany are recalled in Pointed Roofs, published in 1915, through the persona of Miriam Henderson, who begins her life's journey with a new Saratoga trunk, the emblem of the accumulated memories, feelings, and experiences she carries with her into an uncertain future.

The 14-year gap between Dorothy Richardson's experiences as a young woman first encountering the world as an independent agent and the retelling of those experiences through Miriam in the first "chapter-volume," as Richardson preferred to call the parts of her extended novel, marked a time of unsettling transition for England as well as for Richardson. With the end of the Victorian era, England witnessed the passing of its national stability, prosperity, and preeminence and faced its future with diminishing certainty, resources, confidence, and power. Richardson, returning to England after her six-month sojourn in Germany, faced the prospect of her father's impending bankruptcy by teaching first at a private school in Finsbury Park—a period recorded in her second chapter-volume, Backwater—then as a governess in London's West End—the basis of the third chapter-volume, Honeycomb. Late in 1895, she left her position to care for her mother, whose depression intensified as the family suffered increased financial strain and disintegration. Mary Richardson's suicide by slashing her throat with a kitchen knife while under Dorothy's care in 1895 marked for Richardson a final, violent severance from an almost idyllic past, a past that persisted nonetheless at the level of memory in a consciousness she perceived increasingly as moving fluidly between past and present time.

Thus the perspective Richardson brought to her first novel of a young woman's crossing a threshold toward independence and self-awareness had been shaped by the wrenching changes in her personal life and the history of her country and culture, as well as by an urgent desire to discover a source of meaning and value that would transcend loss and change. For this reason, her work has come to be appreciated in recent years as a record of a woman's perspective on English culture in the first part of the 20th century as well as for its innovative use of the "stream of consciousness," a term first used by William James but first applied by May Sinclair to a literary work, in her review of Richardson's Pointed Roofs.

[Dorothy Richardson] is one of the rare novelists who believe that the novel is so much alive that it actually grows.

—Virginia Woolf

Two significant changes in 1896 established new directions for Richardson's life. The first was leaving behind the confinement and conventionality of female roles associated with semigenteel employment as a teacher or governess to enter the modern world of work as a "new woman" of the turn of the century by becoming a dental assistant and secretary. She found a room of her own in an attic on the edge of Bloomsbury, where her growing sense of solitary independence would thrive despite the cramped material conditions she was to endure for many years. Her expanding spirit found more than ample social contact as she took London for a companion during this stage of her pilgrimage, attending lectures, sermons, and speeches, exploring new religious and philosophical ideas, and discovering groups devoted to personal and social renewal for the new century through socialism, anarchism, free love, feminism, vegetarianism, and a range of other reformist issues. The experiences of these years are recorded in The Tunnel, published in 1919.

The second important event of this period was her meeting with writer H.G. Wells, through a friendship reestablished with Amy Catherine Robbins (Catherine Wells ), a schoolmate of her former Putney years who was now married to Wells. From this association, Richardson expanded her acquaintance among literary and political groups and, inspired by new ideas and encouraged by Wells, began to consider the possibility of writing herself. She published her first article, "The Russian and His Book," in October 1902 in Outlook, which she described as an "obscure … anarchist monthly." She turned to freelance journalism and translation to supplement her barely livable income and to provide a break from the routine of her job, which she found increasingly stultifying. Her friendship with Wells and Amy deepened as she visited them in Kent, and they met her on frequent trips to London. Her relationship with Wells is represented in Pilgrimage through Miriam's relationship to Hypo G. Wilson, first in The Tunnel (1919), then in greater detail in Revolving Lights (1923) and Dawn's Left

Hand (1931). Richardson never denied the parallel of the explicitly intimate relationship depicted between Miriam Henderson and Hypo G. Wilson to her affair with Wells, which began in 1905. In fact, late in her life she told an interviewer her novel was "distinctly autobiographical. Hypo was Wells, Miriam in part myself."

The years from 1904 to 1912 proved to be stressful for Richardson as she continued to shape the unique consciousness that would become the subject of her work. As she met new friends, engaged new political and philosophical ideas, adopted new sexual views, and discovered her ability as a writer, the tensions of personal relationships and a changing lifestyle took their toll. Her friendship with Benjamin Grad, a Russian-Jewish immigrant whom she had known since her early days in London, became troubled when she could neither agree to marry him nor let him go. The fatigue and oppression of her work at the dentistry office were not relieved by a holiday in Switzerland, financed by her concerned employer in 1904. In 1905, she moved from her attic to share a room in Woburn Walk, across the street from a room occupied by W.B. Yeats, with a woman she had met at a women's club she had recently joined. In the same year, she began her brief sexual relationship with Wells, whose energy and vitality attracted her as much as his aggressive assertion of intellectual and personal dominance put her off. Later in the year, a young drama student and militant suffragist named Veronica Leslie-Jones , a resident at the women's club, became passionately infatuated with Dorothy, who was first flattered by her charm and affection but soon threatened by Leslie-Jones' need to absorb her cherished privacy through her possessive, demanding love. At the same time, Richardson had begun reviewing books regularly for her friend Charles Daniel's newly launched monthly, Crank: An Unconventional Magazine. After two years at Woburn Walk, she moved back to Endsleigh Street, where Veronica was living. As Richardson came to realize the impossibility of continuing her relationship with Wells, she discovered that she was pregnant. In the late spring or early summer of 1907, she had a miscarriage. By August, months of emotional turmoil moved toward resolution when Benjamin Grad and Veronica, at Dorothy's suggestion and to her relief, became engaged and Dorothy had disentangled herself from the liaison with Wells. She took a leave from the dental office to recover physically and emotionally in Sussex. Her initiation as an independent woman into the modern world represented by her ten years in London was complete.

In Sussex, Richardson discovered a new dimension of herself as a writer. Although she continued to write reviews for Daniel's magazine, she also felt a need to speak of her own perception and experience. After returning briefly to London for Veronica and Benjamin's wedding, she left to spend the winter in Switzerland, where she wrote the first of a series of articles (she called them "middles") to be published by the Saturday Review. These pieces, falling somewhere between descriptive sketches and personal narratives, foreshadow the autobiographical fiction of Pilgrimage.

Upon her return to England in the spring of 1908, Richardson fell ill with influenza and stayed with her sister. During her recuperation, she resigned from the dental office and went to live with a family of Quakers on their farm in Sussex. For the next three years, she lived quietly, reading, writing, picking strawberries, traveling to the market with the farm's produce, and finding serenity and spiritual renewal in the rhythms of nature and the simple, reverent life of the Quakers. During this time, she was exploring her interior life—the memories, feelings, and thoughts that would shape the book she needed to write.

In 1912, she went with novelist J.D. Beresford and his wife Evelyn Roskams Beresford to spend the spring in Cornwall and stayed on alone through the fall and winter, living on ten shillings a week. She returned to London early in 1913 with the manuscript of Pointed Roofs and took a room in St. John's Wood, then an artists' quarter. After showing her manuscript to Beresford and making some revisions, she sent it to a publisher. When it was rejected, she put it in a trunk and turned to several different kinds of writing. She wrote articles on dentistry for the Dental Record, sketches for the Saturday Review, and reviews for Plain Talk; she also translated works on nutrition and healthful living from French and German, began writing a book, The Quakers Past and Present, and collected materials for an anthology, Gleanings from the Works of George Fox, both of which were published in 1914. At age 40, she was determined to make her way as a writer.

In 1915, Richardson moved into an attic room at Queen's Terrace, St. John's Wood. In September, through the efforts of Beresford, Pointed Roofs was published by Duckworth, and Richardson promptly began work on Backwater, the second chapter-volume of Pilgrimage, based on her experience as a teacher at Finsbury Park after her return from Germany. At her new lodgings she met another tenant, Alan Odle, a very tall, very thin young artist whose pale face, pointed ears, long, graceful hands with pointed nails, and tattered but elegant black velvet coat gave him an almost otherworldly appearance. His black-and-white drawings of highly decorated, hectic crowd scenes filled with grotesque figures—often part human and part animal—shocked and then fascinated her. They reflected a sardonic, irreverent, often scatological view of human nature reminiscent of Hogarth and a satiric style similar to Aubrey Beardsley's. Odle looked more than eccentric, even among the artists and bohemians who frequented the famous Café Royal, where he spent most of his nights, coming back to his lodgings in the early morning hours. He took to having the breakfast provided for lodgers in the common room in the basement, where he ate in silence across the table from Richardson. In time, they began to talk, and Richardson was impressed by his intelligence, his politeness that verged on formality, and his wide reading, which included Pointed Roofs. Odle took little notice of his material conditions or his health, devoting himself entirely to his art. He lived on an allowance from his father and occasional fees he earned as an artist and illustrator, primarily for a magazine called The Gypsy, which caused a small stir by announcing in its initial issue, published in the midst of the Great War, that Art "was of more importance than the fate of nations." Moved to solicitude by his pale looks, a disturbing cough, and his seeming indifference to worldly concerns, Richardson encouraged him to be more attentive to his diet and health. Their friendship continued on a fairly formal basis. During the summer of 1916, while she was in the country working on Honeycomb, the third volume of Pilgrimage, Alan wrote to tell her of his conscription into the army and his reexamination by army doctors, who diagnosed him as consumptive, with perhaps six months to a year to live if he remained in London. Although a specialist Odle later consulted did not find lesions in either lung, the doctor was not confident about the state of Alan's health and recommended rest and good food, preferably in the country, a recommendation Alan felt he had not the means to follow. Richardson returned to London in July with her completed revisions of Honeycomb, and a month later, on August 29, married Alan Odle. She was 44 and he was 29, although she gave her age as 37. Apparently, Alan never knew her age through all the years of their marriage, although one suspects that it made not a bit of difference to him.

Shortly after their marriage, they established a pattern they would follow with little deviation for the next 20 years, until it was disrupted by the outbreak of World War II. The routine took them away from London's dampness to live frugally from fall through winter in the generally mild and bracing climate of Cornwall, where she wrote and he sketched on a daily schedule that included regular meals and walks along the cliffs; then during a short spring holiday in a rented Cornwall cottage with domestic help, they rested from work and housekeeping before returning for the summer to Alan's two rooms in Queen's Terrace, which were let out during the winter months. In London, they rode the buses, visited galleries, went to plays and films, and visited and entertained friends for tea in their rooms. In the ten years following their marriage, Richardson published six volumes of Pilgrimage, several short stories, reviews, poems, and essays. Her work received favorable critical notice in the context of the development of the psychological novel, and her narrative method of using Miriam Henderson's single central consciousness to capture and convey the subjective nature of time and reality linked her with Proust and Joyce, and later with Virginia Woolf, as a writer who was forging new directions for modern fiction. Interim, the fifth chapter-volume of Pilgrimage, was published in installments in the Little Review from June 1919 to January 1920, along with Joyce's Ulysses. Richardson was pleased and amused to share in Joyce's notoriety when the January issue was seized by the New York Post Office as obscene. She had established a small but loyal group of admiring readers and enjoyed a modest fame in literary circles, but was never a popular or commercial success. Alan Odle's recognition as an artist was similarly limited. He had a solo show of his drawings in London in 1919, published his illustrated Candide in 1922, and was part of a four-person exhibition of book illustrators in 1925.

Their routine was broken in 1924 when Dorothy and Alan spent the winter in Switzerland and ten days in Paris in the spring before returning to England. Between 1917 and 1927, Richardson had published seven chapter-volumes of Pilgrimage: Honeycomb, The Tunnel, Interim, Deadlock, Revolving Lights, The Trap, and Oberland, taking Miriam Henderson through experiences that closely paralleled her own from 1895 to 1904 and bringing her extended novel to nine volumes. Her first real "block" in writing Pilgrimage occurred in 1928 when she reached back to recreate the difficult and painful times she experienced in 1905 and 1906. Dawn's Left Hand, the volume that recounts her illness, fatigue, and near breakdown of this time, was not published until 1931. Exhausted and drained by her recreation of these painful memories, and under economic pressures, Richardson turned from her novel to undertake five book-length translations in the next three years. By the end of 1934, the strain of her work left her seriously ill. After her recovery in 1935, another chapter-volume, Clear Horizon, appeared. Under the assumption the work was now complete, J.M. Dent issued an "omnibus" edition of Pilgrimage in four volumes in 1938, including the previously unpublished Dimple Hill. Both Dent and Richardson hoped this edition would create a new audience that might not have read all of the individual volumes as they had come out since 1915 or had not been able to appreciate the work as a whole. They also hoped to restore flagging critical enthusiasm for Richardson's work. The edition did not meet their expectations, partly because the outbreak of World War II established a new national preoccupation and partly because Richardson's technique and subject matter no longer had the novelty and freshness of appeal they had had in 1915. The world had changed once more.

In 1939, Dorothy Richardson and Alan Odle spent their last summer in London. Amidst the chaos of the mobilization of troops and the relocation of women and children, they had a difficult time making travel arrangements to Cornwall, where they spent the duration of the war. As they became accepted as full-time residents of Cornwall, their routine now included sharing fears of invasion with neighbors, listening to war reports and Churchill's speeches on their wireless, and serving coffee and tea in their cottage to soldiers stationed in the village. Alan continued to work on illustrations for an edition of Rabelais; Dorothy continued writing. Between 1939 and 1946, she published a review of Finnegans Wake, three short stories, and three sections of March Moonlight, the final, unfinished chapter-volume of Pilgrimage. After Alan Odle died suddenly of apparent heart failure on February 14, 1948, she lived alone in Cornwall at Hillside, the cottage they had made their home since 1945. In 1952, illness and debility made living alone any longer impossible, and her sister-in-law, Rose Odle , arranged for her to live at the nearby Dunrovan Hotel until 1954, when she was moved to a nursing home in Kent where she died on June 17, 1957.


Blake, Caesar R. Dorothy Richardson. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1960.

Fromm, Gloria G. Dorothy Richardson: A Biography. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1994.

——. Windows on Modernism: Selected Letters of Dorothy Richardson. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1995.

Glikin, Gloria. "Dorothy M. Richardson: The Personal 'Pilgrimage,'" in PMLA. Vol. 78. December 1963, pp. 586–600.

Staley, Thomas F. Dorothy Richardson. Twayne's English Author Series. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1976.

Woolf, Virginia. Review of Dorothy Richardson's The Tunnel, in Times Literary Supplement. February 13, 1919.

suggested reading:

Richardson, Dorothy. Pilgrimage. 4 vols. NY: Knopf, 1967.

Patricia B. Heaman Ph.D., Professor of English, Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

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Richardson, Dorothy (1873–1957)

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