#AW80Books: ‘Pointed Roofs’ by Dorothy Richardson

I’m not sure whether it was Beyond Eden Rock or Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings that I first heard about the writer Dorothy Richardson and her series of thirteen novels collectively called Pilgrimage. Richardson was a contemporary of Virginia Woolf, and while both were forging new styles of writing, Woolf ‘s contribution to the modernist literary canon is universally acknowledged while Richardson has fallen into comparative obscurity.

Curious to discover her work for myself, I decided to try and read Pilgrimage over the year, roughly a book a month, so I promptly ordered a secondhand copy of the first volume which contains Pointed Roofs,  Backwater  and Honeycomb. As Pointed Roofs is set in Germany I’m including it in my armchair travels as part of our Around the World in 80 Books reading challenge, (You can see the other books we’re reading for that here).

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I was a huge fan of school stories growing up, and have read many of my favourites to my children over the years, so from the first few pages I knew I was in for a treat. Pointed Roofs (1915) sees Miriam Henderson having to leave home to take up a position as a teacher in a girls’ school in Germany due to the financial constraints on her family. Miriam has only just completed her own education, yet she is not only faced with the challenging prospect of an alien environment full of strangers and a different language, but as an inexperienced teacher, she also has the pressure to meet the expectations placed upon her by the severe Fraulein Pfaff. Richardson focuses her prose on the thoughts and experiences of Miriam, so we keenly feel the isolation and her feeling overwhelmed, unsure of the daily rituals expected of both pupils and teachers at the school.

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Dorothy Richardson

Despite her inexperience, Miriam manages to earn respect from her charges, but the rigidity of Fraulein Pfaff’s schedule and her strictness are a constant strain on her. On the occasions that this proves too much for Miriam, we see a fierce defiance, and I loved those sudden flashes of indignation. Miriam might feel out of her depth, due to her unfamiliar surroundings and inexperience, but she has an inner strength and resilience beyond her years.

Despite high expectations, Richardson’s prose did not disappoint. She writes with a beautiful fluidity, and captures Miriam’s internal voice with a lightness and natural ease, emphasising her isolation from both her surroundings and increasingly her employer. I’m so glad I’ve discovered this fine writer, and am looking forward to reading the second novel of the series, Backwater.

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