Finally breaking the ‘Deadlock’

With the summer holidays over, and my daughter having survived her first week of senior school, I have spent this week catching up on my woefully neglected year long challenge of reading Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage. So far, I’ve read Pointed Roofs, Backwater, Honeycomb, The Tunnel and Interim. Five down, eight to go. I was aiming at just over a volume a month, but that fell to the wayside over the summer, and the longer I left it, the more reluctant I felt to dive back into the mind of Miriam Henderson, and Richardson’s increasingly confusing stream of consciousness prose.  

As it turned out, I had nothing to fear from the sixth instalment of Richardson’s fictional memoir, Deadlock. The books increasingly dispense with a structured plot, following instead Miriam’s train of thought, which can be bewildering at times, and I had braced myself to have to tough it out, but I had forgotten the utter joy of Richardson’s lyrical prose, vividly painting the shifting moods and subtle nuances of Miriam’s interior life. In fact, it felt like the perfect match for me, finding myself alone with my thoughts for the first time in months.

At the beginning of Deadlock Miriam’s landlady, Mrs Bailey tells her that a Russian student who has recently moved in is looking for a tutor to help him improve his English. As Miriam had been a teacher before taking on her current clerical post in the dental practice, she has recommended her. The student, Mr Shatov, becomes a close friend, and they spend many happy hours grappling with the kind of philosophical questions that thus far, Miriam has often brooded about alone. They don’t always agree. When Miriam claims that fiction merely conveys the actions of people, revealing nothing of their inner thoughts and motivations, he encourages her to read Tolstoy, convinced this will change her mind.

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Over the course of the book, their relationship changes, and there is clearly an attraction and growing closeness between them. Miriam worries where this can lead, and ponders whether they can have any sort of future considering the differences between them namely sexual inequality and the issue of race – Mr Shatov is Jewish. The book was published in 1921,  but allowances for historical context aside, I felt really uncomfortable reading some of the casual anti-Semitism and racism that littered the text, especially knowing what followed. It made me think about the appalling racist outbursts here in the UK, post-referendum and the anti-Islamic prejudice that has been on the rise over the past decade. I wonder how these will be judged in years to come.

At the end of the book, Miriam visits a woman who has converted to Judaism, but the encounter is a depressing one, and while we don’t find out the fate of Miriam and Mr Shatov’s relationship, it doesn’t look good. Still, before I have to face the heartbreak, I’ll revel in the young lovers’ first kiss and those long romantic walks around London just a little longer.

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