‘Can’t you see I’m so Trapped….’
Having just finished The Trap (1925), the eighth book in Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage series, I’ve finally moved onto the fourth and final volume. The end is in sight, and I just might the whole series finished before the year is out as I’d planned – hooray! My experience of the Pilgrimage novels thus far has led me to accept that along with the keen observation and passages of luminous prose, I’ll sometimes feel frustrated by the opacity of the text and won’t have a clue what’s going on, only to then be unexpectedly stopped in my tracks by crystalline moments of stunning beauty. Reading Richardson always leaves me in contemplative mood, inspired by the questions that Miriam’s own brooding, and while her use of stream of consciousness writing might sometimes leave me in the dark, her writing is always exquisite.
The Trap was no exception. Miriam moves into shared accommodation, and as her new home is too cramped to entertain, she meets with friends in a local club. We learn of her new neighbours through Miriam’s weekly visits to pay the rent to the landlord, the noisy and volatile couple downstairs, and even her glimpse of W.B. Yeats, who lives across the courtyard. There is the suggestion of a growing connection between her and Dr Densley, but Miriam still fears the entrapment of marriage. At the end of the novel, she is devastated to wave off her sister Harriet, and family as they embark on a move to Canada.
When, at the very beginning, I discovered that Miriam would be sharing a room with Miss Holland with only a curtain divider for privacy I was alarmed for her. Having spent seven novels inside Miriam’s head, I knew her need for solitude would make these living arrangements a struggle. However, it was this part of the novel that struck me most powerfully. Richardson’s observations on how being alone in a shared space can feel alienating was something I’d never really considered before, yet rang true from my own experience. A shared space is not fully ours to feel at home in, and the aching absence of the other inhabitant makes one feel a loneliness that one would never feel if one lived alone.
The stillness was absolute. New in her experience and disquieting. Her old room had always greeted her. Had been full at once with the sound and colour of her life.
This stillness was impermeable. Wrapped within it, the rooms disowned her. Maliciously, now that they had her to themselves, they announced the fact behind the charms of the week of settling in. Bereavement. Not only of her self, left behind irrevocably in the old room, but also, now that she surveyed it undisturbed by Miss Holland’s supporting presence, of the bright motley of her outside life. Everything had thinned, was going thinly forward without depth of background. Against these ancient rooms she was powerless.
If she were living alone in them? She imagined herself living alone in them, and at once the tide of her life began to rise and flow out and change them. They dropped their ancient preoccupations and turned friendly faces towards her, promising welfare.
But as long as she stayed in them accompanied they would acquire no depth. Their depth was the level of her relationship to Miss Holland. Without her she was lost in them, a moving form whose sounds impinged less surely upon their stillness than the sounds of the mice scampering over the attic floor.
I’m looking forward to starting volume 4 of Pilgrimage, as I believe Oberland (book 9) is set in Switzerland. After the catastrophe of shared living with Miss Holland, I think Miriam could really do with a change of scene!