Welcome Fun and Frolics in the Snow

In Oberland, the ninth book in Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage series, Miriam Henderson takes a fortnight’s trip to the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland. This holiday, arranged and paid for by her employer, proved to not only be a respite for Miriam, but for me too! Miriam’s enchantment at the breath-taking scenery left me exhilarated and longing for a snowy winter wonderland of my own (time to deliver, polar vortex!).

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Dorothy Richardson’s exquisite writing always makes the occasional wrangling required by the text worthwhile, and the descriptions in Oberland are no exception.

They were off, gliding swiftly over the snow, gay voices mingling with the sound of bells, silvery crashings going to the rhythm of a soundless trit-trot. Every moment her own horse threw up a spray of tinkles, promising the fairy crashing that would ring upon the air against the one now rapidly receding. The mountains frowning under the grey sky and the snowfields beyond the flattened expanse round the station came to life listening to the confidently receding bells….. the sleigh leapt to the pull of the horse, and glided smoothly off. Its movement was pure enchantment. No driving on earth could compare to this skimming along on hard snow to the bells that was higher than that of those gone on ahead and seemed to challenge them with an overtaking eagerness.

The tone of Oberland is very different from the previous few volumes, and I was quite relieved to be free from the angst of Miriam’s London life, at least for a little while. After an initial reluctance to participate in snow-related activities, Miriam begins to relax and it was lovely to find her embracing the fun of tobogganing and thoroughly enjoying herself in the process. While her limited financial means prevented her from learning to ski herself, she happily joined the fellow holiday-makers who were enjoying the spectacle of the ski-ing, tobogganing, as well as the more daring ski-jumpers.

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While Miriam’s mood had been clearly improved by the fresh air and scenery, her relaxation was not total. When she begins to form a friendship with another guest in the hotel, Mrs Harcourt, she has to grapple with her inner response to flee from an attachment being formed, so ingrained is her need for independence and solitude.

The warning voice was crying aloud now, urging her not only to escape before the treasures of arrival and of strangeness were lost beyond recovery, but to save also the past, disappeared round the corner, yet not out of sight but drawn closely together in the distance, a swiftly moving adventure, lit from point to point by the light in which to-day she had bathed forgetful.

Even a little talk, a little answering of questions, would falsify the past. set in her own and in this woman’s mind in a mould of verbal summarizings, it would hamper and stain the brightness of tomorrow.

She found herself hardening, seeking generalizations that would cool and alienate, and was beseiged by memories of women whom she had thus escaped. And of their swift revenge.

She might still struggle with social awkwardness, but she does form an attachment of sorts with the Italian Guerini, although she seems to be attracted by his continental otherness, and can’t contemplate the thought of him being in London. This could also be because she has left complications in London, with her relationship with Hypo, referred to in uncertain terms.

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Overall, I really enjoyed Oberland. It lacked the opacity of some of the other novels, and while I do enjoy many of Richardson’s descriptions of Miriam’s London flânerie, a holiday in the snow made a refreshing change of scene. I’m now feeling reinvigorated, and ready to crack on with the final novels in this magnificent series.

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