Should I stay or should I go now?

As the end of the year approaches, I’m finally picking up speed on Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage, and have now finished the tenth book of the thirteen in the series, Dawn’s Left Hand.  With three books to go and a month and a half to read them in, it’s looking more likely that I just might do it.

Since her trip to Switzerland (Oberland), Miriam has returned home with a decided spring in her step. First off, she visits Mr Densley, a former mild love interest, who, with cringing awkwardness asks her to marry him in a round about way. Having let him down gently but firmly, she visits her great friends Alma and Hypo. Over dinner, she expounds on her current preoccupation – language and pronunciation. As well as the keen observation I’ve now come to expect from Dorothy Richardson, some of the passages had me roaring with laughter.

“Tooo, men-ny, eye-erns, in the fy-er. Incessant chin-wagging. Jaws moving round like grindstones. Toom-ny ahns in’th’fah. Just two small snaps”…… the genteel middle classes turn the ugly “i” into “e” or “a”: “refined” becomes “refaned” or “refeened.” … And they, too, jib at “a.” “Diana, where is your black hat?” becomes “Di-enna, where is your bleck het?”…. The only people who preserve the native hideousness of the English “i” and “a” are the cultured middle classes, academics, and all those who don’t care what happens to their faces while they speak so long as their speech is what they imagine to be correct.

Miriam’s time away seems to have brought her to a decision over how to proceed with Hypo. Until now, their relationship has been platonic, although he has had other lovers throughout his marriage, and there has always been the suggestion that their relationship might head that way. Miriam realises that the distance between them will not be breached by their affair – she believes that is solely down to his being and thinking as a man who underestimates her capacity as she is a woman, and worries that an affair with him, will reduce her to being one just another of his acolytes. However, for better or worse, she goes ahead, and meanwhile, Alma plays the perfect hostess and pretends not to notice.

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If this wasn’t enough excitement for one book, Miriam has another admirer. She meets a young woman called Amabel at her club and feels strongly attracted to her. Amabel believes that men cannot understand women, so there can be no real intimacy between them as there can be between women. Their deep connection throws Miriam into a quandary, having already decided to take her relationship with Hypo further. And if she was in any doubt about where Amabel’s affections lay, she comes to her house and leaves her a message.

She became aware of her framed mirror on the wall behind her…. the glass was not clear. Across her face, that should have shown in the reflected candle-light, was some kind of cloudy blur. Holding up the candle she found lettering, large and twirly, thickly outlined as if made with chalk or moist putty, moving with a downward slope across the centre of the strip of glass… ‘I love you,’ it said.

Like buses, lovers seem to arrive all at once in Dawn’s Left Hand, but by the end of the book, Densley has been dumped, Miriam’s having second thoughts about her affair with Hypo, but putting her misgivings aside for now, and we’re yet to find out what happens to Amabel. I have a feeling that we’ve not seen the last of her yet!

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