callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,

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Beating Woolf to it

In search of a light read, I picked Mary Stewart’s Stormy Petrel off the TBR shelf but put it down again after a few chapters because it is so incredibly boring. Take this:
‘Under one window was a modern sink and draining-board, with an electric water-heater fixed to the wall above it. Beside this stood the cooker, installed, apparently, by someone who did not trust the island’s electricity supply; it was a gas cooker, and had been placed there to be within easy reach of the cylinders of Calor gas that stood just outside the window…’
I’ve read enough estate agents’ descriptions lately, thank you, and if Katie Fforde had been describing this kitchen I would have read on, enthralled. Another gripe is that the heroine narrator is supposed to be twenty seven but sounds more like seventy seven. Not even the arrival of a tall dark stranger in the middle of the night could make me read on, so it was back to the shelf. Jodi Picoult? At least it would be a page turner. No, I went instead for something very different: Pilgrimage 1 by Dorothy Richardson, in the Virago edition, bought last weekend.

If I hadn’t bothered to read the introduction, I wouldn’t have thought this book particularly revolutionary, as it seems modern in style. In fact Pointed Roofs, the first book in the Pilgrimage trilogy, was published in 1915 and was the first English ‘stream of consciousness’ novel, ‘predating Joyce and Woolf’, according to Gill Hanscombe. Hanscombe claims it as a feminist novel; not politically but ‘in the more radical sense of insisting on the authority of a woman’s experience and world view’. Virginia Woolf, I read in Hermione Lee’s biography, was scathing of both Joyce and Richardson, seeing their books as self indulgent autobiography masquerading as fiction. The very fact that Woolf felt the need to read Richardson at all shows how important she was.

This first book deals with Miriam’s experiences as a young (seventeen!) Fräulein in a German school, after her father’s financial failure forces her to seek financial independence. So far I’m enjoying it although the endless descriptions of people’s faces are rather wearing. I was thinking of how I might describe my own friends: ‘very pretty’, ‘a Saga blonde’, ‘thin-faced and interesting looking’ and so on. I wouldn’t go around saying their eyes were like deep pools and I shouldn’t think they’d thank me for it. At least I’m still reading Pilgrimage.
Tags: dorothy richardson, feminist novels, mary stewart, vitginia woolf

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