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ELT 43 : 1 2000 Richardson's Pilgrimage Kristen Bluemel. Experimenting on the Borders of Modernism: Dorothy Richardson's "Pilgrimage". Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997. ix + 208 pp. $35.00 DOROTHY RICHARDSON'S thirteen-volume Pilgrimage offers a challenge to the reader of modernists texts. Clearly innovative in exploring the way a woman's mind approaches reality and perceives experience , Richardson's stream-of-consciousness narrative nevertheless taxes even the most willing scholar. While Richardson uses language gracefully and her narrator Miriam's insights range from keen to humorous , the experiment's length and wayward wandering confound most readers—whether conventional or theoretically emboldened. Kristen Bluemel's Experimenting on the Borders of Modernism: Dorothy Richardson's Pilgrimage parallels her subject's brilliance as well as a few of her shortcomings. Bluemel's book succeeds best in resurrecting Richardson's writing as important to modernism and feminism while knowledgeably exhibiting Richardson's profoundly provocative—even timely—subject matter. Certainly a feminist analysis as complete as Bluemel's is long overdue. The book is scholastically thorough and insightful . But the analysis is sometimes flawed by theoretical anomalies and uneven readings. Readers can certainly sympathize with Bluemel's difficulty with Richardson. A dental assistant and prolific writer, Richardson composed twelve volumes oÎPilgrimage from 1915-1938, and wrote a final one not published until after her death in 1957. And, Bluemel points out, the four volumes of pages nearly blot out any narrative presence so that we "read the novel as an unmediated encounter with the consciousness of its heroine." That pseudo-consciousness of Miriam Henderson, however, is shaped by Richardson's project to create "social form" as "literary form." Thus, the novels function simultaneously as cultural critique and the mind's recorded thought. The sheer weight of the effort to record history , social inequity, psychology, and alternate literary forms stifles any story or plot or intrigue. Bluemel acknowledges that Pilgrimage "makes readers feel helpless in the face of the text's supposedly intractable, failed experiments," but she feels readers too often dismiss Richardson because of their inability to read against conventional expectations. Perhaps . Undeniably, Richardson's early work preceded most of the experiments of Henry James, Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, and her work 96 BOOK REVIEWS has not received the critical attention it deserves. The book's four chapters follow a short introduction with the first chapter, "Reviewing the Case of Dorothy Richardson," providing the context and background needed for readers new to Richardson. Yet even acknowledging Bluemel 's thesis of the "importance of Pilgrimage's feminist contents, of the way its heroine is conscious of and rebels against the sex and gender codes that structure her late Victorian and Edwardian culture," readers may find Richardson's work seminal, significant, even prophetic—but rarely engaging enough to complete more than one or two of its volumes. Despite Bluemel's efforts to equate Richardson's talent with that of Joyce or Woolf, for example, Richardson remains on "the borders of modernism " for good reason. As Bluemel adeptly suggests : "Judging from the reactions of even Richardson's most enthusiastic critics, accumulated text does not translate into accumulated affection." Bluemel, however, uses many adept strategies to reintroduce Richardson into the modernist canon, reminding the reader by the thoroughness of her analysis that feminist critique and investigation are crucial to scholarship. Quoting large sections of Richardson's texts is one risk Bluemel takes that works remarkably well. Unlike many texts that readers can be assumed to know a great deal about, much of Richardson 's Pilgrimage remains unread by even diligent modernists. Bluemel chooses telling passages of a page or so in length, quotes them, and then analyzes them using various theoretical approaches. Chapter three, "Science, Class, and the Problem of the Body," is Bluemel 's most successful contribution to Richardson studies. Bluemel traces the "whirl of Miriam's contradictory emotions" concerning the way science treated the female body. Miriam's fascination with science and her loathing of male scientific practitioners who use "facts" to confirm the inferiority of the female body creates in her a self-identified misogyny . Miriam's recognition that "physicality is central, rather than irrelevant, to any consideration of women's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 96-100
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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