- Richardson, Myth & Tarot
This New Monograph on Dorothy Richardson's great prose work, Pilgrimage, is almost two books, one introductory in nature, the other more original but because original, more controversial. The introductory material is excellent. The reading of Pilgrimage interprets it as a text founded on myths and archetypes. There is a six-page, but detailed, biography of Richardson, something that is particularly useful for an author who is less well known than she should be. The first [End Page 118] substantial chapter provides a succinct account of Richardson's work in the context of Anglophone modernism after 1918. If perhaps too homogenous a version of the modernists is given here, the chapter nonetheless adds to the picture now being reconstructed in other critical texts that shows Richardson to have been at the centre of the new literatures emerging in the post–First World War years. In the following chapter Díaz offers a comprehensive account of the formal innovations deployed in Pilgrimage, citing their sources and parallels in contemporary writers. Again a clear introduction to the text's formal properties is achieved, although the table at the end listing those properties is rather daunting for those not versed in such a systematic version of formal criticism. A welcome element here is Díaz's consistent comparison of Pilgrimage with À la recherche du temps perdu. Richardson read Proust eagerly as soon as she was introduced to his work in the early 1920s and there is still more to do in tracking the relationship between the two texts. A short section on Richardson's use of cinematic techniques completes a helpful synthesis of the growing body of Richardson criticism.
In the second half of the book Díaz attempts a mythical analysis of Pilgrimage, making the claim that in common with Ulysses and The Waste Land, Richardson's text has a mythic structure. The first issue this raises is the question of whether every modernist uses myth in the same way. For example, one key difference between Richardson and Joyce is that the mythic structure of Ulysses (as well as of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) is overt, whereas Pilgrimage makes no direct reference to an ancient foundational text. However, given the importance of parody to Joyce's work it is probably also important to stress the degree of distance he sets between Bloom and Odysseus and between the modern(ist) text and myth. If we also add to the mix Adorno and Horkheimer's insight in Dialectic of the Enlightenment that Odysseus is the first character to step out of the mythic world and create a clear line between nature and culture, it starts to become clear that to say that some modernists used mythic intertexts is more of a starting point than a conclusion. Eliot, for example, seems to yearn for the lost unity of the mythic structure. For Joyce, on the other hand, myth is sometimes just a useful container to show how language overflows any predefined limits.
Richardson makes no direct reference to a mythic ur-text, although her heroine, Miriam Henderson, shares a name with one of the few women in the Old Testament who had the power to prophesy. Miriam, [End Page 119] the sister of Moses, was also a poet; but Pilgrimage is such a dense web of literary allusions—many of which we are still discovering—that this does not necessarily signify any systemic purpose. In the absence of a founding mythic text, Díaz looks instead to some of the more universalising mythic systems. Jungian archetypes have had perhaps the most respectable hearing in literary criticism, but Díaz's most startling suggestion is that the archetypes found on Tarot cards provide the key to the structure of Pilgrimage, startling because Tarot cards have none of Jung's claim to science. They belong much more firmly in the realm of countercultural and, historically, nineteenth-century counter-Enlightenment traditions.
This is a world in which Richardson was also at home...