Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Dorothy Richardson and William Hurrell Mallock

My intuition about the relative unimportance of the tracing of incident for a deep reading of Pilgrimage (key of Miriam) was borne out by a passage which I came across today. To set the scene: Miriam is in her room reading a book called A Human Document: A Novel no author mentioned. It is by William Hurrell Mallock and was published in 1892. There’s a copy of it on Internet Archive (all 3 Volumes) as well as his most famous book The New Republic which Ronald Knox considered essential reading. Interesting chap - Mallock
Anyway Miriam is reading:

She sat long that night over her fire dipping into the strange book, reading passages here and there ; feeling them come nearer to her than anything she had read before. She knew at once that she did not want to read the book through; that it was what people called a tragedy, that the author had deliberately made it a tragedy; something black and twisted and painful, painful came to her out of every page; but seriously to read it right through and be excited about the tragic story seemed silly and pitiful. The thought of Mrs. Corrie and Joey doing this annoyed her and impatiently she wanted to tell them that there was nothing in it, nothing in the things the author wanted to make them believe; that was fraud, humbug . . . they missed everything. They could not see through it, they read through to the happy ending or the sad ending and took it all seriously.
She struggled in thought to discover why it was she felt that these people did not read books and that she herself did. She felt that she could look at the end, and read here and there a little and know ; know something, something they did not know. People thought it was silly, almost wrong to look at the end of a book. But if it spoilt a book, there was something wrong about the book. If it was finished and the interest gone when you know who married who, what was the good of reading at all ? It was a sort of trick, a sell. Like a puzzle that was no more fun when you had found it out. There was something more in books than that . . . even Rosa Nouchette Carey and Mrs. Hungerford, something that came to you out of the book, any bit of it, a page, even a sentence—and the " stronger " the author was the more came. That was why Ouida put those others in the shade, not, not, not because her books were improper. It was her, herself somehow. Then you read books to find the author ! That was it. That was the difference . . . that was how one was different from most people. . .
(from Honeycomb )

She may be right. Personally I don’t want to know the ending before I know the ending but once known it does not affect my rereading. Honeycomb was published in 1917 and this passage was very likely a retort to the puzzlement of the general reader at the open-ended inconclusiveness of the novels. Note the irony of her approval of the transmission of personal energy by the popular novelists Carey and Hungerford. I haven’t read any of Ouida yet. Mallock seems readable:

It was a singular record, not only on account of its contents, but of the manner in which it seemed to have been composed. The greater part of the narrative was just what I had been led to expect—an imaginary Journal of Marie Bashkirtcheff, during an imaginary continuation of her life. This was written in French ; and there was an obvious effort, at first, at reproducing the tone and manner of the
original. It was an effort, however, which was not very successful; and the authoress soon abandoned it, or rather forgot to make it. As she did so, she became more and more interesting; until gradually, instead of reading the literary exercise of an amateur, I seemed to be listening to the voice of a living woman who was confessing to me. The very defects of her style, which, though generally clear and straightforward, yet often broke down with a sort of pathetic helplessness, contributed to this illusion. I felt each time this happened, that a woman's eyes were looking at me, and that her lips, as she spoke, had a deprecating smile on them, or that they trembled. Had she written far better the effect would have been far less vivid.
(from A Human Document: A Novel)
A Human Document

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