A story that unfolds, that reaches a climax of some kind is a
fundamental characteristic of the novel. It is what carries us along.
Departing significantly from that pattern is to risk bathos.
Pilgrimage is very well written almost too evenly well written
with no dull shadows of ordinary prose to heighten. In Richardson’s
novel the interest lies in her alter ego Miriam Henderson as she moves
through life. Each of the first two books covers a year as a teacher,
first in Germany and secondly in North London aged 17 1/2 to 20 years.
Both avid of experience and resentful for having to take up a job due to
Pater’s financial incompetence Miriam oscillates between enthusiasm and
seething. She was happy with her three sisters living in Barnes but in the outside world she distrusts women particularly worldly North London women who inhabit the ugly villas of Finsbury Park. Being short sighted, earnest, dowdy, and by implication plainish Miriam feels that the lure of certification as a teacher might be a doom for her even though by the end of Backwater the second novel she has come to love her pupils and to inspire them. As is the case with English novels of that era, Queen Vic reigns O.K., class both rising and falling, out of and down from, is a
theme. The grocery trade which Pater dropped out of to become a
gentleman of leisure and culture would have assured his daughters a lady
like life of piano, botanising, the genteel wash of water colours and
thé dansant alas now only sensed In the form of Gerald the rich fiancée
of her sister Harriet who brings the sisters on outings and holidays
This boat was Gerald's own private boat, a double-sculling skiff, slender and gold-brown, beautifully fitted and with a locker containing everything that was wanted for picnicking. They had arranged their expedition at lunch-time, trained to Richmond, bought fruit and cakes and got the boat’s water-keg filled by one of Redknap's men. Gerald knew how to do things properly. He had always been accustomed to things like this boat. He would not care to have anything just anyhow. "Let’s do the thing decently, la reine.'* He would keep on saying that at intervals until Harriett had learned too. How he had changed her since Easter when their engagement had been openly allowed. The clothes he had bought for her, especially this plain drill dress with its neat little coat. The long black tie fastened with the plain heavy cable broach pinned in lengthwise half-way down the ends of the tie, which reached almost to her black belt. That was Gerald. Her shoes, the number of pairs of light, expensive, beautifully made shoes. Her bearing, the change in her voice, a sort of roundness about her old Harryish hardness. But she was the same Harry, the Harry he had seen for the first time snorting with anger over Mr. Marth's sentimental singing at the Assembly Rooms concert. "My hat, wasn't la reine fuming!" He would forgive her all her ignorance. It was her triumph. What an extraordinary time Harry would have. Gerald was well-off. He had a private income behind his Canadian Pacific salary. His grandfather had been a diplomatist, living abroad nearly all the time, and his wealthy father and wealthy mother with a large fortune of her own had lived in a large house in Chelsea, giving dinner parties and going to the opera until nearly all the capital had gone, both dying just in time to leave enough to bring (Jerald in a small income when he left Haileybury. And the wonderful thing was that Gerrald liked mooching about and giggling. He liked looking for hours in shop windows and strolling on the Heath eating peppermints.
At the beginning of the third novel of the first Volume entitled Honeycomb Miriam is heading for her first meeting with Mrs. Corrie who is going to employ her as a governess. The feeling of constriction has left her once she settles into a comfortable little brougham which has picked her up from the station. This is where I am with her now hoping that she may at last find some happiness. She’s a brave gel you know. We begin to be drawn into this life as she tries to make her way.
Her writing is of a similar quality to Virginia Woolf’s and her lack of visibility is one of the oddities of literary history. Ease beckons her as the footman installs her in the brougham:
The brougham bowled away through the darkness softly. The lights of the station flickered by and disappeared. The brougham windows were black. No sound but the faint rumble of the wheels along the smooth road. Miriam relaxed and sat back, smiling. For a moment she was conscious of nothing but the soft-toned, softly lit interior, the softness at her back, the warmth under her feet and her happy smile; then she felt a sudden strength; the smile coming straight up so unexpectedly from some deep where it had been waiting, was new and strong and exhilarating. It would not allow itself to dimple ; it carried her forward, tiding her over the passage into new experience and held her back, at the same time; it lifted her and held her suspended over the new circumstances in rapid contemplation. She pressed back more steadily into the elastic softness and sat with bent head, eagerly watching her thoughts . . . this is me; this is right; I'm used to dainty broughams; I can take everything for granted. ... I must take everything absolutely for granted. . . . The moments passed, carrying her rapidly on. There was a life ahead that was going to enrich and change her as she had been enriched and changed by Hanover, but much more swiftly and intimately. She was changed already. Poverty and discomfort had been shut out of her life when the brougham door closed upon her. For as long as she could endure and achieve any sort of dealing with the new situation, they had gone, the worry and pain of them could not touch her.