A Visit to Dorothy Richardson

By Richard Garnett, published under the heading Women of Today in the
Yorkshire Post, March 3rd 1924)

A visit to Miss Dorothy Richardson (Mrs Alan Odle) in her lodging off the
Marlborough Road, in London. confirms one’s belief in the supremacy of mind
over matter. She lives in an ancient terrace whose steps and of stucco are
eloquent of the glories of the Victorian age, and when she remarks that her
royalties from her publisher provide her with no luxury but cigarettes, this
testifies that she has kept her spirit free and her genius untrammelled. There
is no need for such a testimony. Everyone knows that Miss Richardson’s work is
the most feminine of all the "intellectuals", and the most
intellectual of all the feminine work. So her popularity does not extend the
into the barbarous hinterland of the "best seller". You gaze around
and your eyes fall on some of Mr Odle’s spirited drawings, grotesque and
macabre. There are no cosy corners, no parquet floors, no log fires, no
literary Sibyl impressed by the weight of her own reputation, no
fashionably-frocked Egeria anxious to view herself in the mirror of masculine

Miss Richardson gives you tea and a cigarette and then talk
falls straightway on mice and men. On mice because an army of these list pests
have lately invaded no. 32 and gnawn the books and her husband’s slippers,
while the house cat has looked on with shameless indifference. And on men
because, glancing away from the serious deeps of mouse traps and poison, you
have turned to congratulate Miss Richardson on that splendid piece of
portraiture, little Mr Shator in "Deadlock". You instinctively single
out this figure from the gallery of her masterly drawings of the weaker sex,
for in delineating that mild, agile, intellectual Russian Jew she has seized
with extraordinary veracity the vital distinction between Continental and
English culture. The true continental loves ideas and respects art, the true
Englishman does neither one nor the other, but tries to play the game. And
Miriam in that wonderful Bloomsbury boarding-house where French, Germans,
Swedes, Americans and Canadians rub shoulders under the wakeful eye of Mrs.
Bailey. Miriam herself in a London doorway giving magically on to the European
scene.  In “Painted Roofs” (sic) how perfectly
does this English girl Miriam, coolly, femininely practical, show up the drowning,
dreamy depths of German sentimentalism. “Painted Roofs” with Fraulein Pfaff and
Mademoiselle and Miriam Henderson contrasted, is in our English slang “a scream.”
 but Miriam’s feat is greater than this.
Her creator is the first of women writers to forge a completely feminine literary method, one fluid,
expansive, vibrating, moving in many directions at once, like the feminine mind,
with all the senses alert, a spontaneously intuitional method of seizing and
depicting life based on feeling. Women have played up to men, hitherto, by
imitating the logical masculine structure far too much.

You are speaking of Miriam, and then Miss Richardson pulls
you up short with the lightest, most decisive touch of the snaffle.

“But I am not Miriam.”

You gaze at her, at the decidedly feminine figure attired in
a gracious jumper, you gaze at her steadfast grey eyes, at the fair coils of
her hair, at her candid, clever brow and the truth flashes through your dense
male mind. Yes, there is not one Miriam but three Miriams enshrined in one
Dorothy Richardson. You see it now. There is first her unique creation, the
deliciously expansive Miriam bursting with her own wonderful thoughts about
life, books, people, her friends, that dentist’s establishment, and all the
seething London world about her; secondly, there is the Miriam who sits smiling
at you, denying her own identity, and thirdly, there is Miriam the Unknown, who
could disclose herself even as Calypso disclosed herself to her hero. But not
being a hero, you stammer it seems cruel of Miss Richardson to disassociate herself
from the heroine you have so long admired. She smiles enigmatically and

“That retched little Miriam had no deep emotions.”

You ponder this ruthless saying. And you perceive to her creator
Miriam has now become one of those hybrid tea roses a beautiful flower, indeed,
but alas! scentless. And you defend Miriam loyally, and Miss Richardson
graciously recalls that you, as publisher’s reader, were privileged to assist at
the birth of her first book, and see it safely into the world. You bow your
head at her words, and suddenly she switches the talk on to Swiss health resorts.
She and her husband depart immediately for Switzerland. She is to indite for the
English and American Press glowingly truthful sketches of the life where
ski-runners congregate, and her husband, forsaking the satiric classics of the
18th century, will now turn his pencil to avalanches, and Alpinists
and alpenstocks. And there is still the packing to do! You rise to depart, and
as you pass your way down the ancient creaking staircase, haunted by ghosts of
Victorians dead long ago, you reflect how little its be-whiskered builders foresee
that the end of the reign would culminate in the triumph of Miriam’s figure, with
all that she stands for today in life and literature, and in politics to-morrow.