Deadlock by Dorothy Richardson
My reading of Dorothy Richardson’s “Pilgrimage” series continues with the first book in volume 3, “Deadlock”, and I’ve just managed to squeeze it in before the end of the month! To be honest, I struggled a little with the last book and so I was vaguely apprehensive about picking up this one; however, I found no problems with it and loved it, so it just goes to show that attitude of mind may have something to do with your appreciation of a book!
In “Deadlock”, Miriam is still living in Mrs. Bailey’s lodging house and working at the dentists’ practice, and the book opens with a comet visible over London – maybe Halley’s comet, from 1910? However, the focus in this book will not be on either of the usual aspects of her life (although they’ll feature) but on the coming of a new element into Miriam’s world – that of love. Mrs. Bailey has a new lodger, the Russian Mr. Shatov, and Miriam is introduced to him as being someone who can help him with his English. The two seem to develop an immediate rapport; they’re able to discuss philosophy and novels and the deeper things with no problem, and it may be that because Shatov is not English the two can develop an intellectual relationship in a way Miriam couldn’t with a traditional English man. They visit the British Museum to enrol him; walk, talk and have meals together; and Shatov is jealous when Miriam is embroiled in another lodger’s attempt to prepare a lecture on Spanish Literature. The book is not all about Miriam and Shatov though; she visits her sisters, now living in a seaside town where Eve has struck out on her own and is running a shop; and Harriett and Gerald are running a boarding house. In one brilliant sentence, Miriam reveals that the latter’s marriage has foundered, with the pair staying together for the sake of their child; and Eve’s situation is seen as no better, with Miriam considering her as playing at being independent, rather than really succeeding in this.
Through all, of course, runs Miriam’s great love of London, the backdrop for her life. She visits lectures, walks the streets and revels in her independence. As her friendship with Shatov deepens (and he becomes Michael instead of simply Mr. Shatov) it also becomes more complex; when he declares his love for her and she reciprocates, despite her happiness she perceives problems. Michael Shatov is a Russian Jew, and that in itself is not a problem; what *is* a problem are his attitudes towards women, which despite his respect for her intellect, he can’t help but display. Things are thrown sharply into focus with a discussion as to whether women should be satisfied being wife and mother, which Miriam obviously cannot accept, and the reader is left feeling that the relationship is alas doomed.
“Deadlock” was absolutely fascinating to read, and I realised even more so with this book how Richardson is choosing to allow us sight of the parts of Miriam’s life she wants us to see. For example, at one point Miriam translates some Russian stories from German to English and shows them to an unnamed *him*, receiving a disparaging comment about the content (though not her translation). It is only clear from the mention in this section of Alma that this must be Hypo Wilson and so obviously Miriam has kept up contact with them – not that we would know this from anywhere else in the story! A lot of what we learn about Miriam’s life almost takes place in parenthesis – for example, when she tells Michael at length about a cycling accident she had. The dentists’ practice features more as an irritant than anything else, almost a dead-end with no prospects of any change, and at one point Miriam is sacked (though I think reinstated!) for expressing displeasure at her employment terms! This is particularly interesting, as the dialogue that follows hints that her employers have seen her as more of a part of their extended family, and the lines have been blurred between employee and friend, which she may have misunderstood. Miriam’s friends Mags and Jan appear in passing, and it seems that normal life for Miriam goes on as usual, with Richardson simply pointing her magnifying glass at the parts of her story concerning Michael Shatov as that is her focus in this book.
Much of the book is a dialogue between the opposing viewpoints of Miriam and Shatov, and although she’s maturing she still seems unworldly in many ways; at one point, as Miriam is about to leave for a day with the Brooms, Shatov reveals rather obliquely some hinted-at past indiscretion (presumably previous lovers?) This throws Miriam into a terrible tizz for the day, but from the reader’s point of view it would be unrealistic of her to expect a worldly, well-travelled Russian of that period to have had no liaisons. But their intellectual exchanges are fascinating, and of course I found Shatov’s championing of his Russian authors (‘Tolstoi’ and ‘Turgayneff!’!) irresistible. It seems that the two may have gone as far as an engagement, as Miriam visits a woman who has married someone Jewish to gain insight into the attitudes she might encounter; a visit that is in many ways anticlimactic, though it does serve to reinforce the limitations of Miriam’s mindset.
Richardson really hit a kind of peak with this book, exploring so well, as it does, the differences between men and women and their attitudes. Despite Shatov declaring himself a feminist, at the end of the day he will fall into the expected patterns of his caste and would want Miriam as a wife and mother. Miriam would be unable to accept that traditional role and so although there is a meeting of minds, it is unlikely to enable a lasting union. “Deadlock” is an excellent addition to the Pilgrimage sequence, and I’m actually very keen to hit the next book soon to see how Richardson resolves the relationship between Miriam and Michael.
(For other views, Liz’s review is here.)