Clear Horizon by Dorothy Richardson
I’m playing catch-up a little bit with my reviews, as I did a *lot* of reading over the Christmas period, but didn’t get round to writing up my thoughts. However, I was really pleased to get back to reading Richardson after a bit of a break – the holidays were the ideal time to read her, as I had longer uninterrupted chunks with the book! This is the first of three titles left to read before I finish the series, and “Clear Horizon” was first published in 1935.
The book opens with Miriam still at Mrs. Bailey’s, and a new edition to the boarders has arrived in the form of Lionel Cholmley (is he the young man from the end of the previous story? Who knows?) However, he soon disappears from view so whether he will be significant in the future remains to be seen. In fact, “Clear Horizon” is a book where on the surface of it not much happens, but if you read carefully, Miriam goes through some major changes. For a start, there is a possible pregnancy (Hypo commenting that she is “booked for maternity”) and then it transpires that she either is mistaken or loses the baby. Miriam seems to become disillusioned with Hypo and makes a kind of break with him, viewing him more cynically than she has in the past. She introduces Michael Shatov to Amabel, possibly as a kind of match-making process (I can’t help wondering if this is an event that will have future implications?)
As well as drawing back from involvement with Hypo, Miriam begins to distance herself a little from Amabel and regard her more critically. Amabel has thrown herself into the suffragist movement, marching with them and being arrested. Miriam is not prepared to commit to that kind of action, preferring instead to continue her association with the Lycurgans. She visits Amabel in prison, but recognises that the latter is acting and posing all the time; and Miriam is no longer charmed by her behaviour.
Closer to home, Miriam’s sister Sarah is ill; what kind of complaint is never specified but it is a serious one, and Miriam’s old flame Dr. Densley advises an operation which will kill or cure. The family is of course impoverished (lack of money is a recurring theme in the books) but Densley has managed to arrange treatment at a minimal cost. Densley has been one of the constants in Miriam’s life, and she (and we!) get to speculate what her life might have been like had she accepted his proposal.
However, Densley identifies that Miriam is run down (she’s been burning the candle at both ends as usual) and so he recommends a break. Fortunately, she has some money put aside and makes a decisive break, leaving everything behind – job/Hypo/friends – to go off we don’t know where for some kind of rest cure. She refers to this as a nervous breakdown but whether it actually is, like so much in these books, is ambiguous! So the book ends with Miriam on the verge of more changes, as she takes her leave of the dentists’ practice and particularly Mr. Hancock.
I was surprised initially at how positively I responded to “Clear Horizon”, particular as I know some other readers have struggled. As usual, the story is couched in her usual allusive, elusive style and there is some beautiful prose. Her use of language when Miriam is off on her mental flights of fancy is evocative, and it was wonderful seeing Miriam relish more than anything London and her solitude and freedom. These latter are vital to her wellbeing, and there is the sense that whatever sacrifices she’s made, she’s chosen the way of life that’s essential for her.
I actually ended up enjoying this book a lot more than I expected, immersing myself in Miriam’s world and the changes going on in her life. I think after the strictly masculinist outlook of Tolstoy I was in need of a strong female sensibility and Miriam, with her refusal to compromise and her relentless quest for her own space and independence, was a perfect read for me at this time. I feel that I tuned in to what Richardson was trying to do in her writing, and although there are the usual frustrations, nevertheless this was a very positive reading experience and I think I have the impetus now to push on to the two final books before too long!