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Problematic Biographies: ‘Alan Turing: The Enigma’ by Andrew Hodges *** and ‘Dorothy M. Richardson’ by John Cowper Powys ****

Further to my question of yesterday as to whether all biographies are flawed, I thought I would write about two which I read at the tail end of last year and had problems with.

Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges *** 9781784700089
Like many, I purchased this because I very much enjoyed ‘The Imitation Game’; it then sat upon my TBR shelf for well over a year.  I felt that I should try my best to read it before 2016 was out, so I squeezed it into my November reading.

As far as biographies go, Alan Turing: The Enigma is incredibly long, running to 679 pages excluding the notes and index.  The whole was not as well written as I was expecting, and it did not feel very consistent in places.  The intricate mathematical details placed here and there did not always seem necessary, and it read almost like a Further Maths textbook at times.  It is quite a difficult book to categorise, and it is by no means a straightforward biography, nor a critique of Turing’s work.  It occupies a strange middleground, which consequently means that it does not sit quite right with the reader.

Turing was undoubtedly a fantastically bright man, but I thought that the telling of his story would be more compelling than it turned out to be.  I do not feel as though I’ve learnt much more about him from this volume, sadly; Hodges’ account is undoubtedly well-researched, but it is also rather disappointing.

 

Dorothy M. Richardson by John Cowper Powys ****
I borrowed this from my University library to aid with my understanding of Dorothy Richardson’s life; prior to this, I knew very little about her, if I’m honest.  It is incredibly slight; standing at just 48 pages, I wasn’t entirely sure if it would be able to give me a full picture of Richardson.  It wasn’t overly in-depth, and presented barely anything of Richardson as a woman; rather, it provides a critique of her Pilgrimage series, and how its techniques veer away from the traditional.  Regardless, it is very intelligently written, and Powys clearly admires Richardson.  I would recommend it as an introduction into her work, but I’m sure there must be a more thorough and authoritative biography out there somewhere.

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‘Pilgrimage’ by Dorothy Richardson: Where I’m At

Some of you may know that I’m focusing upon Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage sequence in part for my PhD thesis.  One of my supervisors and I have decided that the first to fifth volumes will be good to focus upon, and with that in mind, I present my thoughts about the fourth and fifth books in the sequence – The Tunnel and Interim.

The Tunnel ****
9781554811106The Tunnel is the fourth volume of Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage series, which follows the fascinating protagonist Miriam Henderson.  This particular novel finds Miriam firmly ensconced within London, where she works as an assistant to a dentist.

In my opinion, The Tunnel is not the best, nor the most interesting, volume of Pilgrimage to date; indeed, at points, it feels almost static.  I found myself far less interested in the external storyline than in Miriam until almost the end of the novel.  Of course, it is still spectacularly written, but The Tunnel is my least favourite Richardson novel to date.

Interim ****
Interim
is engaging from the first, and as a construct, Miriam becomes even more spectacular; she is realised in such detail that she could step to life from the page and absorb herself into modern life without lacking anything.  There is a real dreamlike quality to her here, which I absolutely adored.

Richardson’s writing, as ever, is beautiful throughout; more so, I feel, than in The Tunnel.  Scenes are evoked down to the smallest detail; like Miriam, they are almost achingly realistic.  It feels, in Interim, as though there is a change of direction; Miriam is still our protagonist, but the comparably large cast of secondary characters are focused upon far more than are the secondary characters in the previous novels of the sequence.  There is less emphasis placed upon Miriam at points, and whilst she does spring to life as she always does, it does not feel as though much development of her character and mindset has been provided overall.  Still, Interim is undoubtedly enjoyable and well rounded.  My only qualm is that the penultimate chapter felt a little anticlimactic, and the ending was a little underwhelming.

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Three Dorothies

Skimming through my extensive to-read lists, I notice that there an awful lot of books by authors named Dorothy.  I thought that I would profile a couple of the lesser-known books by three different – and equally wonderful – Dorothies; Miss Baker, Miss Whipple, and my beloved Miss Richardson.  Whilst a handful of their books have been reissued by the likes of NYRB and Persephone, many are still sadly out of print, and rather difficult to get hold of.  Still, the following are the ones which I am coveting!

Dorothy Baker (1907-1968; most famous for Cassandra at the Wedding, 1962)

1. Young Man With a Horn (1938) 518al6ccrol-_sx310_bo1204203200_
‘Rick Martin loved music and the music loved him. He could pick up a tune so quickly that it didn’t matter to the Cotton Club boss that he was underage, or to the guys in the band that he was just a white kid. He started out in the slums of LA with nothing, and he ended up on top of the game in the speakeasies and nightclubs of New York. But while talent and drive are all you need to make it in music, they aren’t enough to make it through a life.   Dorothy Baker’s Young Man with a Horn is widely regarded as the first jazz novel, and it pulses with the music that defined an era. Baker took her inspiration from the artistry—though not the life—of legendary horn player Bix Beiderbecke, and the novel went on to be adapted into a successful movie starring Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, and Doris Day.’

2. Trio (1943)
A comprehensive and intriguing review can be found at A Penguin a Week, here.

 

51kkv-ltu5l-_sx335_bo1204203200_Dorothy Whipple (1893-1966; nine of her books are published by Persephone)
1. Young Anne (1927)
A fascinating review of this, and Persephone’s choice to reprint, can be found at BooksSnob’s blog.

2. Every Good Deed (1950)
BooksSnob has also reviewed this novel, which you can see here.

 

 

Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957; most famous for the Pilgrimage trilogy)

  1. The Long Day (1905)
    The Long Day: The Story of a New York Working Girl, As Told by Herself is a book about the life of a working-class girl. She was formerly a teacher in a small town, but is now alone in New York City, living day to day on a few dollars. She lives from boarding house to boarding house, experiencing harsh rules, starvation, and the death of a friend. Furthermore, she works in a number of different positions, including box-making, flower/feather making, sewing, and finally, a shaker. Throughout this time, she learns what it is like to live on a few dollars a week, working twelve-hour shifts with horrible conditions and few breaks. Ultimately, she is able to earn a respectable living as a typewriter.  At the time the book was released, Richardson remained anonymous.’

 

Have you read any of these?  Which are your favourite books by Dorothies?

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Modernism

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Dorothy Richardson and her husband Alan Odle

I am all about modernist fiction, particularly when it is written by and about women.  I find it fascinating, and adore the stream-of-consciousness style which was pioneered at the time.  I have found two incredibly interesting Guardian articles about the rising popularity of Dorothy Richardson, and May Sinclair, the so-called ‘readable modernist’, which I wanted to share.

It’s question time…
Are you a fan of modernist literature?  Which is your favourite modernist work?  Have you read any Richardson or Sinclair novels, and what did you think of them?  Which single work would you recommend to someone who is just starting out in the reading of modernism?