The Tunnel

By DOHOTHY RICHARDSON. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1919. 12mo. $2.00.
Mr. J. D. BEHESFORD, in his brief introduction to the first volume of Pilgrimage (of which the present work is the fourth volume), some four years ago, expressed his own discovery in Miss Richardson’s work of ‘a peculiar difference which is, perhaps, the mark of a new form in fiction.’ The peculiar quality which he found and described is one which abolishes the ordinary traditional distinctions of objective and subjective, realistic and romantic. Miriam Henderson, whose groping pilgrimage through life we trace from its eighteenth year to its twenty-first, is neither ‘a keen observer’ nor ‘blind creature feeling her way with sensitive fingers and reading the unseen by the emotions of her mind.’ Rather, she is ‘one with life’; Miss Richardson ‘has taken the final plunge, ‘gone head under and become a very part of the human element she has described.’
As a more recent critic has intimated, we have for the first time, in Pilgrimage, a novel without the novelist. The consciousness of the writer is not decipherably present at all, even as a style; the author’s whole affair begins and ends in the presentation, with a unique and startling immediacy, of the consciousness of her chief character. In Pointed Roofs we follow Miriam through her year as teacher of English in a girls’ boardingschool in Germany. In Backwater and Honeycomb we see her as governess in two different types of English family. Now, in The Tunnel, she frankly gives up impoverished gentility for still more impoverished freedom, becoming secretary and bookkeeper to a London dental establishment at a pound a week. The scene shifts; characters enter and drop out; affairs and relationships develop or disintegrate; but there remains always, as the continuum of the whole, the tense and nervous consciousness of Miriam. The reader’s object is not, as with Henry James, the novelist’s susceptibility to the character: it is the character’s susceptibility to life. Between reader and character there is no intervening medium. A veil is torn down. Everything is ‘as close and bright as the texture of everybody’s every day.’
The unique fruitfulness of Miss Richardson’s work springs from its union of extreme sensibility with extreme discrimination. There is no mere emotionalism, for all the emotional reactions of Miriam are surcharged with intellectual comprehension. The process is more than a little suggestive of post-impressionism and of the most skilful work of the imagists. But there seems to be no cult behind it, and no elaborated rationale. Its mainsprings are, first, the immemorial urge to expression, and, after that, a uniquely responsive sense of the livingness of life. W. F.