Third International Richardson Conference Report

Scott McCracken

The third Richardson conference organised by the Richardson Society took place at Birkbeck College on 16-17 September 2011. This was the longest event organised by the Society thus far, stretching over two days by popular demand. We were lucky enough to be in the beautiful Keynes Library at 46 Gordon Square, in the heart of Bloomsbury and only a few yards away from ‘Tansley ‘Street.

The conference began with a keynote paper from Clare Drewery (Sheffield Hallam University), ‘“The Failure of this now so independently assertive reality”: Metaphysics, Transition and Contingent Identity in Dorothy Richardson’s Shorter Fiction’. Clare’s paper highlighted the neglect of Richardson’s shorter fiction by most critics and this became an important reference point for discussions later in the conference. A panel on Richardson and the “Marriage Question’ followed after lunch. Juliet Yates (Keele University) gave a lively presentation,  ‘Her Hand in Marriage: representations of marriage in Pilgrimage. The novelist, Eva Tucker, followed with an eloquent talk, Why Won’t Miriam Marry Michael Shatov?’, on how her personal reading of Pilgrimage’ had changed over the years.

Part of the aim of the Society has to been to get Richardson back into print and to publish unpublished materials. Scott McCracken gave a presentation on progress with the Collected Letters, which will be published in three volumes by Oxford University Press. Scott expressed his gratitude to the long years of work by scholars who have made the edition possible. He acknowledged Gillian Hanscombe and Gloria Fromm’s pioneering work, and most recently the achievements of George Thomson in compiling the Calendar of Letters and making transcripts of the manuscripts. Scott reported that photocopies of most of the letters are now available for students and scholars to consult at Keele, by appointment. Scott also reported that a proposal for a critical edition of Pilgrimage has also been submitted to OUP and we are waiting for the readers’ reports. A question and answer session followed with the other editors, Deborah Longworth, Laura Marcus, Joanne Winning. George unfortunately could not be with us this year.

The day finished with a showing of Borderline, the film produced by the Close Up group and Laura Marcus led the discussion that followed. Dinner was spent in the now traditional location, Sardo, on Grafton Street, as near in spirit and location to ‘Donizetti’s’ as we can get.

Saturday opened with a keynote paper by Jennifer Cooke (Loughborough University), ‘Dorothy Richardson, Queer Theorist’. The response to the paper was enthusiastic and it provoked a lively discussion. The morning was completed by a panel on ‘Silence’ in Richardson. Annika Hagström (Lund University) gave an original reading of the silence that lies between and behind the lines of Pilgrimage in ‘Dorothy Richardson and the Poetics of Silence’; and in a paper that made connections with the discussion on Borderline the previous day, Harriet Wragg (University College London) explored the significance of Richardson’s work on intertitles,‘“[L]ike a greeting in a valentine”: Silent Film Intertitles in Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage’.

The final panel on Richardson and ‘Impressionism’ renewed the theme of the visual. In two interlinked papers, Rebecca Bowler (University of Sheffield), discussed Richardson’s relationship with Henry James in ‘Reading Henry James: Perception and Representation as the Double Impression’; and Yvonne Wong (University of Durham) in ‘“Everyday Life is Precisely What Life Is”: An Impressionist Reading of the Ordinary in Pilgrimage’ took us through the interconnections between French impressionism and Richardson’s work. At this point, all the questions and themes the conference had raised were re-debated until the hardiest Richardsonians were compelled to leave the building and re-assembled in a local pub. Although not before the organisers and Birkbeck College had been heartily thanked.

Discussions about the next biennial conference took place throughout the two days. It was agreed that the next event in 2014 should have a broader theme and bring in other scholars. Two main ideas emerged. First, that we should have a conference on Richardson and philosophy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Second, that we should have a conference on the long modernist novel, a conference that would of course put Pilgrimage at its centre, but which would focus on comparative work on Richardson and Proust, Joyce, Dos Passos, Musil. Keynote speakers would be carefully chosen to ensure Richardson’s centrality to this significant twentieth-century form was not forgotten.

Both ideas were warmly received and the Society decided to start with the “Long Modernist Novel’, probably in July 2013.

Selected papers from the conference will be published in the Richardson journal.

About cultpol

Dorothy Richardson fan.
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