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Proust’s Traces on Dorothy Richardson. Involuntary Memory and Metaphors

Proust et Dorothy Richardson: traces, mémoire involontaire et métaphores
María Francisca Llantada Díaz
p. 125-135


Cet article explore la manière dont le roman-fleuve proustien a influencé l’œuvre de Richardson. Tout d’abord, la présence de la mémoire involontaire proustienne dans Pilgrimage est distinguée d’autres cas où le souvenir est présenté de manière immédiate. Ensuite, l’article se concentre sur les traces de métaphores et motifs proustiens et en propose un commentaire. Chez les deux auteurs, le jardin clos et les arbres sont étroitement liés à l’évocation du soi ainsi qu’à la créativité littéraire. La musique fournit également des structures et réseaux qui lient les différents volumes et permettent aux protagonistes d’accéder à leur mi profond avant de devenir des artistes. Ce voyage introspectif vers le bas, qui constitue la source de la création littéraire, peut être considéré comme le motif le plus important des romans de Proust et de Richardson, et il fédère tous les autres motifs analysés dans cet article. Par ailleurs, dans les œuvres de Proust et de Richardson, le récit s’interrompt lorsque les protagonistes découvrent leur vocation d’écrivain.

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1This article will explore the influence of Proustian techniques and metaphors on Pilgrimage, giving examples of the ways in which Proust’s involuntary memory and metaphoric language are present in Richardson’s work. The examples are classified according to their different thematic fields and their function as leit-motifs with key structural functions is emphasised. Thus, the traces of Remembrance of Things Past on Pilgrimage are exposed in a detailed way and can be fully appreciated.

2Dorothy Richardson read the first English translations of Proust’s novel by Scott Moncrieff. Her enthusiastic admiration for Proust’s work is well documented. In a letter to Beaumont Wadsworth, she says: ‘I am deep in the magic of Prousts [sic] flowering morass. [. . .] Oh the sublime simple perfection of his art, even in translation, [. . .] the design, the detail, all one [. . .]. To read him is a thousand things at once, all overwhelming. Rapture, stupefaction, experience & adventure’ (Richardson 1995d, 64). During the next eight years she continued reading and rereading Proust’s novels, both in French and in English ‘forwards backwards upside down’ (Fromm 41). In 1925 she explained to a friend that she had cut five volumes ‘piecemeal, leaving them all over the room, and read them in the same way, taking up the first handy volume and opening at random’ (Fromm 41). In 1928 she reported that her ‘third serious reading. . . of two volumes at a time, one from each end [had] nearly reached the middle’ (Fromm 41). Richardson’s obsessive and enraptured readings of Proust’s novels could be taken as the reason of their striking influence on Pilgrimage, as we will see in this article. In her review of Dawn’s Left Hand, Winifred Bryher had already said of Dorothy Richardson: ‘she is the English Proust and like him, she has written for the few’ (Bryher 337).

3Numbers 310, 311 and 312 of Adam International Review are devoted to both Proust and Richardson. Miron Grindea, the editor, mentions that Raymond Las Vergnas was among the first to perceive in her the influence of Proust (Grindea 17) and extensively quotes Richardson’s review of Clive Bell’s study on Proust (Grindea 19). Gloria Fromm also refers to the influence of Proust on Richardson, but only at the level of narrative technique (Fromm 41–44). More recently, in 2005, Jean Radford has also compared both authors, as we will see below.

4The following passage from Remembrance of Things Past defines the very essence of involuntary memory, the rush of images from the past it conjures up in the person who remembers, and the emotional impact it conveys: ‘I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. [. . .] An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses’ (Proust 1981a, 48).

5Allan H. Pasco explains involuntary memory in Proust in this way: ‘The protagonist experiences something; he forms an image [. . .]. The image is then stored and forgotten. When, at some time later, he experiences a sensation identical to the previous one, the current sensation recalls the stored image, which seems new because it was previously “lost”’ (Pasco 20). For Marcel, involuntary memory is located in sensorial impressions and objects that might awake in the person who sees them some forgotten memories: ‘the better part of our memories exists outside us [. . .]. Outside us? Within us, rather’ (Proust 1981a, 692). The difference between outside and inside is blurred, as the person interiorizes external objects, connecting them intimately with his/her own self, giving them another dimension, a more spiritual form of existence.

6Thus, in Remembrance of Things Past, recuperation of the past is made possible by seeing an object that makes it alive: ‘The past is hidden [. . .] in a material object’ (Proust 1981a, 47–48). Accordingly, Marcel thinks that: ‘We possess all our memories, but not the faculty of recalling them’ (Proust 1981b, 1017–1018). Likewise, for Miriam, objects that are related to the past have the secret power of bringing to her forgotten memories: ‘In things [. . .] life is embodied. The sudden sight of a sun-faded garment can arouse [. . .] sleeping memories’ (Richardson 1979c, 368).

7Miriam’s reflections about the power of involuntary memory to make a person recall the past open new horizons to Jean Radford’s assertion that in Pilgrimage, unlike in Remembrance of Things Past, the contents of the mind of the protagonist are presented in an unmediated way, without any explanations (Radford 94). Radford gives the well-known Proustian fragment of the petite madeleine as an example of fully explained involuntary memory, opposing it to Miriam’s memories of her mother’s suicide,—as represented by what Radford calls the ‘Teetgen Teas’ moment—introduced without any explanation or reasoning. Thus, she concludes that Richardson’s practice is antithetical to that of Proust. However, Pilgrimage is a very complex and long work in which many different techniques coexist. The example of the petite madeleine could, for instance, be compared with a passage where Miriam smells a scent that makes the repeated memory of her childhood garden rush into her mind in an overwhelming way. The reason for the vividness of Miriam’s involuntary memory is that it is triggered off by a sensorial impression: ‘she found a scent in the air [. . .] the blaze of the childhood’s garden was round her again’ (Richardson 1995c, 392–393).

8As we read in Remembrance of Things Past, ‘[b]ut let a noise or a scent, once heard or once smelt, be heard or smelt again in the present [. . .] and immediately the [. . .] our true self [. . .] is awakened’ (Proust 1981c, 906). In the same way, Richardson’s protagonist is suddenly busily alive in the past, reliving it again with surprising accuracy. All the sleeping memories inside herself are awakened in an epiphanic way: ‘The blazing alley came first without thought or effort of memory. The flowers all shining separate and distinct’ (Richardson 1992a, 214).

9However, despite all the previously mentioned similarities between Proust and Richardson regarding involuntary memory, one of the main differences between them is that pointed by Jean Radford in her 2005 article: the direct expression of the unconscious in well-known sequences like Miriam’s memories of her mother’s suicide, whose meaning is not explained by the narrative instance. But even this seemingly pure example of unmediated and unexplained experience is tainted by the protagonist’s meditations about the degree of unconsciousness of this memory. Thus, in Revolving Lights there is an analepsis that refers to an event of the past which can be clearly identified with the suicide of Miriam’s mother: ‘a single scene opened for a moment in the far distance, [. . .] standing alone, indistinct, at the bottom of her ransacked mind. [. . .] This forgotten thing was the most deeply engraved of all her memories?’ (Richardson 1967b, 324). The negative implications of the adjective ‘ransacked’ and the memory’s opposition to ‘bright’ and happy memories unequivocally suggest that the remembered episode is the suicide of Miriam’s mother. Miriam’s meditative nature, given to morbid introspection, makes her scan and dissect even the most remote corners of her unconscious and not even this elusive memory escapes her inquisitiveness.

10Thus, we can conclude that, despite the difference between Richardson’s and Proust’s techniques, the similarities between these authors are overtly significant and exceed by far the differences between them.

11The study of the influence of Proustian metaphor on Pilgrimage will provide more examples that support the theory of Richardson’s indebtedness to Proust. The analysis of the way garden, trees, music, the self and literature— among other motifs—are presented in Pilgrimage and in Remembrance of Things Past will show amazing similarities which speak of the overwhelming influence of Proust on Dorothy Richardson.

12The idea of the inner garden is central in Pilgrimage as an Edenic image of renewal and inner strength. Miriam’s memory of herself as a child in a garden may be said to represent her unconscious struggle for self-individuation: ‘a morning in the garden at Babington [. . .] toddling alone along the garden path’ (Richardson 1995b, 317). The garden where Miriam as a child symbolically belongs echoes the Garden of Eden, the paradise of childhood. In Remembrance of Things Past there is a similar reference to a childhood garden memory as something deeply embedded in the individual’s memory: ‘it is in ourselves that we should [. . .] discover [. . .] the garden where we played in our childhood’ (Proust 1981b, 89–90).

13For Miriam, retreating to solitude in a garden is also a symbol of her inner life: ‘Deeper down was something cool and fresh? endless garden’ (Richardson 1995c, 425). The idea of the garden as an inner place in which to remain is also present in Remembrance of Things Past: ‘Elstir was unable to look at a flower without first transplanting it to that inner garden’ (Proust 1981b, 975).

14In Backwater, Miriam’s experiences are also metaphorically displaced to trees. She feels frustrated when her veil makes her incapable of communicating with that truer side of her self which is identified with trees and their green colour: ‘between them [the trees] and herself was her governess’s veil’ (Richardson 1995b, 279). This passage where the trees seem to deny Miriam contact with a reality that used to be accessible for her has a parallel in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, where Marcel feels frustrated because the trees conceal something from him: ‘I looked at the three trees; [. . .] my mind felt that they were concealing something’ (Proust 1981a, 771–773).

15Like Miriam, who relates trees to her creativity—according to Jung trees and forests are common mother symbols (1986: 219)—, Marcel also links his supposed incapacity to be a novelist with his faulty perception of trees: ‘Trees [. . .] you no longer have anything to say to me. [. . .] If ever I thought of myself as a poet, I know now that I am not one’ (Proust 1981c, 886-887).

16In Dimple Hill Miriam contacts with her childhood in an epiphanic way that takes her back to that lost world: ‘for the first time since childhood she was alone with summer trees. [. . .] these trees [. . .] looked into the depths of her, the unchanging depths awaiting them since childhood’ (Richardson 1979d, 413). In Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past the protagonist has similar epiphanic moments when contemplating some illumined trees. Marcel looks at the light passing through the leaves and branches of trees and they also remind him of his childhood: ‘I might be able to look at those yellow leaves with the light shining through them [. . .] being no more able to restrain myself from going to see the trees than in my childhood days’ (Proust 1981a, 456).

17In Dimple Hill there are other passages where Miriam has an epiphanic moment brought about by the contemplation of trees bathed in sunlight and she discovers ‘upon the upper foliage of a group of trees [. . .] a patch of bright colour in a golden light [. . .] I have seen the smile of God’ (Richardson 1979d, 420). Again the coincidences with Proust’s Marcel are striking. Like Miriam, he takes trees to represent something personal: ‘I gazed at the trees with an unsatisfied longing that went beyond them’ (Proust 1981a, 458–459).

18Besides the garden and trees, other motifs used by Dorothy Richardson refer to the notion of self, music, writing, literature and novelists. Miriam’s introspectiveness and her obsessive self-analysis are the reason of her referring to several selves inside her to express her complexity and also her evolution in life: ‘the self who had lived so long [. . .] she looked back at that retiring figure’ (1967c, 482). In Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel has also a tendency to think of himself in terms of the different selves that can be found in him: ‘our permanent self, [. . .] all our successive selves’ (Proust 1981c, 714). As a result of their multiple personalities, both Marcel and Miriam find strangers in themselves, and painstakingly analyse them. Thus, Marcel elaborately explains: ‘The stranger was none other than myself, the child I had been at that time’ (Proust 1981c, 920).

19Marcel’s shocked reaction at his own complexity and many sidedness is shared by Miriam, who is also puzzled by a stranger she finds inside herself: ‘a stranger to herself and nameless’ (Richardson 1979b, 150). Despite all the introspection carried out in such long novels as roman fleuves, the protagonists are always troubled by the mysterious depths they find in themselves.

20There is another instance of the way Miriam’s identity is presented in a parallel way to a character of Remembrance of Things Past, Gilberte. Both are presented as the mixture of the paternal and maternal sides of their families. Miriam identifies within herself the two tendencies of her family: the optimistic ones, who love light, and the pessimistic ones, who follow darkness: ‘Within me [. . .] the third child, the longed-for son, the two natures, equally matched, mingle and fight?’ (Richardson 1967b, 250).

21In Remembrance of Things Past, Gilberte is similarly presented as the battleground of her parents’ natures. In both cases, children suffer because of the inner contradiction of having inherited ‘two natures’: ‘there were at the least, two Gilbertes. The two natures, her father’s and her mother’s, did more than just blend themselves in her; they disputed the possession of her? and even that would be not entirely accurate since it would give the impression that a third Gilberte was in the meantime suffering from being the prey of the two others’ (Proust 1981a, 609; emphasis added).

22The influence of Proust is clear in this passage, as the use of the word ‘third’ refers to both Miriam and Gilberte and the expression ‘the two natures’ is related to ‘mingle’, ‘fight’ and ‘struggle’ in the case of Miriam and ‘blend’ and ‘dispute’ in the case of Gilberte. However, in her book The Pilgrimage of Dorothy Richardson, Joanne Winning interprets the ‘third’ as a reference to the invert and a sign of Miriam’s homosexuality (Winning 81).

23Both in Remembrance of Things Past and in Pilgrimage the experience of music brings the protagonists memories of earlier moments in their lives, creating a pattern of recurrence that links different volumes together. Thus, listening to someone playing the piano in Oberland, Miriam is reminded of having heard the same musical theme during her adolescent stay in Hanover and has a feeling of renewal and freedom: ‘the theme [. . .] came [. . .] taking her back to her Germany where life had been lived to music’ (Richardson 1979a, 35).

24After Miriam has recreated in her mind the memories that this ballad brings to her, she also thinks that the player must be experiencing a similar effect, choosing the fragment ‘to express his state: joy in being up here’ (Richardson 1979a, 36).

25In Remembrance of Things Past music also establishes parallelisms between Swann and Marcel. Thus, the little phrase from Vinteuil’s sonata brings Swann memories of his love for Odette that he cannot control: ‘And before Swann had had time [. . .] to say to himself: ‘It’s the little phrase from Vinteuil’s sonata [. . .] all his memories of [. . .] Odette [. . .] had awakened’ (Proust 1981a, 375–376). Vinteuil’s sonata has the same effect on Marcel, and it reminds him of Albertine and his love for her: ‘The thought that Albertine had so often played it [Vinteuil’s sonata] to me no longer saddened me’ (Proust 1981c, 571).

26The perfection of music as something independent of a bad performance also appears in both novels. In Pilgrimage we read: ‘Hearing it now, not in Eve’s rendering, [. . .] but in its own perfection’ (Richardson 1979a, 229). Similarly, in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, Swann’s perception of Odette’s faulty performances depends not on the performances themselves, but on an ideal performance in his mind that transcends its errors and elevates him to a superior mental sphere from which he can recreate some memories: ‘It was true that Odette played vilely, but often the most memorable impression of a piece of music is one that has arisen out of a jumble of wrong notes struck by unskilful fingers upon a tuneless piano’ (Proust 1981a, 258).

27Even the description of some people’s reaction to music is described in a strikingly similar way in both Richardson’s and Proust’s novels. There is a clear parallelism between the Baileys’ and the Cottards’ reaction to music. In Pilgrimage the Baileys’ bored attentiveness as they listen to Mr Bowdoin playing the piano is mockingly described: ‘surprised and attentive, busily speculating, in scraps, hampered by the need to appear to be listening’ (1992b, 345–346). In Remembrance of Things Past Dr Cottard and Mme Cottard are similar to the Baileys in their pretended understanding of music, as they ‘were careful not to express an opinion, or to pretend to admire a piece of music’ (Proust 1981a, 232).

28Beyond these anecdotic similarities regarding the music motif, one of the most important issues about music is that for Miriam and Marcel, listening to music implies descending to their inner selves. Thus, Miriam retreats to her interior, ‘towards the changeless central zone of her being’ (Richardson 1979c, 299). In Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel’s epiphanic experience of music, like Miriam’s, is related to his descent to his centre of being: ‘Music [. . .] helped me to descend into myself’ (Proust 1981c, 156).

29Writing is a problem for both Marcel and Miriam, and this is also the case of many protagonists of Künstlerromane. The way in which the protagonists express their frustration at not being able to write and thus become novelists is very similar. Miriam feels discouraged at her unsuccessful attempts to produce valuable writing: ‘this mass of hurriedly written pages [. . .] represented a chase [. . .] bringing fatigue and wrath over her failure’ (Richardson 1979d, 524). Proust’s Marcel also feels baffled about his first attempts to write and feels his ‘lack of genius, this black cavity which gaped in my mind when I ransacked it for the theme of my future writings’ (Proust 1981a, 189-90).

30Both Miriam and Marcel show their aversion to novelists who write in careless or frivolous ways. Thus, Miriam is horrified at finding out that the novelist Miss Proust writes about real people: ‘She had put people in. [. . .] People she knew of’ (Richardson 1967b, 342). In Remembrance of Things Past, this idea is also mentioned with the expression ‘put in’: ‘People in society [. . .] think of a book as a sort of cube one side of which has been removed, so that the author can at once ‘put in’ the people he meets’ (Proust 1981b, 691). Like Miriam, Marcel is also given the manuscript of a novel by a famous novelist so that he can read it, and he is also struck by ‘the falsehood of literature’ (1981c, 886).

31Instead of this superficial approach to literature, Miriam and Marcel realise that, in order to write, they have to make a journey to the centre of their beings similar to those they make under the influence of music. In a key passage from March Moonlight Miriam says: ‘To write is to forsake life. [. . .] I [. . .] eagerly face the strange journey down and down to the centre of being’ (Richardson 1979e, 609). As Jung explains, immersion in oneself (introversion) signifies both penetration into the unconscious and ascesis (Jung 381). Like Miriam, Marcel makes a journey to the centre of his self in order to become a creator: ‘the march of thought in the solitary work of artistic creation proceeds in depth’ (Proust 1981a, 968). In order to remember something, Marcel has to descend to his centre of being, where memories are stored: ‘in order to get nearer to the sound of the bell [. . .] it was into my own depths that I had to re-descend’ (1981c, 1105–1106). Thus, the journey to the interior is the most important metaphor in Proust’s and Richardson’s novels, as it gives them coherence and meaning, and it is related to the notion of involuntary memory and the descent to the protagonists’ depths. In fact, this downward introspective journey permeates all the rest of the motifs studied in this article, as the inner garden, trees, writing and music are filtered by the protagonist’s inner selves. That is why Proust’s influence on Dorothy Richardson can be considered profound and systematic, as the numerous quotations in this article demonstrate. The striking similarities and thematic echoes between Richardson’s novel and Moncrieff’s translation of Proust’s roman fleuve show direct links between both authors. Echoes of Proust’s novel on Pilgrimage are of such a concrete nature that reveal an intertextual fabric far richer than a mere influence. Some of Richardson´s narrative strategies were, thus, based on echoes and re-reading of Proust’s œuvre, which she incorporated into Pilgrimage by a process of re-writing. Genette’s words about Proust’s novel could also be applied to Pilgrimage: ‘There is simply the narrative’s halt at the point where the hero has discovered the truth and meaning of his life: at the point, therefore, when this ‘story of a vocation’ [. . .] comes to an end’ (Genette 226). Miriam’s quest, like Marcel’s, takes her to the discovery of her profession, not to its fulfilment, because Pilgrimage’s narrative, like that of Remembrance of Things Past, is the story of the protagonist’s process of becoming a writer — the goal of her quest.

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María Francisca Llantada Díaz, « Proust’s Traces on Dorothy Richardson. Involuntary Memory and Metaphors », Études britanniques contemporaines, 36 | 2009, 125-135.

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María Francisca Llantada Díaz, « Proust’s Traces on Dorothy Richardson. Involuntary Memory and Metaphors », Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 36 | 2009, mis en ligne le 08 septembre 2017, consulté le 27 mai 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/ebc.4131

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María Francisca Llantada Díaz

University of Vigo.
María Francisca Llantada Díaz a étudié l’anglais à l’université Saint Jacques de Compostelle avant d’enseigner pendant six ans à l’université de Saragosse. Elle y a également préparé et soutenu une thèse sur Dorothy M. Richardson en 2005. Depuis 2006, elle est en poste à l’université de Vigo. Elle est l’auteur de Form and Meaning in Dorothy M. Richardson’s Pilgrimage (Heidelberg, Winter 2007) ainsi que de plusieurs articles sur Dorothy Richardson, publiés dans diverses revues internationales.

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