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Ford Madox Ford once said that Dorothy Richardson is ""the most abominably unread of modern novelists."" Her fate remains signally unchanged and even Rosenberg's sympathetic if tempered appraisal of her life and her novels -- namely a thirteen volume roman fleuve entitled Pilgrimage -- is unlikely to return you to it since it seems to be a work of some austerity. Before Virginia Woolf, before Proust, Dorothy initiated the ""stream of consciousness"" method with which her name (if known at all) is associated -- she considered it ""a muddle-headed phrase."" Her talent went not only unaccredited (John Cowper Powys was her greatest admirer) but her personal life was also generally unrewarding although for many years she avoided commitments (a young Russian Jew she finally married off to her dearest friend; a brief passade with H. G. Wells). Finally while she was writing her great work which paraphrased her own experience she met the much younger, alcoholic Alan Odle and married him in 1917 when he was given only six months to live. Thirty years later she was thinking of permitting him to ""fend for himself"" when he dropped dead. Dorothy left little behind her except the sequential novel and this book is based on that and letters and a few memories (Rosenberg apparently doesn't think much of the Powys biography). She was a sad, curious, willful woman who welcomed solitude and therefore to a degree invited the anonymity which was her lot then and later. But an interesting woman in an interesting period and certainly we must assume that she, as reclaimed here, owes a great deal to Mr. Rosenberg's careful, tasteful presentation.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1973
Publisher: Knopf