Several people have asked me what happened to Dorothy Richardson after The Lodger ends. Here are some of the facts:
Living and writing her books in St John’s Wood, Dorothy met a fellow boarder: the impoverished artist, Alan Odle, and they fell into the habit of talking during breakfast. He was a wraith-like figure, with long fair hair wound around his head, sharp ink-stained nails that he sometimes used to sketch with, and brown eyes gleaming with intelligence. Alan was tubercular; he was steadily drinking himself to death at the Café Royal in the company of artists like Aubrey Beardsley. He became increasingly attached to and dependent on Dorothy, and proposed to her. She married him reluctantly, believing he had only six months to live.
Ironically, Alan survived for many years, and their unusual marriage turned out to be a success. Alan was a strange combination of both sexes, and an equally strange combination of dependence and independence. In practical matters, he was helpless as an infant, and relied entirely on Dorothy to run their affairs. But in every other respect he was a self-contained being, content to work single-mindedly on his black and white drawings and to lead his own independent inner life, which left Dorothy’s untouched for her writing.
Initially, Dorothy’s novels made her something of a cult figure. She was hailed as ‘one of the new women writers’ and an innovator of stream of consciousness, and was compared favourably to Virginia Woolf. She and Alan met and corresponded with some of the most interesting figures of their day. During a trip to Paris in the 1920s, for instance, they saw Ernest and Hadley Hemingway, Mary Butts and Cecil Maitland, Mina Loy, Nina Hamnett, and others of the Montparnasse group. Ernest Hemingway begged Dorothy for a contribution to his new magazine transatlantic review, in which the opening of Finnegan’s Wake had recently appeared. “Please don’t get English and say that you haven’t anything that would be of use to us,” he implored, “because I would be very happy to have any story of yours.”1
The early recognition and interest in Dorothy’s writing gradually slid from her grasp. She blamed her ‘failure’ on the extra journalism and translating work she was forced to take on in order to survive, for neither her novels nor Alan’s drawings earned enough money to live on.
Having insufficient time to devote to her fiction was certainly a convenient way to rationalize her lack of success, though it was not the whole story. Dorothy’s major achievement was a thirteen-volume novel-sequence called Pilgrimage, a fictionalised account of her own life. The new fluid prose she set out to create in it, which imitated the movement of the female mind, was dubbed “stream of consciousness.” It was courageous and original, but it posed considerable challenges as well. None of the usual threads of plot or characterisation are given; the entire world of the novel is filtered through the protagonist’s consciousness. Readers wanted instant gratification; they expected action and entertainment. They did not want to struggle with an epic and slowly unfolding examination of consciousness.
Dorothy died in poverty and obscurity. A visitor to the old age home where she spent her last years was told that Dorothy suffered from delusions: she thought she was a famous writer. To which her startled visitor replied, “She is a famous writer!”