In her first semester at URI, Kara Watts enrolled in a modernism course with Professor Jean Walton, and it was here that an idea began to hatch when she read an excerpt of Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage. When we talked, Kara recalled that she hadn’t encountered Richardson before, but was immediately intrigued. Professor Walton recommended some useful resources to get started, and while Richardson’s work continued to interest her, Kara eventually decided to cut her work on Pilgrimage for the course’s culminating paper.
Remember, though, that this is a story about good work developing over time. It is also a story of how great work sometimes emerges from the waste basket. With her seminar paper submitted, Kara returned to the ideas that had originally so interested her in Richardson’s work. In particular, she continued to think about modernist conceptions of accumulation, everyday life, everyday habits, and the impulse she saw for modernists to accumulate “stuff.” While this accumulation doesn’t necessarily lead to connections, it did lead to collections, and this is especially prominent in Richardson’s work. Reading Pilgrimage evoked questions, such as: Is Richardson’s text faulty for these mundane masses of objects, risking alienating readers, like Mansfield, with assaults of “stuff”? Or, does this textual excess exhibit something else – a model of readership, an economic model of consciousness – that pushes these accumulations to the fore?
In order to further explore the experience Pilgrimage creates for readers, Kara responded to a Call for Papers for the 2013 Dorothy Richardson Day Conference in London. She was accepted, and received excellent feedback during the conference, including comments from Scott McCracken, the head of the Dorothy Richardson Society. He encouraged Kara to keep working on her piece and submit to the journal.
So, Kara developed her ideas on what accumulation meant for Richardson, and how that understanding of accumulation could become a way of reading.
In her words, “Part of the reading process for Pilgrimage is to overturn our typical expectations for reading, in that we usually aim for pleasure, information, or entertainment in a piece of fiction. Richardson doesn’t necessarily give us those things, so we have to start thinking in a new way to get a new kind of pleasure out of the experience. Our traditional conceptions for reading don’t apply. Instead, readers can see things for what they are, but [must] be comfortable with passing them by to move on to the next thing.” By paying attention to the shifting resonance of these reading experiences, readers can gain deeper understanding for what a modernist text can do.
The article’s title, “Miriam’s Waste Paper Basket: Reading Economies in Pilgrimage,” invokes a conversation Miriam Henderson has with her editor, Hypo Wilson. The two debate whether we have an inner core of being, or if consciousness is something that continually develops. Miriam finally writes to him, “I have no waste basket. Yours, I know, is capacious.”
For Kara, that line represented the larger aesthetic in the text – everything is included, and while not always used, is recognized as part of a larger whole. An important lesson, indeed, for those wondering about the value of what’s on the cutting room floor.
You can read Kara’s excellent work at: dorothyrichardson.org