Places: Pilgrimage

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1938: Pointed Roofs, 1915; Backwater, 1916; Honeycomb, 1917; The Tunnel, 1919; Interim, 1919; Deadlock, 1921; Revolving Lights, 1923; The Trap, 1925; Oberland, 1927; Dawn’s Left Hand, 1931; Clear Horizon, 1935; Dimple Hill, 1938; March Moonlight, 1967

Type of work: Novels

Type of plot: Bildungsroman

Time of work: Late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedBabington

Babington. PilgrimageIdyllic English provincial village in which Miriam lives until she is eighteen years old, when her father’s bankruptcy forces her to leave in order to earn money to help support her family. She leaves behind a provincial life of safety, her parents, and her three beloved sisters, to seek her fortune in Germany. Dorothy Richardson based the village on Abingdon in England’s Berkshire district, where she herself was born.


*Hanover. German city to which Miriam goes to work as a governess after her father’s bankruptcy. Germany represents such a challenge in language and culture to Miriam that she returns to England after a single year, sadder but wiser, and depressed by her lack of achievement. Pointed Roofs, the title of this chapter volume, refers to the pointed roofs of Hanover.


*London. Capital of Great Britain that throughout the novel plays the most significant role in shaping Miriam’s cultural and psychological life. Miriam first goes there from Germany to become a teacher in the “backwater” of north London (hence, the title of the second chapter-volume, Backwater). There she teaches in a school run by three spinster sisters. The name of their school, Banbury Park, is an oblique reference to Richardson’s own experience of teaching in north London’s Finsbury/Barnsbury Park district. Mirroring Richardson’s experience there, Miriam is discouraged by the region’s mean streets and the harsh, snarling voices of north London residents. Again, a contrast of cultures looms unpleasantly and frustrates Miriam’s intellectual aspirations.

Miriam’s later experience as a dental assistant on Wimpole Street takes her deeper into the heart of London life for the first time. For her, London represents the large world, contrasted to her former life in Babington. Richardson fills her descriptions of London with the names of real streets and places. Having a well-lighted room of her own on Tansley Street helps liberate her, and she ever feels the presence of London in her own room, as it is brought in with the light. When she pays a brief visit to Banbury Park to spend Christmas with the family of one of her former students, she feels an urgent need to return to the freedom of her Tansley Street room.

Miriam’s later experiences in London include residence in a gloomy flat in Flaxman’s Court, where she is close to the slums of St. Pancras but–significant to her own aspirations as a writer–opposite the rooms of the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. Her final residence is at a boardinghouse in St. John’s Wood, far from the center of London, where she finally begins her vocation as a writer in earnest.

*Wimpole Street

*Wimpole Street. District in London where Miriam works as a dental assistant in The Tunnel and Interim. This episode, too, mirrors Richardson’s real life experience in London’s Harley Street–a district famous for its high-class medical professionals. Wimpole Street’s literary fame rests on its association with England’s literary star, Elizabeth Barrett Browning.


*Brighton. Seaside resort in southeast England’s East Sussex County, where Miriam vacations with her sisters. While she is there, she strikes out for freedom from teaching long hours in the little north London school. Her stay by the sea recalls childhood memories; while looking out over the cliff edge beyond Dawlish, she determines to make another change.


*Newlands. Town far from London where Miriam takes another governess position with a wealthy family. There she experiences a “Vanity Fair”-like life. The spectacle and pageantry of Newlands life is finally closed, and her real life begins.


Oberland. Fictional Swiss village whose very name (meaning “over land”) symbolizes a new height in Miriam’s long pilgrimage. Richardson adapted the name from that of the real Adelboden in the Swiss Alps.

Dimple Hill

Dimple Hill. Quaker farm in the quiet countryside of Sussex, where Miriam rests from her journeys. Richardson based it on Windmill Hill in the East Sussex downs, where she herself had once spent time recuperating.

BibliographyFromm, Gloria G. Dorothy Richardson: A Biography. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1977. An excellent starting point for an examination of Dorothy Richardson’s life and work. Interesting analysis of Pilgrimage, highlighting the relationship between Richardson’s life and her art.Gregory, Horace. Dorothy Richardson: An Adventure in Self-Discovery. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967. A compelling study of the events of Richardson’s life. Important work for the reader interested in the autobiographical nature of Pilgrimage.Hanscombe, Gillian E. The Art of Life: Dorothy Richardson and the Development of Feminist Consciousness. London: Peter Owen, 1982. Offers textual examination of Pilgrimage. Includes interesting assessment of Richardson’s attempt to develop a feminine writing style. Comprehensive index provides access to important sections.Radford, Jean. Dorothy Richardson. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991. Analyzes structure, characters, and themes. Contains a useful section on reading and readership in Richardson’s novel. An excellent resource for current scholarship on Pilgrimage.Staley, Thomas F. Dorothy Richardson. Boston: Twayne, 1976. A lucid examination of Dorothy Richardson’s life. A place to start in Richardson study.
Categories: Places