First published in 1925, though set two decades earlier, The Trap is the ninth volume of Dorothy Richardson’s (1873-1957) semi-autobiographical novel-sequence Pilgrimage.
This monumental series describes the life of a working woman at the turn of the century, reflecting Richardson’s own struggle for independence and a room of her own. Forced into the workplace at seventeen when her father went bankrupt, Richardson supported herself through her writing as well as less congenial jobs; for a time she was a governess, secretary and even a dental assistant. Richardson was part of the turn-of-the-century alternative culture that ‘embraced vegetarianism, feminism and socialism’. Think Olive Schreiner and Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
Miriam Henderson, a mirror for Richardson in her writing, lives on a pound a week in London, exploring the city’s cafes, clubs and lodging-houses. London is the ‘elastic’ material space that influences her writing, and Richardson’s wanderings around the city echo her distinct stream-of-consciousness style.
In The Trap, Richardson’s narrative moves from London’s streets to her new shared flat in Bloomsbury. The shortest of all of her novel-chapters, The Trap tells the tale of two ‘bachelor women’ living in what Miriam calls a ‘marriage of convenience; a bringing down of expenses that would allow them both to live more comfortably than they could alone’. Selina Holland is the chosen partner: a social worker and what Miriam distastefully dubs the ‘châtelaine’ of the pair. In contrast, Miriam is the writer with a ‘man’s mind’ through which we see much of the New Woman’s life in early twentieth-century London.
What starts out with utopian aims – the affordable, shared space – gradually becomes more and more oppressive. As the novel progresses, Richardson’s prose closes in until we too are stifled like Miriam, her privacy invaded and policed by Selina. ‘Shut in, maddened,’ she writes ‘there is no sound. Not a breath. In spite of the wide open window the air is stifling’.
The home takes on many manifestations in the early twentieth century, encompassing many things: rooms, objects, lived experience. When we study it, we have to take into account both its physical materiality and the affective and emotional experiences of the space, as well as what it means to belong, to have a ‘home’.
The Modernism in the Home conference, taking place at the University of Birmingham on 1-2 July 2019, hopes to reflect this broad scope of research. We invite scholars to interrogate the historical, theoretical and thematic intersections occurring in the domestic sphere in the early twentieth century, and to reconsider the aesthetic, social, political, technological, artistic, scientific, cultural and textual relationship between modernism and the home, in a global context.
Our keynote speakers include Professor Morag Shiach (Queen Mary University) and Professor Barbara Penner (The Bartlett School of Architecture). Professor Shiach’s work focuses on the changing nature of domestic interiors in the early twentieth century, challenging traditional associations of modernity with public space. Professor Penner’s current research focuses on ‘cardiac kitchens’ in the post-war period, and more broadly looks at themes of domestic technologies, domestic labour and domestic bodies.
We welcome papers that examine the relationship between modernism, the domestic sphere and ideas of home. We want to explore the symbiosis between architecture and literature, public and private, the house and the novel. By engaging with artists, architects and authors whose work intersects with the domestic, we hope to examine the evolving nature of the home and its inhabitants in the early twentieth century.