The Lodger (A Novel) by Louisa Treger

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The first biographical novel about Dorothy Richardson, peer of Virginia Woolf, lover of H.G. Wells, and central figure in the emergence of modernist fiction.

Dorothy exists just above the poverty line, doing secretarial work at a dentist’s surgery and living in a seedy boarding house in Bloomsbury, when she is invited to spend the weekend with a childhood friend. Jane recently married a writer who is hovering on the brink of fame. His name is H.G. Wells, or Bertie as he is known to friends.

Bertie appears unremarkable at first. But then Dorothy notices his grey-blue eyes taking her in, openly signalling approval. He tells her he and Jane have an agreement which allows them the freedom to take lovers, although Dorothy is not convinced her friend is happy with this arrangement.

Not wanting to betray Jane, yet unable to draw back, Dorothy free-falls into an affair with Bertie. Then a new boarder arrives at the house—striking unconventional Veronica Leslie-Jones, determined to live life on her own terms—and Dorothy finds herself caught between Veronica and Bertie. Amidst the personal dramas and wreckage of the militant suffragette movement, Dorothy finds her voice as a writer.

The Lodger is a beautifully intimate novel that is at once an introduction to one of the most important writers of the 20th century and a compelling story of one woman tormented by unconventional desires

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Publisher and Release Date: Thomas Dunne Books , October  2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London 1906
Genre: Biographical Historical Fiction
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Lizzie English

From the summary of The Lodger, the reader is to expect a book about a 20th century novelist who changed the perspective of writing as the world knows it. Given the appearance of H.G Wells as a character in the book, I assumed that he is the author so described, but no, it is Dorothy who is that writer. I have an English degree and have been studying literature for many years, yet I had never heard of Dorothy Richardson. Which is a shame – and even in the book, the reader doesn’t really hear of Dorothy Richardson as an author, either. There are only a few pages dedicated to her writing and how she wanted to develop the new style that later became known as “stream of consciousness”. I really would have liked more information about her books and not read only about the love affairs which shaped her as a writer.

Richardson is a fickle person who can’t seem to make up her mind as to what exactly she wants. Her first thoughts of Wells are almost ones of repulsion, yet quickly she thinks she’s in love with him. He waits a little before actually pursuing her but she pushes him away afraid of what it might to do Jane, Wells’ wife and Dorothy’s oldest friend. Dorothy considers herself an independent woman who can make her own decisions and choices since she lives on her own and has her own income, yet when she finally accepts Wells’ ‘love’ she changes and becomes meek and confused. It takes her a while to realize that she changed to be with him.

H.G. Wells is a dominant character in the first part of the book, but later on he becomes an afterthought and a mere memory. His character not fully fleshed-out, and is really just there to help Dorothy along with changing her life and realizing she doesn’t want to be tied down by men. He comes across as a funny little man who is in love with love and his part of the story never seems to be resolved. After a big life changing incident between the pair, Wells just sort of fades away.

Dorothy’s biggest life-change comes when Veronica Leslie-Jones comes into her life. With her she feels alive and experiences things she never did with Wells.  Veronica is the best written person in the book, as Dorothy notices everything when it comes to her, and the reader gets to know her better, wants to know what’s going to happen, and why she has such a big impact on Richardson’s life.  Veronica does have a big influence on Dorothy, she shapes her into the person she should be and their love for each other helps Dorothy to realize was she was missing with Wells.

The novel focuses a lot on Richardson’s love affairs, and not enough on her writing. While her affairs may have shaped her as a person, any relationship to her writing appears in the book as an afterthought. A fortune teller tells her she’s going to be a writer but she puts it off until Wells convinces her she should write. It takes troubling times in her life before she realizes exactly what she wants to accomplish but even after that and a short clip from one of Richardson’s published works, the focus goes back to her love-life.

The end of the novel leaves a lot to be desired. The book ends just after after Dorothy Richardson’s first novel comes out, and it includes clips of some of the reviews, but there is nothing really from Dorothy’s point of view, or about her take on the novel. There should have been a lot more said about her writing, especially since the summary of the book says she was so important, but it doesn’t go into why.

All this is not to say that the book is not enjoyable, because that’s not the case. The historical background is interesting and well-researched; Dorothy Richardson was involved with the Suffragette movement, and that provided the impetus for much of her writing. It’s also a refreshing departure to have a relationship between two women portrayed so well, and is something fairly unusual for a novel set at this period. The novel also goes into some detail about her ideas and development of the stream of consciousness style – my criticism is that the focus on her writing is not maintained, and just seems to disappear part way through.

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