The Lodger, by Louisa Treger

The Lodger, by Louisa Treger

It’s a strange process by which one writer will make it onto the literary canon whilst so many others of their time languish in the footnotes, forgotten and out of print. Dorothy Richardson, the heroine of The Lodger, is one such. Although a pioneer of stream of consciousness writing, this contemporary of Virginia Woolf is now largely unknown. Louisa Treger came across her ‘by accident in the library of London University,’ whilst searching for a new angle in her research on Woolf. She was intrigued to find a glancing mention, by Woolf, of the way Richardson had ‘invented . . . a sentence which we might call the psychological sentence of the female gender.’ This interest grew into a novel, based on the events of Richardson’s life and bringing into sharp focus a period of history when women balanced on the edge of independence, stalked by the twin spectres of poverty and damaged reputations.

The novel opens in Kent, as Dorothy arrives at the home of an old school friend, Amy Catherine, now married to the writer H. G. Wells and known as Jane. Their house becomes a refuge from the hardships of Dorothy’s life in London and then a temptation, as Dorothy is pursued by Wells and persuaded into an affair, technically with Jane’s blessing. The narrative then unfolds largely in London, where we follow Dorothy in her daily life: the low paid job in a dentist’s surgery, her attic room in a ramshackle boarding house, the dangers facing a young woman alone on the London streets, and the thin line between respectability and disgrace. Dorothy has two potential suitors, both residents of the boarding house, but she rejects both them both, instead meeting Wells in a squalid rented room whenever he can get away.

By the second half, the dubious thrill of the affair is beginning to pall, particularly with Dorothy’s growing intimacy with the exotic Veronica, a wealthy rebel running away from her background and obligations. Wells, although clinging to Dorothy and delighted when he finds that she is pregnant, is largely absent and worryingly ready to flirt with other girls. (In real life, he went on to have affairs with, among others, Elizabeth von Arnim and Rebecca West, although these are not part of this narrative.) And always, Dorothy is struggling with the memory of her family’s financial troubles, and her mother’s depression and the manner of her death. I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that the ending holds a subtle triumph of Dorothy against the world.

The descriptions of London in all its smoky, dingy yet compelling elegance gives The Lodger a beautifully drawn background. It was refreshing to explore a narrative of unprivileged life, a look into the cracks of shabby gentility. In a sense, Dorothy is a Jane Eyre figure, but one who will not be romantically rescued by the hero, however flawed he may be. She will rescue herself entirely. It is to Treger’s credit that she makes it credible that Wells, with his short stature, straggly moustache, his ‘thin arms and scraggy chest’, is credible as a lover. Here is the power of charisma and intelligence in wooing a woman starved of good conversation. And it is ultimately satisfying to know that Dorothy became a respected and influential writer, even if that hasn’t translated into a sustained visibility. I might not rush out to buy her 13 volume opus Pilgrimage, but I’m glad that I know about it.


You can find Louisa’s website here, and here is the link to buy it on Amazon. And do remember to leave a review on Amazon. It means a lot to the author, you don’t need to have bought the book via Amazon, and you only need to leave a few words.


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