Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Lodger by Louisa Treger, a journey into the mind and heart of an unconventional Edwardian woman

Sometimes one can judge a book by its cover. The content of Louisa Treger’s debut is just as exquisitely formed as the luminous jacket art. Dorothy Richardson was an early 20th-century literary star whose innovative stream-of-consciousness style influenced countless others but who is essentially forgotten today – undeservedly so, per Treger, and her thesis is convincing. Tracing Dorothy’s journey to self-recognition, she movingly illustrates both the price and rewards of independence.

In 1906, Dorothy visits her old school friend, Amy Catherine, now married and living with her husband, author H. G. “Bertie” Wells, on the Kentish coast. At their home, Dorothy can temporarily forget her threadbare existence at a boardinghouse in London’s Bloomsbury neighborhood and her dreary secretarial job. Amid this intellectual company, Dorothy feels overwhelmed. Here her conversation is hesitant, but she and the charismatic Bertie clearly share an attraction – which she resists at first but eventually succumbs to, after hearing he supposedly has an open marriage. Then the arrival of a new lodger at the boardinghouse, vibrant suffragette Veronica Leslie-Jones, throws Dorothy’s world into turmoil. Soon she’s fully engulfed in two illicit sexual relationships. As she struggles to balance her competing needs for togetherness and solitude, her literary voice is born.

Through Treger’s sensitive, poetic writing, The Lodger offers a wonderful study in character growth. Haunted by her mother’s suicide and disturbed by her unorthodox desires, Dorothy matures through experience, acknowledging her dual-sided nature and emerging triumphant. Alongside, she comes to recognize the many facets of the city of her heart, London, a place of “terror and beauty, squalor and splendor” where women’s rights are brutally suppressed but whose magnificence at sunset can take her breath away. Also noteworthy is the subtle depiction of the novel’s other female characters, as seen through Dorothy’s eyes. In all, a rich portrait of the times and of an unconventional woman’s interior life.

The Lodger was published in September by Thomas Dunne ($24.99, hardcover, 262pp).  This was one of my Editors' Choice selections from November's Historical Novels Review.


  1. Thank you for a review of an unusual read.

  2. Great cover, but a little out of time. The lady's dress is clearly Victorian and not Edwardian.

  3. Hah, that was the one I was hoping to find in your South Bend bag o' books...and nice catch, Marina, on the Victorian costume. That will go on my Goodreads list, Does this dress make me look anachronistic? (Which exists purely for educational purposes--we all know authors don't always get to give input on book covers.)

  4. Regardless, it's still one of the most beautiful HF covers I've seen (and I've seen a lot of them). I thought it suited the spirit of the book and of the heroine beautifully, even if her gown and bonnet are couple decades out of date :) The heroine is too poor to pay much attention to fashion anyway. I like how the image shows her alone in the city and making her own way in the world at a time when society didn't really respect independent women.

    Heh, unfortunately, no duplicates for this one showed up, and I wasn't about to part with it!

  5. I often ask myself, "Where have all the beautiful covers gone?" What a treat, this one! It appears to foreshadow the story perfectly -- fashion statements notwithstanding.