BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Lodger’: Debut Novel Explores Life of Ground-breaking Author Dorothy Richardson in Two Unconventional Love Affairs

REVIEWED BY DAVID M. KINCHEN
Four years before the publication of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” the term “stream of consciousness” was first applied in a literary context in The Egoist, April 1918, by May Sinclair to the early volumes of Dorothy Richardson’s novel sequence “Pilgrimage.”

The Lodger jacketIn a review of “Pointed Roofs” Sinclair used the term “stream of consciousness” in her discussion of Richardson’s stylistic innovations. Richardson, however, preferred the term interior monologue. “Pointed Roofs” was the first volume in a sequence of 13 novels titled “Pilgrimage”. Miriam Henderson, the central character in “Pilgrimage”, is based on Richardson’s  own life between 1891 and 1915.

Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957) is the central figure in a wonderful debut novel by Louisa Treger titled “The Lodger” (Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, 272 pages, $24.99).

Much of the novel centers on the real-life love affair between Richardson and the writer H.G. “Bertie” Wells, but Treger shows how the experiences of a woman from the provinces — she was born in Abingdon-on-Thames, Oxfordshire but by the age of 10 she was living in London — changed her life in the hothouse literary scene of cosmopolitan London.

Dorothy exists just above the poverty line, working for low pay as a secretary at a dentist’s office in Harley Street and living in a 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. (His full name: Herbert George Wells).

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.

Reluctant to betray Jane, yet unable to draw back, Dorothy begins an affair with Bertie. (It occurs quickly in the novel; in real life, the affair developed over a period of years).

Dorothy’s life gets more complicated when a new boarder arrives at the house — beaufiful unconventional Veronica Leslie-Jones, determined to live life on her own terms (I picture her as the youthful Claire Bloom in the Robert Wise film “The Haunting) and Dorothy finds herself caught between Veronica and Bertie. This event, along with the violence of the militant suffragette movement, with Veronica imprisoned, helps Dorothy discover her literary gift and she begins writing.

“The Lodger” is a very readable work that is both an introduction to one of the most important writers of the 20th Century and the story of one woman tormented — and energized, at the same time — by unconventional desires.

Louisa Treger

Louisa Treger

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author

Louisa Treger, a classical violinist, studied at the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and worked as a freelance orchestral player and teacher. She subsequently turned to literature, gaining a First Class degree and a Ph.D. in English at University College London, where she focused on early-twentieth-century women’s writing and was awarded the West Scholarship and the Rosa Morison Scholarship “for distinguished work in the study of English Language and Literature.” Her website: http://www.louisatreger.com

For more about H.G. Wells, author of “The Time Machine,” “War of the Worlds,” “The Invisible Man,” “The Outline of History” and many more works: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._G._Wells

For my Jan. 20, 2014 review of “Under the Wide and Starry Sky”, another novel/biography: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/80372

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