Set in early 20th-century London, The Lodger tells the story of Dorothy Richardson, a contemporary of Virginia Woolf’s. Louisa Treger’s novel follows the story of Dorothy during her time at a lodging house in London.
As a diversion, Dorothy frequently visits her friend Jane on the weekends, and eventually succumbs to the charms of Jane’s husband Bertie, better known as H.G. Wells. Dorothy and Bertie begin an affair fraught with various complications, including Dorothy’s romantic involvement with her fellow lodger Victoria, who is not only Dorothy’s lover, but also Dorothy’s inspiration to become a suffragist.
I would have loved to see more of Dorothy’s involvement in the suffragist movement—at one point it seems as if she is only carried along on the wave of Veronica’s fervor, and I am curious about the full extent of her involvement—but in some ways it is enough to know that she was involved in such a momentous time in England’s history.
Dorothy’s efforts to write form the underlying current in the novel. At one point, to describe her struggle, she says that her words are “only a collection of formless jottings, experiments really, nothing that approximated a narrative.” However, Dorothy eventually finds her voice as she works her way through her interactions with Bertie, Jane, Veronica, and other fellow lodgers.
To me, the most poignant point in The Lodger comes when Dorothy realizes, “The reason women didn’t produce much ‘art’ was because they were pulled in different directions; torn and scattered by the unending multiplicity of their preoccupations and tasks; unable to do any one thing properly. It was a state of being unknown to men. Art demands what present-day society won’t give to women, she decided.” I found it interesting the parallel between Dorothy’s musings and the way some women still feel about their writing or art today—the struggle to have, and be, it all. I felt as though Treger laid Dorothy’s feelings bare for us all to read and see—whether about her writing, her love affairs, or her fascination with the women’s suffrage movement.
Well-written and at times eloquent, The Lodger left me wanting a more thorough picture of Dorothy’s life. Treger’s novel is well-researched and documented, and I know that within the sources she used, there is so much more to learn about Richardson and her life. Perhaps that is what Treger intended.
The Lodger is out on the 14th of October.