Not so very long ago I saw Louisa Treger speaking about H G Wells on a programme screened by the BBC. Future Tense: The Story of H G Wells can be seen here on Youtube, and is highly recommended. But I also very much enjoyed Louisa Treger's novel based on her research about the man.
The Lodger includes a great deal about the personal life of H G Wells. However, the focus of the book is on one of the women in his life - specifically Dorothy Richardson, the lover who became a writer, at one time as well-respected as her contemporary, Virginia Woolf.
The Lodger paints the picture of the life of a single working woman who resides in a London boarding house. This is no romanticised Downton Abbey but an honest and gripping depiction of the harsher realities of the time; including the vicious treatment often handed out to suffragettes who were arrested and then imprisoned. However, this is not to say that the novel lacks elements of romance. After all, the central theme of the book is the dramatisation of the affair between Dorothy and H G Wells.
When writing about what had to be an essentially covert relationship, Treger shows great skill in depicting the excitement and sensuality of its early days -
They would take long walks though London and have dinner afterward at a restaurant. Or Dorothy might buy cold meat and salad and they'd picnic in their room; alone in infinite time, full of a sense of their liberating difference in relation to a convention-bound world. She experienced a keen pure happiness that was surely absolution? They talked about everything and nothing, their conversation made luminous by a bottle of wine. Bertie said his imagination was in a fertile state, and new ideas were blooming in his mind. He felt he was developing a new creative life.
Dorothy wants absolution because she knows this infidelity is cruel and unfair to Bertie's wife. And yet she is utterly charmed by the man; until later in the novel when his attitudes to certain events force her to stand back and take stock of her life.
Again, this is where Treger excels in exploring the sexual honesty and growing independence of so many women at this time. In fact, I wanted to shout 'hurray!' when Dorothy finally decides she will no longer live in the shadows as the secret subservient lover, only there to stroke the ego or fulfil the sexual needs of a man. No, she will be true to her nature. She will also become a writer - but a different kind of writer who embraces the modern changing world -
She would have to smash the old way of writing and make something entirely new. The part of her nature that flailed out and destroyed things would have no problem smashing the novel. But could she successfully remake it? Did she have the courage and the talent? She hadn't told Bertie about her writing. He would want to see it, or at the very least have it described to him, and she was afraid taht his forceful reaction would destroy it. Her work was like a frail young seed germinating deep within the earth; it would disintegrate if it was exposed to daylight too early. She was struck by the contrast between her writing, snatched in nooks and gaps of the day, and Bertie's. He had a whole household attending to his comfort and well-being; everything in it geared toward catering to his needs and nurturing his talent. Dorothy envied and half-resented the single-minded concentration this allowed him.
Much in the mood of a character who broke through the restrictions of her times, whether social, financial, or sexual, this is a novel that offers the reader a great deal of truth and integrity.
If you also read The Lodger, I wonder if - like me - you will come to the end and find yourself yearning to know what the future might have held in store for Dorothy. I'm glad to say it worked out well. But that is a tale for another day...
Thank you, Louisa Treger, for introducing Dorothy to me, and for telling her story so vividly.
If I have one complaint about this book it has nothing to do with the writing. It is simply the fact that the cover doesn't seem quite right for the period. I prefer this version, which seems more appropriate to the time and the essence of the story told.