the lodger

The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes

“There fell on them, emerging now and again from the confused babel of hoarse shouts, the one clear word “Murder!”

the lodger coverMarie Belloc Lowndes’ 1913 novel clearly influenced by the real-life Jack the Ripper murders was gripping and suspenseful. The suspense manifests itself from crafting a psychological mystery within the minds of the main characters.

The Lodger begins at a boarding house owned by the Buntings, a married couple that had spent their lives, up until then, in service. They haven’t had a paying lodger in ages, and the two have turned to pawning most of their belongings and going without food for long periods of time. It is also during the opening that information is revealed about a series of ghastly murders in the East End of London, which are perpetrated by a villain called “The Avenger.” When the Buntings are almost down to their last bit of money, they receive a visitor late at night. A strange man wrapped up in his heavy cloak comes seeking lodging. He agrees to pay a larger sum than is normally required with the promise that no one else shall board in the rooms.

Mrs. Bunting is terribly relieved about the new household income. This strange lodger, Mr. Sleuth, is surely a gentleman (at least in Mrs. Bunting’s eyes) and this is the excuse she gives herself any time she needs to rationalize his strange behavior (his daily “experiments,” his obsessive reading of the bible, his queer kind of fear and dislike of women, and his predilection for leaving the house only at late hours that coincide with the times of the murders). She is the one who has the most interaction with Mr. Sleuth, but her husband also has a wee bit. Independently from each other, both Buntings begin to have doubts about their lodger.

the lodger hitchcockThe book is more about the psychology of the Buntings–mostly Mrs. Bunting. Through her eyes, Belloc Lowndes is cooking up doubt and deception. With all of his strange behavior and schedule perfectly matching up with those of The Avenger’s murders, Mrs. Bunting refuses to admit that Mr. Sleuth is anything but a scholar and a gentleman. Each day unfolds with new strange behavior from the lodger. Belloc Lowndes writes with an acute sense of detail and the book is rich with information about the crimes sensationalized through the newspapers that Mr. Bunting buys throughout the day. Rarely, though, does the novel leave the inside of the boarding house, with the rare exception of Mrs. Bunting’s visit to the public police inquest. The mystery and intrigue are mostly confined to its walls, which give the reader a claustrophobic and paranoid feeling. I shan’t reveal anymore, because it would be a crime to give away the reveal (although, I do admit that the ending was very abrupt and I found myself rereading the final few paragraphs).

Also, in 1927, film audiences saw the Hitchcock adaptation that is extensive in its shadows and intrigue. The Lodger played by Ivor Novello is handsome, dark, and suave. The silent film relies on many plot points of the original book, but like most film adaptations, does veer away from the source material. With that said, however, I very much enjoyed the film, which can be watched for free in the public domain (it is remarkable that it remains intact and of good quality considering many early films have been lost or destroyed, re: London After Midnight). I urge you to watch the film, especially if you are a fan of Hitchcock or shadowy dark films in the German Expressionism vain. Although, I haven’t seen it, word on the street is that the 1944 adaptation is also a very good film.

Besides films, the book has also been adapted for radio series. The two I’ve listened to have Vincent Price and Peter Lorre as the lodger, respectively. They, too, are available to listen to for free in the public domain.

  • Vincent Price offers a lodger who is slick and his voices gives the appearance of a gentleman scholar even when on the brink of losing it. @Hollywood Star Time (1946)
  • Peter Lorre is far creepier. His voice lends less to a creeping psychopath, but more to a man cloaked in mania ready to burst at the seams. @Mystery in the Air (1947)

One last suggestion of supplemental works is the Spring 2011 article ‘Using a woman’s wit and cunning”: Marie Belloc Lowndes Rewrites the Ripper’ available in the Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies journal.

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Ready for the Winter Big Read

Thanks to all who voted and left feedback from earlier in the week. It was a close race between two of the titles, but the one that I was originally leaning towards came out the winner. I hope to read the other two in the near future as I’ve been meaning to add more classics back in to my repertoire. And now, without further ado…

winter big read logo v3

By what I’ve read, The Lodger by Marie Adelaide Belloc Lowndes, was inspired to write her 1913 novel after living in London during the time of Jack the Ripper. According to archive.org,

The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes was inspired by the Jack the Ripper murders. An older couple, the Buntings, are forced to take in lodgers to make ends meet. They are on the verge of starvation when a mysterious man, Mr. Sleuth, appears at their door and asks for lodging, paying in advance. However, when the murders of young women in London attributed to a man known only as “The Avenger” continue, the Buntings, particularly Mrs. Bunting, grow fearful that their lodger may be the murderer.

lodger coverI am really looking forward to putting all other books aside (alas, I’m a serial multi-book-at-a-time reader) and concentrating on this one, alone. I also hope to be able to slow down, for I read very quickly. If anyone feels inclined to join me, The Lodger is in the public domain, meaning you can easily access it for free (digital) or cheaply (paperback), and as a free audiobook.

Project Gutenberg | Feedbooks | Librivox (audiobook)

Also, The Lodger was adapted into a film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1927. This was one of his first films. Before becoming the filmmaker we know of today, Hitchcock worked in Germany on many of the German Expressionism films distributed by UFA. I haven’t watched the film, yet, but I plan to after reading this. According to TCM.com, the silent film starring Ivor Novello has obvious German Expressionism influence.

The film, too, is in the public domain and can be viewed in its entirety at archive.org.