Interview with Louisa Treger
The first biographical novel about Dorothy Richardson, peer of Virginia Woolf, lover of H.G. Wells, and central figure in the emergence of modernist fiction
Dorothy exists just above the poverty line, doing secretarial work at a dentist’s surgery and living in a seedy 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.
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.
Not wanting to betray Jane, yet unable to draw back, Dorothy free-falls into an affair with Bertie. Then a new boarder arrives at the house—striking unconventional Veronica Leslie-Jones, determined to live life on her own terms—and Dorothy finds herself caught between Veronica and Bertie. Amidst the personal dramas and wreckage of the militant suffragette movement, Dorothy finds her voice as a writer.
I finished this book recently and adored it! The characters were so wonderfully evoked and I felt that I learnt a lot about the period from the plot line. To find out how this novel came about, I chatted to the author.
R: Hi Louisa, I love The Lodger! How long have you been writing and when did you start?
L: Thank you, I am happy you like my book! I have been writing for as long as I can remember. As a child, I scribbled my thoughts in a diary and was always trying to write short stories and plays. But it wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I started writing in a serious, disciplined way.
R: What compelled you to write The Lodger?
L: I discovered Dorothy Richardson, the writer whose life my book is based on, by accident. I was researching Virginia Woolf in the University of London Library and I found a review by Virginia of one of Dorothy’s novels. In it, Virginia credited her with creating “a sentence which we might call the psychological sentence of the feminine gender.” I thought this was pretty amazing and wanted to find out more. I became captivated by Dorothy’s novels and her life: she was deeply unconventional in both. She couldn’t settle down and conform to any of the roles available to the women of her day, but smashed just about every boundary and taboo going – social, sexual and literary. The more I learnt about her, the more strongly I felt that her story should be unearthed and retold.
R: How long did it take you to write? Did you face any problems/set backs?
L: The Lodger took four years to research and write. I had problems with the plot and structure of the first draft, and it ended up undergoing major revisions. In the original version, I started in the same place: with Dorothy meeting HG Wells and falling in love with him. However, the earlier draft had a longer time span; it covered her marriage to a consumptive artist called Alan Odle as well. A secondary narrative, set in the present, was interwoven with Dorothy’s story: a PhD student who bore more than a passing resemblance to me was researching Dorothy Richardson and discovered a letter which altered the course of literary history! The trouble was that once Dorothy got married, her life settled into a routine, and it’s much more challenging to write about an established couple than about the dramatic period of her affair with HG Wells! In the end, my agent said: “This is the most interesting part of the novel; I think you should make it the whole novel,” and I did.
R: What does a typical writing day look like to you?
L: Most days, I drive my daughters to school. When I get home, I make a large, strong coffee and this act marks the transition from being a Mum to being a writer. I sit down at my computer and immerse myself in my fictional world until my children get home.
R: Are you working on anything new at the moment?
L: My second novel is well under way. It’s about a girl who was part of the Kindertransport – the rescue mission that brought thousands of refugee Jewish children from Nazi occupied Europe to safety in England. They left their families to go to the care of strangers, in a foreign country whose language they only had the barest grasp of. They didn’t know what would happen to them, or if they would see their parents again. The novel describes how the girl and her descendants adjust to English life.
R: Any good books that you can recommend to us?
L: I am reading A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale at the moment. Can’t put it down!
R: And the most important question of all, what’s your favorite cake?
L: I have a serious addiction to chocolate cake!
R: Thank you so much for speaking with me, Louisa. It was a pleasure to virtually meet you!
L: Thank you very much for having me! I really enjoyed chatting to you!