The Secret Place of HG Wells’ Heart: Sally Partridge Talks to Louisa Treger About Her Book The Lodger
Louisa Treger (St Martin’s Press)
Literary love affairs make for captivating stories. André Brink and Ingrid Jonker’s tale of doomed love still captivates to this day. And Virginia Woolf’s letters to Vita Sackville-West continue to set hearts aflame. But sometimes lovers will slip out from between the pages of literary biographies and remain secret. Author Louisa Treger discovered one such affair.
The Lodger is an enchanting work of historical fiction that details the illicit relationship between young author Dorothy Richardson and sci-fi titan HG Wells. A relatively unknown literary figure, Richardson was a member of the famous Bloomsbury Group and a contemporary of Woolf’s. She was a pioneer of modernist fiction in her own right.
The novel begins with young Richardson taking a room in a London boarding house after her mother’s suicide. Rather than aspire to marry, which was the standard ambition for Victorian ladies, the young idealist strives to maintain her independence. She takes on a secretarial position to pay her bills. But she soon finds herself desperately lonely. When an invitation arrives from her old school friend Anne, now married to up-and-coming author Wells, she readily accepts. Wells’ eye is immediately drawn her and an affair blooms.
Treger first discovered Dorothy Richardson’s work while researching Virginia Woolf for her PhD. Woolf considered the now-forgotten Richardson a literary innovator. “She was fearless, unconventional and utterly original,” says Treger. “In her writing and in life. She couldn’t settle down and conform to any of the limited roles available to women, but smashed just about every boundary and taboo going – social, sexual and literary. The more I learnt about Dorothy, the more strongly I felt that her story should be told.”
London-based Treger says the idea for the novel was sparked at her home in Plettenberg Bay, which she shares with her Johannesburg-born husband. The couple visit South Africa at least twice a year.
She chose to focus on Richardson’s secret relationship with Wells as it was a pivotal encounter that shaped her future career. “Wells was such a complex and compelling man, not conventionally handsome, yet irresistible to women because of his intellect and the way he made them feel he was interested in all of them – their thoughts as well as their bodies. I was fascinated by the way he helped Dorothy find her voice as a writer – partly in opposition to his views.”
Richardson walked away from her relationship with Wells and, after a brief relationship with a suffragette, decided to concentrate on her own literary career, carving the way for others to follow.
Despite telling the novel from Richardson’s perspective, Treger decided against adopting her stream-of-consciousness style. “I deliberately rejected her stylistic innovations in favour of traditional prose because I wanted The Lodger to be more accessible than her novels.” Thanks to the Treger’s efforts, Dorothy Richardson and her love for the written word have finally found a seat at literature’s grand banquet.
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