If you enjoyed ‘Good Old Anna’…

My Kindle is currently busy with The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes. Less subtle than her war novel, Good Old Anna, which I mentioned recently, but wonderfully creepy.

Mr and Mrs Bunting are desperate for money, and ask no questions when a sinister man arrives at the front door, answering their advertisement for a lodger. He is not too much trouble, just sitting in his room all day, reading his Bible, especially the violently misogynistic parts of the Old Testament. Meanwhile, out in the city slums, women are being murdered by ‘The Avenger’…

The figure of the sexually thwarted religious maniac as serial killer has become commonplace in twentieth-century fiction, but does it appear in literature before this novel?

I’m only half way through at the moment, but the book is already interestingly different from the Hitchcock movie.

4 Comments

  1. Toff Philippo
    Posted September 15, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    “The figure of the sexually thwarted religious maniac as serial killer has become commonplace in twentieth-century fiction, but does it appear in literature before this novel?”

    I would guess yes, but nothing springs immediately to mind, admittedly. Some Googling turns up “The Whitechapel Murders: Or, on the Track of the Fiend” (1888) as a possibility. It seems like the concept could go back much further, though?

    “I’m only half way through at the moment, but the book is already interestingly different from the Hitchcock movie.”

    Lowndes also wrote a short story version of The Lodger. The film is based not just on Lowndes, but on a play Horace Annesley Vachell adapted from Lowndes titled “Who Is He?” The play is more comedic in nature, I understand.

    • Posted September 17, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for this. I didn’t know about the Vachell play. Presumably the script will be in the British Library. Vachell was the author of ‘The Hill’, a once-famous novel about Harrow School. You can judge its tone from these first paragraphs:
      The train slid slowly out of Harrow station.

      Five minutes before, a man and a boy had been walking up and down the long platform. The boy wondered why the man, his uncle, was so strangely silent. Then, suddenly, the elder John Verney had placed his hands upon the shoulders of the younger John, looking down into eyes as grey and as steady as his own.

      “You’ll find plenty of fellows abusing Harrow,” he said quietly; “but take it from me, that the fault lies not in Harrow, but in them. Such boys, as a rule, do not come out of the top drawer. Don’t look so solemn. You’re about to take a header into a big river. In it are rocks and rapids; but you know how to swim, and after the first plungeyou’ll enjoy it, as I did, amazingly.”

      “Ra-ther,” said John.

    • Roger
      Posted September 18, 2011 at 12:15 am | Permalink

      Robert Wringhim in Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner has some similarities to “the sexually thwarted religious maniac as serial killer” but I don’t recall much emphasis on the sexual repression from when I read it.Other characters from Sensation or Gothic fiction may be even closer, perhaps.

  2. Posted September 19, 2011 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I’ve finished the book now – and heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys mildly gruesome suspense.
    The ending is famously different from that of the Hitchcock movie, and the character of the lodger, too. What I found most striking, though, is that in the novel the motivation of the unfortunate Bunting family is essentially economic.
    When the prospective lodger first knocks at the door they are near destitution; all their possessions of any value have been pawned, and they are near starvation. The mysterious and exxectric lodger pays generously, and all their problems disappear.
    When Mrs Bunting gradually begins to suspect him of being the murderer, she resists the thought as strongly as she can, aware that his arrest would mean the end of the family’s income. Marie Belloc Lowndes conveys very well the process by which the desperate Mrs B. is led into self-deception, and into deceiving others, as she refuses to face the facts, and even finds herself hoping for another murder, which might solve the problem.
    Mrs B. won’t look the facts in the face, but the book shows how all the characters are blinded by their preconceptions, so that the police and press, for example, see only what they expect to see. In the (very effective) last chapter, the head of Scotland Yard walks past the murderer without noticing him, even though he knows what he looks like.
    Having enjoyed both this book and ‘Good Old Anna’, I’m going to be searching out a few of Mrs B-L’s other novels.


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