The author of the beautiful and intimate The Lodger, a story based on a forgotten and neglected pioneer of 20th Century literature, chats to GLAMOUR about her inspiration and her passion for her protagonist.
GLAMOUR: What inspired you to write the story of Dorothy Richardson?
Louisa: I discovered Dorothy Richardson, the writer whose life the 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 sounded interesting and decided to find out more. I became fascinated by Dorothy’s books and her life: she was highly unconventional in both. 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 her, the more strongly I felt that her story should be told.
GLAMOUR: Did you find it difficult writing about the struggles of a historical woman, or do you think women face the same issues nowadays?
Louisa: The issues Dorothy struggles with in The Lodger are similar to those facing many young women today. These include holding down a low-paying dismal job, wanting to be independent, and dealing with sexual double standards and the insecurity of living alone in a big city. Of course, women’s lot has improved in certain ways: we have more freedom now, more choices. But there are still similarities between Dorothy’s situation and that of 21st century women.
GLAMOUR: What is the significance of the book’s title?
Louisa: The title is apt because Dorothy was a lodger in a seedy boarding house in Bloomsbury at the time the novel is set. What I particularly like about it is its ambiguity and its suggestion of anonymity, transience, unbelonging. It captures Dorothy’s lack of roots or stability, as well as her inability to fit into any conventional role.
GLAMOUR: When researching your protagonist, did you find it difficult locating the material and information you needed to write her story?
Louisa: Luckily, there was just the right amount of material: Dorothy’s own novels and short stories, her letters, two biographies and a small body of critical work. In other words, there enough to get my teeth stuck into, but not so much that I couldn’t let my imagination roam freely.
GLAMOUR: Your novel has been described as being “full of passion and verve.” Is the story of Dorothy one you relate to?
Louisa: I would like to think so! Dorothy lived in a society full of crippling constraints, where sexuality was repressed and women were forced into incredibly restrictive roles. Dorothy was a sensitive and passionate woman, struggling against these constrictions, and awakening to love and sensuality.
GLAMOUR: You’ve been quoted saying “Dorothy Richardson is the forgotten Virginia Woolf.” What makes you say this?
Louisa: This question is worthy of a whole essay! Briefly, Dorothy Richardson is a name few people are familiar with today. In her time, not only was she hailed as one of ‘the new women writers’ and an innovator of stream of consciousness, but she was considered Virginia Woolf’s equal. She and Virginia were contemporaries who were familiar with each other’s work, and there are numerous parallels between them. Both were tormented souls who did not conform to social norms, and both were bisexual. Both had unusual, though successful, marriages: Virginia to Leonard Woolf and Dorothy to the artist Alan Odle. Like Virginia, Dorothy lived for a time in Bloomsbury, though she led a grittier and less privileged life. The lives of both were blighted by madness and suicide. Virginia’s breakdowns and eventual suicide have been well documented; Dorothy’s mother suffered a breakdown and committed suicide while Dorothy was looking after her. Perhaps most importantly, Virginia and Dorothy shared similar writerly preoccupations. Dissatisfaction with the conventions of the realist novel – which they perceived as being explicitly masculine – led them to seek new narrative forms that would render the texture of consciousness as it records life’s impressions, life’s minute to minute quality.
GLAMOUR: Did you find difficulty transitioning from a classical violinist to being a writer?
Louisa: Actually, music was fantastic training for being a writer because it taught me the discipline to glue my butt to a chair and spend hours alone, honing my craft. There are numerous parallels between music and writing, including rhythm, colour, tone, and the ability to blend many voices, or make a single voice stand out. Just as an extra beat throws a piece of music off balance, so a surplus word can destabilize a sentence.
GLAMOUR: What are you reading at the moment?
Louisa: A good friend recently introduced me to John Steinbeck. I am devouring The Grapes of Wrath!