What if you saw something suspicious and did nothing? ‘The Lodger’ posits a consequence.
“If you see something, say something.” But what if you see something or suspect something and do nothing. What then? After every murderous atrocity, the police, news media and, these days, our White House tweeter-in-chief reflexively speculate about the motives and psychology of the perpetrator. Might there have been warning signs or red flags? Half the time, he — it is usually a he — is described as quiet, a loner, maybe just a bit odd, not at all the kind of person to do something horrific. Surely, though, some family members, friends or neighbors must have occasionally felt uneasy or had their suspicions? In 1913 Marie Belloc-Lowndes addressed this haunting question in the one novel she is remembered for: “The Lodger.” Based on the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888 — which, incidentally, began in late August — it remains even now a brilliant work of psychological suspense. In its pages, however, Belloc-Lowndes focuses less on a R ipper-like killer called “The Avenger” than on an ordinary, middle-aged woman named Mrs. Bunting. Once a devoted, punctilious maid in various upper-class households, Ellen Bunting now misses the security of her old life. After marrying a widowed butler, she and Mr. Bunting left service, hoping to make their way by leasing a house off London’s Marylebone Road and renting upstairs rooms to lodgers. Things haven’t worked out and, as the novel opens, the Buntings are on the verge of starvation. “Never, never had she felt so hopeless, so — so broken as now. Where was the good of having been an upright, conscientious self-respecting woman all her life long, if it only led to this utter, degrading poverty and wretchedness?” Virtually penniless, the couple don’t know where to turn, when Mrs. Bunting answers a tremulous, uncertain knock at the front door: > “On the top of the three steps . . . stood the long, lanky figure of a man, clad in an >Inverness cape and an old-fashioned top hat. He waited for a few seconds blinking >at her, perhaps dazzled by the light of the gas in the passage. Mrs. Bunting’s trained >perception told her at once that this man, odd as he looked, was a gentleman, >belonging by birth to the class with whom her former employment had brought her >in contact.” .....
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Book / 9780897336048 / Marie Belloc-Lowndes / May 1, 2010 / 1