The Lodger: How its Character’s Fell into Mysterious Mayhem and Their Own Necessary Deceit

Mr. and Mrs. Bunting lived a quiet life of servitude, content and living by their means.  Yet like so many in the Victorian Era, the Buntings struggled to even pay their rent, resorting to giving up simple pleasures such as newspapers and tobacco.  However, their circumstances change drastically in Marie Belloc Lowndes’s novel The Lodger. On a foggy London night they hear the “loud, tremulous, uncertain double knock…[different from lodgers who customarily] gave sharp, quick, bold, confident raps (15)”, they were the knocks of a man seeking rooms and a strange sort of solitude amongst their house.

            Almost immediately, the reader gains a sense of the cloaked mystery that surrounds the lodger, and still his spell over Mrs. Bunting perplexes Lowndes’s audience, as she is charmed by Mr. Sleuth, the “gentle gentlemen”, and his quiet, although eccentric mannerisms.  Mrs. Bunting’s need to protect those around her as well as the lodger, ironically from the lodger himself, is prominent throughout the novel, and this need causes the characters of The Lodger to partake in the secrets that appear upon Mr. Sleuth’s arrival.

            The notion of secrets in The Lodger causes both the two main characters as well as those they interact with to suffer from the uncertainties and fearful suspicions that follow them during their stint with Mr. Sleuth.  Protecting one another from their own fears haunt the characters as they plunge deeper and deeper into the tangled web surrounding the mysterious “Avenger” murders.  Yet their attitudes regarding their “essential” avoidance and at times fabrication of the truth vary throughout the book, as Mrs. Bunting’s feelings in particular about telling lies change drastically. 

            The necessity to guard each other from their suspicions of who Mr. Sleuth may possibly be is what Mrs. Bunting describes as a “burden” and is at first a respectable, yet frightened, women who’s attitude Lowndes describes as:

“She felt ashamed, deeply ashamed, of deceiving so kind a husband.  And yet, what could she do?  How could she share her dreadful burden with poor Bunting?  Why, ‘twould be enough to make a man go daft.  Even she often felt as if she could stand it no longer – as if she would give the world to tell someone – anyone – what it was that she suspected, what deep in her heart she feared to be the truth. (147)”

However despite both Mr. and Mrs. Bunting’s cautious respect and avoidance of the lodger, and denial of what they fear to be the truth, both eventually share the burden silently toward the conclusion of The Lodger and spend much energy in preserving their resurrected lifestyle and shielding their acquaintances from Mr. Sleuth’s peculiarities, Bunting’s daughter Daisy in particular.  Nevertheless, Mrs. Bunting continuously fights with herself and appears to tell anyone, saying during her illusory trip to the inquisition, “‘If he knew – if only he knew what I know!’” (149). 

The fear of their mounting suspicions resulting in a confirmation keeps the Buntings from being honest with each other and their attitudes lead to guilt and denial in their sticky situation with Mr. Sleuth.  Yet the question of whether their deceptive nature toward the others were actual lies or just careful manipulation of the truth is ever present in their thoughts, as the Buntings at times feel they should not dispute their good fortune in having Mr. Sleuth as their lodger.  Nevertheless, when Mrs. Bunting is faced with the realization of her secrets turning into falsehoods,

“She wondered at her temerity, her – her hypocrisy, and that moment, those few words, marked an epoch in Ellen Bunting’s life.  It was the first time she had told a bold and deliberate lie.  She was one of those women – there are many, many such – to whom there is a whole world of difference between the suppression of the truth and the utterance of an untruth (65)”.

This difference becomes evident to Mrs. Bunting, especially when she is faced with her increasing tendency to almost give an alibi to the lodger’s whereabouts and account for his strange hours and questionable experiments.  Yet Lowndes declares to her audience: “Something impelled Mrs. Bunting to say these words.  But she [would] hastily [correct] herself (149)”, causing the reader to understand that perhaps secrets and lies sometimes are in pursuit of a greater and more eminent good, especially when the rent is due.

The inner-conflict of fabrications versus facts causes a sort of rift between Bunting and Mrs. Bunting, and as the book progresses, the reader gains a richer perspective of the battle going on between Mrs. Bunting’s burden and her basic knowledge of good and evil.  A constant wondering of her actions and what they are becoming surrounds Mrs. Bunting’s thoughts, as she is concerned for her husband’s sake, because, “Bunting would never guess such a thing; he would never, never suspect her of telling him a lie… Stop – had she told a lie? (146)”.  This persistent question also demonstrates to the reader the downward spiral speculation can take when faced with doubts.  This is a spiral that Mrs. Bunting never fully recovers from, as the true identity of the Avenger is never explicitly written, the reader may believe that due to his hasty leave and harsh parting remarks he was closely involved.  Yet all that remain are the assumptions that similarly surrounded Jack the Ripper and the mysterious mayhem that enveloped the abyss in his nights of terror.  

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