Abstract The domestic novel and the family home are closely associated with mid-century Victorian culture, but less attention has been paid to narratives about lodging-house life. These prose essays and short stories, published in huge numbers from the 1840s through the 1860s in London magazines, reached an audience of middle-class readers eager to read about home spaces defined not by comfort and security, but by invasions of privacy, frustration, and awkward social encounters. The most important figure in representations of lodging-houses was the landlady, portrayed as the cruel, calculating despot of the lodging’s domestic sphere: the antithesis of the ideal mid-century wife. The landlady was represented by the striving authors behind these semi-autobiographical narratives as a formidable enemy, challenging what they saw as their right to deferential service from a wife or mother figure. These expectations jarred with the landlady’s own economic needs in the widespread business of urban accommodation. This essay examines a number of mid-century lodging-house narratives, paying particular attention to Charles Dickens’s popular story about a landlady, ‘Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgings’ (1863). Rented rooms and lodging-houses were typical living arrangements for city-dwellers in London throughout the nineteenth century, particularly for young, single residents who were part of the city’s rapid expansion of new jobs in commerce and industry. Lodging was no longer most common among apprentices and servants, but had become a necessity for a wide spectrum of classes migrating into more urban environments. This new living arrangement, dependent on cash payment rather than the exchange of professional training for service, was seen as a ‘necessary evil’ that undermined the genteel status of lodger and householder alike.1 Life in lodgings was an especially appealing option for young middle-class men, who had the economic resources to live independently of their families while pursuing a career in the city.2 By mid-century, male lodgers outnumbered female by two or three to one, as young women were more likely to work in service or remain in the family home.3 The householders renting to this new population, however, increasingly tended to be female. The 1851 Census counted 2741 women who kept lodging houses in London, meaning that lodging-letting now came second only to millinery as a profession dominated by women.4 In the same year, more than half of the lodging-houses in the London Post Office Directory were listed under female proprietors.5 With these women in control of the housing available to this burgeoning population of middle-class men, their undue influence over their tenants’ lives began to be seen as problematic. From the 1840s through the 1860s, short stories, semi-fictional essays, and personal accounts of the suffering of male tenants at the hands of their landladies filled London’s literary magazines. A predominantly male group of writers sought to explain what was so objectionable about the modern landlady, who wielded the domestic influence of a wife, provided the attendance of a servant, and held the power of a landlord. For the authors of these narratives, the power struggle between male lodgers and their landladies was inevitable. ‘A landlady is often to be heard all day and every day rumbling underground like an earthquake’, wrote Henry Morley in an 1853 essay for Household Words, taking on the persona of a much-injured lodger. ‘In her softest glance you see that she has been given to you by nature for an enemy. She cannot help it. You cannot help it. It is her instinct to skin and feed upon you’. Morley’s protagonist casts his conflict with his landlady in military terms, comparing the typical lodging-house keeper’s dominance over tenants like himself to the oppression suffered by Haitian slaves and French revolutionaries. He envisions the power of his pen becoming strong enough to turn his domestic complaints into violent action: If this were a more revolutionary country than it is, and if I were more of a poet than I am, I would write a Marseillaise against the lodging-house keepers, the tyrants by which we are made to bleed. I have heard of a man by the name of Körner, who was a soldier-poet, and there are poets of home and so forth. I should like to be known as Batkinson the lodger poet, he who led his brother lodgers on to freedom, or in a milder way, as the poet of lodgings. . . . I believe that the enslaved body of lodgers in this country is entitled to immediate emancipation, but I see too clearly that the time is not yet ripe for a rebellion, that our lodger chieftain, our Toussaint, is yet to come. Our friends without sympathize with us very little, for we all notoriously give uncomfortable dinners, and lay traps for visitors with pails upon the stairs. . . 6 Significantly, the ‘enslaved body of lodgers’ conjured up by Morley’s protagonist overlooks married couples, families, and workers. Instead, he envisions lodgers as a group to be made up wholly of middle-class gentlemen aiming for higher social status, men who ‘give dinners’ and host visitors unaccustomed to physical evidence of household labour. Though exaggerated for humour, his identification with the French proletariat and Touissant Louverture, the leader of the Haitian Revolution, shows the extent to which middle-class lodgers could see themselves seriously constrained by their living situations. A landlady’s encroachment on her middle-class lodger’s daily freedoms was a constant reminder that they were not masters of their own homes – Morley distinguishes between the possibility of a ‘poet of home’ and the ‘lodger poet’ – and did not have the ability to live as they would like. The lodger’s best hope for fighting back would be found in his pen. But the landlady hadn’t always been represented as a mercenary villain. In 1896, an author interested in compiling examples of fictional landladies from the literature of the past hundred years reached back to the early nineteenth century to find strictly positive examples of these characters. Walter Scott is singled out for creating the ‘wild’ but hospitable Jean MacAlpine and the strict but ultimately indulgent ‘old-world landlady’ Meg Dods, innkeepers whose relationships to their lodgers were far more distant and fleeting than the mid-century landlady’s.7 Even earlier than Scott, the author notes, ‘mine hostess of the inn has been not infrequently portrayed in poetry and prose from the days of [Shakespeare’s] Mistress Nell of the Boar’s Head onwards’.8 The archaic word choice of ‘mine hostess’ over ‘landlady’ here is telling. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the meaning of the word ‘landlady’ was shifting, no longer connoting the wife of a landlord, host, or innkeeper but the modern lodging-house keeper as female entrepreneur. This change in meaning detached the landlady from hospitality traditions that had existed in England for centuries, connecting her instead to new ways of living that were part of modern urban life. Leonore Davidoff traces the beginning of the ‘moral opprobrium’ associated with lodging to precisely Scott’s moment, the end of the eighteenth century.9 The practice of single men lodging with women began to look more suspect as temporary housing was less likely to be provided by families who kept inns or tutored apprentices, but was instead the province of independent women making accommodation a profession of their own. Like the ideal Victorian wife, the landlady’s identity was entwined with her domestic labour and her household. As one author explained in an 1853 story, his landlady was ‘as intimate with her house and everything that concerned it as a limpet with its shell’, and the very floor he rented ‘bore a curious resemblance to herself, being a little, spare, neat, clean-looking old floor’.10 More often, descriptions of stereotypical landladies were far less flattering. Illustrations of the lodging-house keeper most commonly depict middle-aged women in obvious decrepitude, often dressed in showy or overly juvenile finery. A depiction of the ‘Lodging-House Keeper’ from an 1841 book of illustrated vignettes, Heads of the People, where she was described alongside other familiar English figures like ‘The Old Squire’, ‘The Poor Curate’, and ‘The Fashionable Authoress’, offers up the landlady as a recognizable urban type (Figure 1). With a snaggle-toothed grin and an avaricious glint in her eyes, she clutches what appears to be a folded paper: an extravagant bill for her tenant, which will enable her to splurge on another elaborate bonnet, or more drink to further redden her nose. The landlady’s inevitable defrauding of her tenants was written on her very body, which authors interpreted for signs of how she would mistreat her lodgers. If she was fat and well dressed, it was taken as a sign that she was making a tidy profit by overcharging for her services. Alternately, if she was thin and pinched-looking, it was a warning that she took household economy too far, and that lodgers could expect a meagre table and tight control over basic comforts like candles, meat, and coal. Tom Hood, who took over the editorship of Fun in 1865, serialized his comic volume Life in Lodgings in its pages by beginning with a taxonomy of these common landlady stereotypes. ‘The genteel landlady’ (Figure 2), who closely resembles the illustration of the lodging-house keeper, ‘is an overbearing despot. Her curls are the ringlets of respectability. Her caps are showy with ribbons and flowers. . . . In her house you may be robbed right and left—probably must be, for such shawls, brooches, and caps cost money’. On the other end of the spectrum is ‘the landlady who has seen better days’ (Figure 3), careful with her money: Figure 1. View largeDownload slide Engraving by Orrin Smith from an illustration by Kenny Meadows, to accompany ‘The Lodging-House Keeper’ by Paul Prendergast, in Heads of the People: or, Portraits of the English, vol. 2 (London: Tyas, 1841), opp. p. 95. Courtesy Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. Figure 1. View largeDownload slide Engraving by Orrin Smith from an illustration by Kenny Meadows, to accompany ‘The Lodging-House Keeper’ by Paul Prendergast, in Heads of the People: or, Portraits of the English, vol. 2 (London: Tyas, 1841), opp. p. 95. Courtesy Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. Figure 2. View largeDownload slide Illustration of ‘the genteel landlady’, from Life in Lodgings by Tom Hood, Fun, 25 April 1868, p. 69. Figure 2. View largeDownload slide Illustration of ‘the genteel landlady’, from Life in Lodgings by Tom Hood, Fun, 25 April 1868, p. 69. Figure 3. View largeDownload slide Illustration of ‘the landlady who has seen better days’, from Life in Lodgings by Tom Hood, Fun, 25 April 1868, p. 69. Figure 3. View largeDownload slide Illustration of ‘the landlady who has seen better days’, from Life in Lodgings by Tom Hood, Fun, 25 April 1868, p. 69. Because she has seen better days she compels her lodgers to see worse ones. . . . Her bygone prosperity is made an excuse for everything. If the lodger complains that his scuttle is hardly as full of coals as it might be for the money he pays, she meets and discomfits his remarks by alluding to her having seen better days. . . . She is generally a widow, and mostly small, or if tall, very thin.11 Few fictional landladies were presented as pictures of ideal womanhood, even though their occupation consisted of traditionally feminine responsibilities; instead, they were distorted by their most egregious faults. As Paul Prendergast, the author of the vignette on ‘The Lodging-House Keeper’, put it: she is not ‘exactly fair in a general way, either in her person or her dealings’.12 Hood’s taxonomizing of a diverse body of women into one-dimensional types was a common strategy used by essayists of the lodging-house. The landlady was sometimes presented as a creature closer to the animal than to the human world. ‘The spider has a right to offer lodgings to the fly’, Morley mused, ‘but it is not for the fly to be contented with the conduct of his landlady’.13 Adopting the language of scientific classification, Hood traced the multitude of landlady types back to a single order: ‘Raptores’, the birds of prey. He asserts that the landlady ‘as described by the naturalist . . . is known by its crooked bill’ – that is, her hidden charges – ‘and its long talons endowed with a particular tenacity of grasp’.14 The author of ‘Some Landladies of Fiction’ saw a closer parallel to predators of the sea: the typical landlady possessed ‘many of the unamiable traits of the shark’ and ‘was, more often than not, forbidding of aspect and grasping of disposition. . . . altogether a sufficiently terrible person’.15 One reason for the terror wielded by the landlady was her use of power outside the scope of male authority. While the lodging-house property itself might be held by a male landlord, one author explained, ‘the landlady is the person with whom all communications regarding your domestic comfort are held. . . . The veiled prophet of Khorassan was not more jealous of shewing his face than is the ordinary landlord’.16 Unfettered by masculine oversight, the landlady’s marital status became mysterious or illegible in representations of her as a character. Prendergast complained that it is ‘difficult to judge from the appearance of the Lodging-House Keeper whether she is maid, wife, or widow. On enquiry, it is usually found that she is married; her husband, it may be, has run away from her; sometimes he is a butler in a nobleman’s family, or a copying clerk in a lawyer’s office; and almost always has some occupation which takes him a great deal from home. He is often a mysterious personage’.17 With an absent or inconsequential husband, portrayed as feminine or submissive, the fictional lodging-house keeper’s primary heterosexual relationship became the one she had with her male lodgers. One author notes coyly of his landlady, ‘she has a strong partiality for single gentlemen. Not that I mean to breathe the slightest whisper of scandal against the fair fame of my landlady—Shades of Lucretia and St. Ursula forbid it! I merely mean that she is very fond of single gentlemen as lodgers’.18 Behind this author’s humorous tone was the real threat of slippage from professional intimacy to marriage. Perhaps most memorably, in Dickens’s Dombey and Son (1848) the controlling Mrs Mac Stinger eventually traps Captain Cuttle’s friend Busby in marriage, essentially frog-marching the suddenly meek and powerless captain down the aisle.19 Even the most repugnant landladies still maintained, to their biographers’ indignation, their feminine wiles; Prendergast admitted that ‘it is much that a smile and soft answer, though coming from an ugly mouth, can do in the way of pacification’.20 To outsiders gossiping about the lodging household: there was a feeling that the lodger had access to all sorts of hidden extra privileges through his special relationship to his landlady. . . . the maternal and sexual came to be fused in a well-recognised if semi-licit relationship between an older woman and younger man, further confused by the handing over of cash for services rendered.21 One of Dickens’s early urban sketches, ‘The Boarding House’ (1834), dramatized the lodging-house’s threat to married happiness in a story about sexual confusion in a lodging-house run by a couple named Mr and Mrs Tibbs. As was typical in lodging-house fiction, Mr Tibbs, ‘the petticoat-governed little man’,22 is an emasculated husband to his overbearing landlady wife, entitled only to the least choice crumbs of the boarders’ meal, and forever interrupted in his attempts at conversation. Mrs Tibbs fills the house with single gentlemen and ladies, certain that ‘a little flirtation . . . might keep her house full, without leading to any other result’,23 but suffers the consequences of her attempt at matchmaking: Mrs Tibbs and one of her gentleman lodgers meet at midnight in the drawing room to spy on another lodger suspected of flirting with the servant, only to be discovered in this compromising position (and to discover that Mr Tibbs is the one pursuing the housemaid). Both Tibbses separate by mutual consent, and Mrs Tibbs is forced to give up her enterprise. While Mrs Tibbs’s spying led to her downfall, the landlady of fiction was usually more successful in keeping her house under surveillance with her constant, yet elusive presence. Prendergast complained that ‘we have always been at a loss to know where a Lodging-House Keeper lives: ground floor, first floor, second floor, and two pair back, are either let or to be let, in all lodging houses. . . . Sometimes there is a queer-looking place out in the yard where the landlady may dwell; her habitation, if not in the back settlements, would seem to be under ground’.24 The close attention that would be praised in a wife becomes an invasion of privacy when practiced by the landlady: ‘to nervous people she is a standing vexation, for she haunts them unseen, a ghost constantly in attendance, an invisible presence’.25 At once an overbearing presence in the household and not a part of her lodgers’ lives, the English landlady occupied a strangely liminal space. While the Victorian wife, even when envisioned as a divine ‘angel in the house’, took up a firm earthly place supervising the workings of her household from her drawing room, the landlady was imagined creeping on the stairs and listening at keyholes, somehow omnipresent at all thresholds. It was this more heavy-handed domestic supervision that set the English landlady apart from her equivalents across the Channel. Her analogue in France, the portière or female porter, became a foil used to emphasize the oppression of living under the despotic rule of an English lodging-house keeper. As Sharon Marcus has shown in her study of apartment life in Paris and London, French writers leveled criticisms at the portière that would be familiar to English readers of lodging-house narratives. The portière was invested with a mysterious power, appearing in illustrations ‘as grotesque and almost monstrous’.26 She brought the entire household under her authority, ‘transform[ing] the apartment building into a space permeated and governed by a network of female servants, female tenants, the portière’s children, almost inevitably daughters, and her many cats’.27 But to English lodgers who were well-travelled, the portière, secluded as she was in her own private living space at the building’s threshold (the loge), paled in comparison to the English landlady’s permeation of the household. As George Sala put it, ‘I must express my belief that a Frenchman’s rooms have far greater claim to be considered his castle than an Englishman’s house has. There are no landladies’.28 Where there was a landlady, there could be no true home for an English lodger. Wilkie Collins attempted to identify what made the English landlady so repugnant in ‘Laid Up in Lodgings’, an 1856 essay published in two parts: one describing Collins’s surprisingly pleasant weeks lodging in Paris while ill, the other contrasting the miserable weeks that followed in a typical London lodging-house. Collins describes his French ‘portress’ in quite different terms than the native writers surveyed by Marcus. A ‘thin, rapid, cheerful, little woman’, she has a husband and son who share the tiny lodge with her. Within ‘one cordial quarter of an hour’ Collins becomes ‘friendly, familiar, and (in my present weak way) affectionate, even’ – because the portière is sincere in her pity for him as an invalid, and ‘does me more good, I think, than my doctor or my drugs’.29 After Collins bonds with his portress by comparing remedies for indigestion – initiating one another into a shared bodily intimacy – she invites him to her family’s tiny room so they can assemble to show him, with abashed pride, their new purchase of a looking-glass. While Collins felt like one of the family in his cosy time ‘laid up’ in Paris, his carriage ride back ‘over the cruel London stones’ jolts him, literally and figuratively, back into reality. In immense pain, he orders the cab to stop at the first street he recognizes, and enters the first lodging-house he sees advertising rooms for let. The landlady who greets him coldly at the door is ‘a tall muscular woman, with a knobbed face and knotty arms’, resembling not so much a sympathetic nurse as an impassive piece of lodging-house furniture. Collins decides to take the room she shows him because of a particularly convenient shelf next to the bed, which will help him keep his medicines away from the interfering housemaids and landlady. Rather than sharing his treatment with the lodging-house keeper – who was required, by long precedent, to nurse tenants who did not have their own attendance – his first instinct is to barricade himself away from her care. ‘If I had been in health’, Collins explains, ‘I should certainly have found the requisite warning to quit the house written legibly in the face, figure, and manner of the landlady. I should probably have seen something to distrust and dislike in everything connected to her, down even to her name, which was Mrs Glutch’.30 But Collins, his defences weakened by his illness, allows his things to be carried inside. Where he found welcome sympathy in the French portière, Collins is unmoved by his new landlady’s half-hearted attempts to commiserate with him about his illness. It takes only ‘five minutes in Mrs Glutch’s society, before I know that her sympathy for me is entirely of that sort which a large assortment is always on hand, and all orders for which, when Self-Interest is the customer, can be invariably executed with promptitude and despatch. . . . Oh for one hour of my little Parisian portress!’31 The English landlady remains incapable of seeing past her economic interest in her lodger. Disgusted with Mrs Glutch – apparently even with describing her – Collins turns his attention from the oppressive bustle of his lodgings to the view outside, and the London portion of his essay shifts to a description of daily events going on outside his window. Unable to bear the discomfort of his temporary domestic world, he reaches outward for exteriority and the impersonal crush of urban life. Collins managed to find domestic peace in his quaint French lodging, but no society resembling home in his English one. Collins, who would reside in lodgings until his death, is himself an example of the typical author of these mid-century lodging-house narratives: the persecuted male lodger whose familiarity with life in rented rooms came from his own precarious experience as an aspiring writer in the city. Significantly, short stories about lodgings are found in the same publications that reviewed (or even published serially) what are now thought of as the great mid-century novels of domesticity. Only these latter narratives, set not in the temporary and liminal space of the lodging but in the family home, would be able to ascend from magazine pages to volumes of published fiction. For example, as Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel North and South was being serialized in Household Words in 1855, short pieces about bachelor life under a landlady often appear in the preceding pages – but with few exceptions, these narratives rarely seem to have been reprinted or republished beyond their initial magazine publication, remaining as ‘single’ and isolated as their authors. The magazines in which they were printed also marketed themselves to a middle-class audience who would be particularly interested in the fraught social position of lodgers: Dickens’s Household Words and its successor All the Year Round; Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Arts, edited at mid-century by Dickens’s close friend (and former Household Words editor) William Henry Wills; and The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction (later the London Review). Despite the fact that couples, families, and widows also made up a great quantity of London’s lodgers, in the pages of the literary magazine, the stereotypical lodger was distinctly a male bachelor and a literary man, if only for the moment in which he was relating his complaints. However, the readers of these magazines may have been more likely to side with the landlady herself, particularly those who would identify more closely with workers who serviced self-aggrandizing middle-class men. In the case of Household Words, which was ‘actively engaged in creating and addressing a new middle-class audience’,32 its proximity to popular cheap print – printed on the paper of the same size and quality, and costing only a penny more than the cheapest periodicals – meant that its readers were not necessarily of that aspiring middle class from which the protagonists of these lodging-house narratives were drawn. The voice of the landlady sometimes found an outlet in these same publications. In 1854, a contributor to Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine purporting to be a landlady herself furthered the natural rivalry between lodging-house keepers and literary men, claiming that she had been stirred to defend her profession against the popular press’s abuse. The author begins her essay on ‘Letting Lodgings’ (subtitled ‘A Widow’s Tale’) by criticizing ‘gentlemen of the quill’ for their over-reliance on ‘stock subjects’ like the lodging-house keeper. She alleges that their reasons for defaming her are more financial than creative: ‘It is so much more pleasant and profitable to make [the landlady] the laughing-stock of the public, and to hold her up to the scorn and detestation of good and sober people, than it is to punctually pay her weekly bills’.33 She notes shrewdly that ‘candour compels me to say that a most disproportionate share of defaulters in my case are literary men’.34 This author ignores the possibility that ‘good and sober’ readers might themselves create the demand for humorous lodging-house stories, instead taking a page from her detractors’ own book in depicting them as predatory. She points out that her work as a landlady has taught her ‘civility’, setting her apart from the ‘men of the quill’ who purport to be of higher social status. In another reversal of stereotypes, she relates a story about her first lodger, a ‘commercial gentleman’ who fails to live up to his status. Using his knowledge of the housing market, he bargains the poor widow down to the minimum rent payment required to cover her own expenses. Instead of growing to appreciate her personal service, he quits the house shortly thereafter as soon as he finds an infinitesimally cheaper bargain. Despite this technical loss, the landlady ‘felt relieved’ when he went away: ‘Though he stood fair before the world, his moral character was indescribably loathsome and abhorrent’.35 Following the rules of the market in extracting maximum value from one’s landlady is cast as cruel and even immoral. The Tait’s correspondent further delineates her case by asserting that the landlady is much more often a victim of circumstances than a profiteering woman of business. Like many fictional landlady figures, she herself is a widow, letting lodgings to support herself and her children. She also takes up the common conceit of the landlady’s inhumanity and turns it into an image of animal exploitation: ‘“Landlady”, so far from being an animal of prey, ready to seize upon whom she may devour, rather resembles the poor quadruped, tied to a stake, against whom, in the good old times, any houseless vagabond cur might try his mouth’.36 Against images of the predatory landlady devouring her tenants’ wages and flesh with her high prices and scanty table, she invokes the image of bear-baiting, turning her tenants into dogs eating away at her flesh. This author’s use of an image from England’s medieval past, a time when innkeepers and landladies were thought to have more natural ties to their lodgers, further highlights the gap between letting lodgings as a natural and noble duty and the current state of lodging-letting as a struggle for meagre profits. If this landlady and the men who wrote about lodging-house keepers agreed on one thing, it was that hospitality could never be profitable or mutually satisfactory in a capitalist market. ‘The landlady is unbearable’, Hood admits, ‘representing as she does (in addition to other bad qualities) the mere money considerations which destroy the finer illusions of life and rob the communion of man with man of its most delicate refinements’.37 The landlady who wrote to Tait’s represents her mercenary motives as much more pure, explaining that by the end of her brief career providing adequate service, ‘the widow’s house is devoured’,38 leaving her near-destitute – and casting her lodgers, not herself, as uncharitable. The stereotype of the landlady as a passive, victimized domestic woman was one that seems to have had little correspondence to reality. The majority of London lodging-house keepers were more likely to be spinsters possessed of their own capital than destitute widows, were usually middle-aged, and often partnered with other women – such as sisters, cousins or mothers – rather than taking on the burden of the investment in a lodging-house alone.39 The historical lodging-house keeper letting rooms as a practical supplement to her income may not have shared the Tait’s correspondent’s inflated sense of her own moral superiority, but lodging-letting was indeed seen as an occupation with a moral dimension, particularly well-suited to genteel women who could provide lodgers with a respectable home as well as a mere roof over their heads.40 According to the male authors of lodging-house narratives, landladies leveraged this moral superiority against their tenants. A man moved to exercise his sense of his rights as a lodger – for example, asserting that he should not be robbed of personal goods like tea, a constant complaint in lodging-house narratives – could be foiled by his landlady’s manipulation of her position as an insulted woman and an oppressed member of a lower class: Suppose, for example, that your tea-caddy feels suspiciously light on your return home of an evening . . . . how would you brook the endurance of such a tempest of exclamation as the following:—“La! sir; well, I’m sure! to think that any gentleman should ever go for to dream of such a thing for an instant moment! . . . there’s Mr Brown, him as lodges in the first floor front, he is a gentleman, he is, and has been a living here these four year [sic] . . . and his eldest brother as used to lodge here too, was as thick as thieves with the King of the Belgiums, and he never once . . . asked a single question, nor found fault with anything: no, and didn’t even look over a single bill, only to see how much it come to. . . . and if I was a goin’ to die this moment, as I’m alive this day, I wouldn’t mind taking my oath that all the time I’ve been a housekeeper, and that’s ten year come next Lady-day, no gentleman ever suspected such a thing! no more they don’t now, I’m sure, for no gentleman would ever think of bothering, and poking, and looking, and lifting, to see if he’d lost threeha’porth of tea. But a farthing’s a great matter to some people!” Having thus added insult to injury, the enraged landlady flounces out of the room.41 A gentleman with greater social standing, power, and income than his landlady could still find himself overpowered by her stinging use of language to call attention to the very ungentlemanliness of any questioning of her management. After this tirade, the tenant is left with the difficult choice of proving himself to be lacking in the large-mindedness (and economic security) of a gentleman by squabbling over shillings and pence, or succumbing to a daily reminder that his rented room was not truly his, always susceptible to theft by the woman entrusted with creating a home-like environment. The fictional landlady’s tongue had one advantage: she could provide an author with additional material for lodging-house stories. Not only was the landlady and her quirks an almost overused subject for authors’ essays, as the lodging-house keeper pointed out in Tait’s, but many mid-century lodging-house stories enfold a second narrative told by their landlady into their frame story. For example, in the 1854 short story ‘Tale of My Landlady’, the author relates a story of a gentleman, lodging with his landlady Mrs Buffles, who turns out to be a famous smuggler. Only at the end of the story is it made clear that this story has come to the author second hand, after Mrs Buffles ‘became shy of single gentlemen, and by taking me in, let slip into print this “Tale of My Landlady”’.42 If landladies were preying upon their literary lodgers, these lodgers also became reliant upon their landladies for the content of their stories. Often, the narrator assures the reader that it is only thanks to his own talent that his landlady’s story might rise to the level of literature. The author of ‘The Lodgings That Wouldn’t Suit’, who turns to his landlady out of loneliness, finds her so much more communicative [than her maid], that I suddenly conceived the wild idea of being able to select from her reminiscences the materials for a story—with which I had already resolved to delight the public, if only I could think of a plot. . . . Indeed I believe she would have made no scruple of telling me the history of all her lodgers, from the epoch when things began to settle down after the Norman Conquest.43 A landlady of Charles Dickens’s creation broke the mould for the stereotypically oppressive landladies, instead creating a sympathetic character who took control of her own narrative and earned sympathy from magazine readers. In December 1863, a writer for the Saturday Review spoke in high praise of Charles Dickens’s new Christmas story for All the Year Round, ‘Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgings’. The Review enshrined Mrs Lirriper, a loquacious London landlady, as one of Dickens’s most memorable characters, ‘entitled to rank with Mrs Nickleby and Mrs Gamp’.44 Dickens’s story was merely the frame narrative for that year’s Christmas number, linking together a series of stories through the conceit that each one was being told by one of Mrs Lirriper’s lodgers. Yet it was Mrs Lirriper herself who entranced readers: Dickens gave her a sequel, ‘Mrs Lirriper’s Legacy’, in the next year’s Christmas number, and four decades later, she showed no signs of fading from English minds. The author of ‘Some Landladies of Fiction’ gave Mrs Lirriper a prominent place on his list of the century’s most memorable lodging-house keepers,45 and the first edition of Elizabeth Gaskell’s collected works, published in 1906, even introduced one of her stories as the tale ‘still so well remembered for Charles Dickens’s Introduction to “Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgings”’.46 As the Saturday Review had noted in 1863, ‘there are only twelve pages of Mrs Lirriper, but she is so drawn in that short space that we can scarcely believe that there really is no such person, and that a fortnight ago no one had ever heard of her’.47 At least in the years when she was most recently remembered, Mrs Lirriper promised to retain a place in Dickens’s canon as prominent as that held by his most famous female characters. Dickens, by choosing to narrate ‘Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgings’ from the viewpoint of Mrs Lirriper herself, not only broke from magazine tradition in eliminating the bachelor narrator, but demonstrated that he found the landlady to be an apt persona for an author to ventriloquize. The Saturday Review even complained that her turns of phrase were a little too apt: there are one or two faults in Mrs Lirriper, as it seems to us—more especially her turn for verbal epigrams and little smartnesses of language, which appears inconsistent with the simple ungrammatical shrewdness and volubility of her utterances. The general impression she produces is not that of a woman who would say of the opposition lodgings in her street that the bedrooms advertised as airy are “stuffy”, and that the advertised night-porter is “stuff”.48 Her Dickensian witticisms seemed at odds with her breathless narration and its distracted twists and turns: My dear I do assure you it’s a harassing thing to know what kind of girls to give the preference to, for if they are lively they get bell’d off their legs and if they are sluggish you suffer from it yourself in complaints and if they are sparkling-eyed they get made love to and if they are smart in their persons they try on your Lodger’s bonnets and if they are musical I defy you to keep them away from bands or organs, and allowing for any difference you like in their heads their heads will be always out of window just the same.49 Mrs Lirriper also diverged from the stereotype of the predatory landlady: instead of demanding excessive rent from her tenants, she seems able to support herself without worrying about finances. Her most senior lodger, Major Jemmy Jackson (of dubious military background), is described as ‘a most obliging Lodger and punctual in all respects except one irregular which I need not particularly specify’ – paying his rent.50 Her greatest enemy is not one of her lodgers, but another competing landlady, the tight-fisted Miss Wozenham, who follows the magazine type. The starkest difference between Mrs Lirriper and other fictional landladies is her ability to make a kind of middle-class family out of her lodging-household, between Major Jackson and an adopted son bestowed on her by his dying and abandoned mother, after Mrs Lirriper nursed her through her last illness. As Mrs Lirriper explains, we called him Jemmy, being after the Major his own godfather with Lirriper for a surname being after myself, and never was a dear child such a brightening thing in a Lodgings or such a playmate to his grandmother as Jemmy to this house and me, and always good and minding what he was told (upon the whole) and soothing for the temper and making everything pleasanter except when he grew old enough to drop his cap down Wozenham’s Airy and they wouldn’t hand it up to him.51 Aside from her lenience on the matter of rent, the widowed Mrs Lirriper’s relationship to the Major is scrupulously platonic, united only in the name of the adopted child they share between them. They make up a family out of their lodgers’ family tragedy, the young Jemmy seeming almost born of the lodging-house itself, which Mrs Lirriper associates metonymically with her own person (‘this house and me’). In Dickens’s story, the landlady’s single status is no threat, but instead an opportunity to create an alternate family structure, one that even bypasses the sexual relationship between husband and wife to become a kind of doll’s house family for the lodging itself. Outside of the exceptional Mrs Lirriper, the fictional landlady was more often presented as an obstacle that threw the natural course of family life into disarray. In most lodging-house stories, living in lodgings either pushed men into marriage too prematurely, desperate to escape their landlady’s power, or kept them in a state of arrested development, eventually transforming them into the emasculated elderly bachelor forgotten in a back parlour. For some authors, the fact that lodgings were uncomfortable places of conflict, was seen as a social necessity in pushing bachelors out of the lodging and toward marriage and a family home. The young bachelor reluctant to marry needed to experience the inferior living conditions of the lodging to realize that it was worth giving up some of his freedom in order to be master of his own home. As late as 1880, writers were still tying the lodging-house firmly to the path to marriage – this time, praising the unpleasant qualities of the lodging as an incentive toward marriage: The discomfort of the rooms, the greasy cooking, the slovenly servants, and, above all, the predatory tendencies of the landlady, have been feelingly described. . . . But it is to be feared that such inconveniences are inseparable from the bachelor state, for no good seems to come of all the suggestions made for their mitigation. From one point of view, it is well that this should be so. If bachelors could add to the blessings of their condition the one which they seldom enjoy, of being really comfortable at home, the complaints so often heard of the reluctance of young men to marry would be still more common.52 In his 1841 ‘portrait’ of the lodging-house keeper, Prendergast had argued that the average lodging-house was so uncomfortable that it led to young men leaving it too hastily: ‘The late alarming increase in the number of marriages must fill every thinking mind with apprehension and alarm. No doubt there are many other causes predisposing to the rash act; but we are certain that young men are often driven to the commission of wedlock by that want of comfort which they endure in a lodging-house’. To correct this, Prendergast proposes a bill to educate lodging-house keepers so that they better emulate the ideal Victorian wife: By these means, her conduct will be improved; and many a young man, now discontented with his apartments and condition, will then, happy in the enjoyment of domestic quiet and cleanliness, regard his lodgings as a home; and, existing really in a state of single blessedness, be no longer tempted to exchange it for one discountenanced by the laws of his country, and justly punishable in a workhouse.53 Whether they were blamed for driving men toward or away from marriage, lodgings were understood to have an inverse relationship to married life. The recurrent annoyances that were part of the lodging experience would prepare the bachelor to embrace the comforts of his married home, while a too-comfortable life in lodgings could delay young male tenants’ entrance into married life, threatening to show that there were other ways of living outside of the heterosexual ideal. Jane Hamlett notes that ‘the experiences of young men in lodgings in the late nineteenth century do not suggest that they were in flight from domesticity. . . . Almost as soon as many men had thrown off the shackles of the family home it seems that they sought to regain it, and the next logical step was marriage and the establishment of a family for themselves’.54 When marriage was not yet a financial possibility, these bachelor lodgers turned to the landlady in an attempt, however unlikely, to recover the comforts of their family home. The unique experience of life stalled in temporary lodgings led to a need for a different kind of literary form, one that would shape essays and short stories about lodgings into their own recognizable subgenre. Overwhelmingly, the narrators of these stories would still be writing from within the lodging-house setting itself. The 1860 short story ‘Why I Don’t Leave My Lodgings’ begins with a painfully distinct picture of the lodger-narrator’s precise writing circumstances: When I tell you that I live in a large manufacturing town—that I lodge in one of the dreariest streets of that town—that the window of my sitting-room is so constructed that any passer-by can look into it as his leisure—that whenever I look out there is right before my eyes, in the middle of the road, a huge cavity, which, in rainy weather, is filled with black water, and in fine weather is a mass of black mud—that the door of my bedroom opens spontaneously at every whisper of the vagrant wind—that the ambient air can come and go as it pleases through a convenient chink in the window, which refuses to shut quite down, charm I never so wisely—and that the consequence is, I have a continual cold in the head, which interferes unpleasantly with my pronunciation of certain consonants—that my landlady has what is called “a very peculiar temper,” though not more peculiar than is to be expected from a woman with one leg shorter than the other—and that lodgings are easily procured at a reasonable rate, you will think me a great fool for not flitting.55 To the authors of these narratives, the spaces from which these pieces of writing emerged were as important as the content of the stories themselves. The limited space allotted for these stories in literary magazines also resembles their writers’ actual living situations in cramped urban spaces. Even when the landlady was not acknowledged as a direct contributor to the story, her presence could be felt lurking behind the scenes. For example, Hood ends his chapter on landladies by interrupting his own narrative: ‘But hush! I hear her outside’.56 Humour was the dominant mode of lodging-house fiction, especially when directed back onto the narrator in the form of self-ridicule. To criticize the landlady’s housekeeping, as many bachelor narrators did, put these men into the emasculating position of knowledgeable housekeepers: knowing where fresh groceries could be got and what they could be bargained for, what made for good cooking, and how often household chores should be kept up with. To commit to policing one’s landlady and her domestic economy was to internalize the principles of middle-class femininity, the ‘frugality’ that middle-class wives exercised, according to Nancy Armstrong, as a quasi-moral principle.57 In marriage, men were advised to leave the calculation of household accounts to their wives, as it was not work meant for a middle-class man. It is for this reason that the narrator of Henry Morley’s 1853 essay ultimately invites ridicule from the reader in recording his attempts to dispute with his former landlady, the fiercely named Mrs Panther, on the finer points of her bookkeeping. After going into the street one afternoon to buy a cucumber for his nephew, he realizes that ‘for cucumbers of this same size I had been paying Mrs Panther fivepence’, five times their market price. He attempts to broach the subject with his landlady, but she dismisses his suspicions by blaming the prices of her grocer, claiming ignorance of what a reasonable price might be. Of course, the awkwardly erotic subtext of a dispute over the size of a cucumber between a middle-aged lodger and his landlady would not have been lost on readers. After this defeat, the lodger regroups and ‘made another stand upon the subject of puddings. It appeared to me curious that every pudding, fruit pudding, bread or other pudding . . . should be of the same price and that price always a shilling’. Confident that he has found out another hidden charge, he requests that Mrs Panther give him instead: an independent charge for every pudding, she would buy on my account a little flour, and purchase other materials as they were wanted, charging me for them only, since the additional charge of any skill that might be thrown into the pudding as a manufactured article was properly included in the rent. She replied that she designed nothing else than to charge her actual disbursements, and should be very happy to adopt my plan. Mrs Panther’s countermove is to divide the components of the pudding into sums that add up to exactly one shilling (twelve pence) and delineate them, as instructed, on the bill: ‘Flour, threepence; suet, threepence; apples, fivepence; spice, one penny’.58 The narrator’s attempt to bypass the shopping, cooking, and time investment captured in the transformation from pence to pie is skilfully deflected. Mrs Panther insists on keeping her womanly right to manage the economy of her own household over the authority of its male inhabitants. Meanwhile, her lodger remains convinced that in a lodging-house, he can enjoy both the feminine attention of a female head of household – any skill on the part of the landlady presumed to be ‘properly included in the rent’ – and the bare economic costs of the market. Domestic comforts were not so easy to quantify as the weekly production of a bill made them seem. Disputes over the lodging-house bill are recurrent episodes in lodging-house fiction. The bill was a text that revealed more about the relationship between landlady and lodger than it was a record of financial transactions. As in the battle over the pudding, attempts to decipher the landlady’s bill through pure economic calculation only extended and complicated the mystique that surrounded the household economy. In another satirical essay, ‘Perfectly Contented’ (1856), the bachelor narrator finds facetious comfort in the fact that, although he suffers from indigestion and eats little, his landlady’s extravagant bills fail to reflect this fact. ‘It is astonishing to note sometimes how dexterous a woman is in flattery, what subtle ways she finds of making a man happy with himself’, he writes – simultaneously using irony to distance himself from his landlady’s sexuality and acknowledging it as a tool in her arsenal. He continues: I am, let me own, something dyspeptic. . . . It would only make me painfully nervous and alarmed as to my bodily condition, if my weekly bills reproved me with the failings of my appetite, and told me in stern black and white, that I am not a robust old man. . . . My landlady knows this, and, to please me, has hit upon one of the most original and exquisite devices I have ever noticed in a world full of kind deeds. She keeps up . . . in all those importunate little documents that must be read, that I am an eminently healthy and a hungry man. She will not grant that I am unable to eat a leg of mutton in two sittings, or to get through a pound of butter at breakfast. In another way her little document consoles me . . . by the assurance that no expense has been spared to procure for me the very best of everything. I seem to be extravagant in vegetables. That is well.59 Despite the narrator’s facetious tone, the premise of the piece – that the ‘old man’ can be content with being overcharged, as long as he is given what can be interpreted as deference to his social status – reveals the underlying class tension in these seemingly petty disputes over the cost of cucumbers and puddings. Like other components of lodging-house life, the bill should help preserve the lodger’s sense of his own gentility. As Wendy Gamber explains in her study of American boarding houses in these same decades, lodgers ‘reacted bitterly’ to palpable signs of household economy ‘because assiduous frugality exposed the economic underpinnings of the relationships in which they were enmeshed’.60 The narrator’s attempt to explain his suboptimal living situation as womanly tact is a source of comic relief, but also belies the very real effects of the emotional climate of the lodging-house. More problematic than persistent dirt, drafts, or verbal rating was the state of emotional turmoil created for the male tenant. Criticizing the landlady’s purported cheapness also helped to disguise a more likely source of embarrassment for lodgers: their own frequent inability to consistently pay their bills, and the possibility of financial overreach into lodgings and services beyond their means.61 This lack of emotional peace was the biggest obstacle to lodgings achieving the status of a home. As one writer put it in 1845, ‘to those who have been accustomed to the comforts and the society of home, the utter loneliness and misery of a lodging are painful in the extreme. The indifferent attendance—the dirt—the neglect—and the fleecing the inexperienced bachelor has to contend with, present a sad contrast to the luxuries to be found only in a well-regulated establishment’.62 ‘Fleecing’ comes last in this tally of complaints; what is most objectionable is the lack of a personal attention, ‘indifferent’ attendance, ‘neglect’, and ‘utter loneliness’. The luxuries of a private home are as much about personal contact – that elusive ‘society’ – as about cleanliness and pleasant food. However friendly relations between landlady and tenant might become, they would never surmount the pure business tie at the bottom of their relationship. Because the landlady could never satisfactorily inhabit a truly sympathetic role, her home was plagued by emotional incontinence. Lodging-house narratives are full of explosions, of vented spleen or half-suppressed emotional outbursts. The landlady’s standard of cleanliness was a common source of disagreement between landlady and tenant. Lodging-houses were most frequently depicted as relentlessly dirty in contrast to the comfortably tidy middle-class home. The bulk of the arduous work of keeping the house clean and meeting the individual demands of a diverse set of lodgers was delegated to the maid-of-all-work; 62% of London lodging-house keepers employed servants, nine out of ten of whom were female.63 The position of lodging-house ‘slavey’ was the lowest form of domestic work available, and was commonly held by untrained girls from the workhouse or orphanage who were unlikely to meet the demands of the job.64 However, lodgings could also be distressingly clean. In the 1855 short story ‘My Landlady’, a gentleman goes to spend a month at the seaside in Heartsease Cottage, a house that is the epitome of cleanliness. The narrator notices that his landlady ‘manifested an unusual alarm on the score of crumbs’, and that she is ‘seriously wounded’ when he places a foot on the fender, resulting in a ‘visible, though almost microscopic scratch’, but he initially dismisses these warning signs as harmless quirks of character. After all, ‘the exquisite cleanliness that prevailed in every part of the premises, both without doors and within, was a constant source of pleasure and comfort’.65 But the landlady’s cleanliness eventually reveals itself to be out of control. One rainy morning, the lodger sends the landlady’s servant into hysterics by daring to walk in the garden. The distressed housemaid quickly takes a shovel to the gravel path in order to erase all traces of human footsteps. It is at this point that the lodger realizes that ‘there was a skeleton in this house also, and that Heartsease Cottage was a misnomer’. The next day, he causes a more serious domestic crisis when he goes out in the rain in spite of his landlady’s increasingly frantic warnings to the contrary. In the time the lodger is gone, rebelling by asserting his manly right to spend time outside the home, his landlady ‘nursed her resentment up to an inflammable pitch’, and by the time the lodger returns home – in the horrified words of his landlady, ‘as wet, sir—as wet, positively, as—as—as a policeman’ – she is ready to wreak her temper on the simple Welsh maid, leading to a row between landlady and lodger that ends in her throwing him out of the house ‘on the score of my “want of cleanliness and common decency”’.66 Conflicts about wet boots and feet on fenders might seem trivial, but ‘My Landlady’ is just one of many short stories that dwell at length precisely on these small-scale domestic outrages. For a respectable landlady to call her gentleman lodger lacking in ‘cleanliness and common decency’ – the narrator moves into direct quotation to emphasize that these were his landlady’s exact words – not only reverses the judgment typically levelled against lower-class landladies, but breaches serious social etiquette in assigning it to a gentleman. The landlady’s willingness to suspend her own performance of civility long enough to level this charge reveals the raw emotion teeming beneath these apparently minor conflicts. This story ends in implicit agreement with the gentleman’s judgment; the narrator seems justified in taking his leave of a place that will not allow him to live as he would at home. The narrator is especially irritated to find himself having to console his own servant. The landlady has failed in her primary task as the female head of a truly middle-class establishment, regulating the emotional needs of her household. Even Mrs Lirriper was not wholly exempt from the chaotic atmosphere of the lodging-house. In her first Christmas number she relates the story of one of her temperamental, good-looking servant girls, infuriated by a jealous new wife who has taken the first floor with her husband: So one afternoon Caroline comes down into the kitchen flushed and flashing, and she says to me ‘Mrs Lirriper that woman in the first has aggravated me past bearing,’ I says ‘Caroline keep your temper,’ Caroline says with a curdling laugh ‘Keep my temper? You’re right Mrs Lirriper, so I will. Capital D her!’ bursts out Caroline (you might have struck me into the centre of the earth with a feather when she said it) ‘I’ll give her a touch of the temper that I keep!’ Caroline downs with her hair my dear, screeches and rushes upstairs, I following as fast as my trembling legs could bear me, but before I got into the room the dinner cloth and pink and white service all dragged off upon the floor with a crash and the newly married couple on their backs in the fire-grate, him with the shovel and tongs and a dish of cucumber across him and a mercy it was summer-time. ‘Caroline’ I says ‘be calm,’ but she catches off my cap and tears it in her teeth as she passes me, then pounces on the new married lady makes her a bundle of ribbons takes her by the two ears and knocks the back of her head upon the carpet Murder screaming all the time Policemen running down the street. . . .67 But Dickens’s ideal landlady is able to calm even this most violent of housemaids, who ‘sitting down on the ground handcuffed, taking breath against the skirting-board . . . all she says was “Mrs Lirriper I am sorry as ever I touched you, for you’re a kind motherly old thing”’.68 Mrs Lirriper visits the girl in prison (apparently she has been charged with assault before) and later, the girl even anonymously sends a replacement cap, ‘very genteel’, as a thanks for her attention.69 Importantly, Mrs Lirriper is ultimately seen by Caroline as more of a mother than an employer, successfully transcending her landlady identity with a more traditionally feminine role. Even more importantly, Caroline is also safely expelled from Mrs Lirriper’s lodging-house, suggesting that the right kind of landlady would immediately quarantine her house from destructive emotions. While Mrs Lirriper manages to navigate the gap between service and intimacy, most fictional landladies found this balance impossible to maintain. Too much sympathy could prove just as infuriating to aggrieved gentleman lodgers as too little. A short story from another Christmas number of Household Words explores this contested social territory between pure economic tie and true friendship, questioning the extent of the intimacy one could form with one’s landlady. ‘Christmas in Lodgings’ (1850) centres on a young law student studying for the bar, having given up the active social life of his fellow students for the solitude of his lodgings. ‘By degrees’, he explains, ‘my books became my dearest, my only associates. Though as a companion and friend I had decidedly fallen off, I improved as a lodger: I kept regular hours, and paid all my bills punctually. My landlady grew confidential, in proportion as I grew domestic’.70 As he loses the manly trappings of his independent life as a student – his friends complain that he ‘was becoming, what they were pleased to designate, “slow”’ – he becomes more ‘domestic’, more feminine, and ultimately his landlady’s confidant: She favoured me with her history from the time of her birth. I knew how she took the measles; the precise effect of her visit to a vaccine establishment; the origin of a scar over her left eye-brow; the income of her brother in Somersetshire; the number of kittens which her cat annually produced; the character she gave her last servant; and the fond affection she had lavished upon a brute of a husband.71 However, the arrival of the Christmas holiday annihilates the ease between landlady and tenant. When she discovers that he has no one to celebrate the holiday with and plans to dine at home – ‘“On Christmas Day, Sir?” the woman repeated, with particular emphasis. “I’m talking about Christmas Day, when every gentleman dines with his friends and relations; leastways, all the gentlemen I ever had, have done so”’ – the lodger quickly realizes that she is dismayed at the idea of having to find room for him at her own packed Christmas table. Embarrassed, he insists on giving up his place, and is dismayed by his landlady’s relief at the prospect of him remaining in his rooms alone all evening. He is also abashed by her apparent judgment that he is failing to fulfil his role as a gentleman in hosting or visiting friends or family on the holiday. (To save face, he offers the comically feeble excuse that all of his friends happen to be from Scotland, where Christmas celebrations had been banned since the seventeenth century.) When Christmas arrives, the narrator attempts to settle in for a quiet night by the fire, but ‘the noise of my landlady and her relatives below made me savage; and when she sent up the servant to ask whether I would like to step below, and take a stir at the pudding, my “no!” was given in such a decided tone that the poor girl vanished with miraculous celerity’.72 The landlady’s efforts to cross social boundaries and invite him to take some part in her private celebration after all only bring home a deeper sense of his embarrassing loneliness, forcing the narrator to recognize his own emotional state as ‘savage’ rather than civilized. When he hears his landlady open the front door, expecting another guest, only to discover that ‘it was only the first-floor’s steak;—poor fellow’, he realizes that ‘my loneliness, then, was a theme of pitiful consideration with the people below! I was very angry, and paced my room in rapid strides’.73 Even though the narrator’s solitude had initially made him closer to his landlady, the prospect of becoming the object of her pity on a day meant for celebrating ties of family and friendship enrages him. ‘I was too proud to allow my landlady the last insight into the real state of my feelings’, he explains. ‘Poor soul! it was not her fault that I had no circle within my reach; yet I remember that throughout the day I regarded her as the impersonation of fiendish malice. . . . I was furious with the sympathy which my loneliness created’.74 For the narrator of this story, his solitude, and his reciprocal intimacy with his landlady, was ‘a capital philosophy for every day in the year—except one’,75 the one day when all professional, economic, and institutional ties drop away, and his specious intimacy with his landlady is quickly dismissed when she needs to free up a place at her table. He resolves that he will never spend another Christmas in lodgings, and just manages to keep his vow – rapidly courting and marrying a young lady within the next year, managing it all so that Christmas Eve sees the newlyweds ‘[taking] our Christmas pudding, in a cab, to my suburban villa near Fulham’.76 Again, the experience of living in lodgings propels a bachelor into marriage. ‘Christmas in Lodgings’ is indicative not only of the carefully performed class differences that structured the power dynamics between landlady and tenant, but of the tensions beneath what appeared to be real and meaningful ties between them. A gentleman lodger might tolerate many impertinences from a landlady, but not her social superiority. The narrator even knows that his landlady steals from him, ‘but she had many good qualities, so I ate what she left me in silence and in peace’.77 While being robbed was unpleasant, it still left the landlady in an inferior moral position. Pity and sympathy from landlady to tenant, on the other hand, enhance her power and superiority over him. In this story, the landlady’s social capital proves greater than that of the young lawyer, even though his future prospects promise a life of comforts beyond the scope of her income. The lodger’s only recourse to this humiliation is to abandon lodging as a way of living altogether, so that he will only receive sympathy from the socially appropriate source of his wife. In the decades that followed the mid-century explosion of lodging-house fiction, narratives about landladies were no longer the reliable staples of popular periodical literature that they had been. Audiences in other genres were also losing interest in the landlady as a major character and comic type, as other cultural figures stepped into the intersection of volatile class and gender lines she had occupied. When W. S. Gilbert reworked Box and Cox (1847), a popular farce about two bachelor tenants duped by a landlady who lodges them in the same room without their knowledge, the landlady, the buxom Mrs Bouncer, was eliminated from the script. In Gilbert’s 1869 Cox and Box, the conniving landlord becomes a comical military man. The landlady’s perversion of domestic peace, her scheming and cheating, and her grotesque sexuality were no longer seen as major social threats, and her gentleman lodgers no longer seemed like such helpless victims. Fiction about lodgings, such as the work of George Gissing and Walter Besant, became more concerned with cross-class contact among tenants and moral concerns with young men and women living independently in urban settings. The fastidious bachelor tenant was no longer the prime object of readerly sympathy, and when landladies did appear in popular fiction, it was more often as background characters, or even as allies, instead of enemies. Sherlock Holmes and his apartment in Baker Street stood as the epitome of ideal male lodgings.78 Holmes’s ‘long-suffering’ landlady Mrs Hudson did not snipe his tea or cheat him on the bill, but ‘stood in the deepest awe of him and never dared to interfere with him, however outrageous his proceedings may seem’.79 By the end of the century, a lodger’s confusion over the landlady’s ambiguous role of quasi-wife became purely humorous. In George Gissing’s short story ‘The Prize Lodger’ (1898), a cranky middle-aged bachelor who decides to marry his competent landlady becomes the victim of the story. Mr Jordan is a gentleman willing to pay over and above his required rent, but one whose ‘faddish attention to domestic minutiae’ makes him impossible for the average landlady to keep longer than a year—until he meets the widowed Mrs Elderfield, a landlady so accomodating that he finds himself disputing his bill because it is ‘so very moderate’, he thinks she must have forgotten something. Unfortunately for Mr Jordan, the same traits that made Mrs Elderfield an ideal landlady make her an odious wife. Mrs Elderfield’s willingness to not only tolerate but indulge his fussy home habits is transformed into a refusal to compromise her own domestic rules. Where Mr Jordan expects to finally enjoy the fabled comforts of home life, he finds only the business-like routine of the lodging-house. No longer free to come home late for dinner, leave his slippers on the bedroom floor, or read his newspaper at breakfast, Jordan finally breaks the icy decorum established between himself and his wife, insisting that ‘I shall carry on as I like in my own house’. When Mrs Jordan retorts matter-of-factly that ‘you will not do as you like in your own house’,80 Mr Jordan storms out and spends the night away from home, wandering past his old lodgings and mourning his lost freedom. When he returns home to face his wife’s rage, he is surprised to find that she is completely unperturbed by his absence. Only what goes on within the walls of her own home falls under her exacting rules; like a landlady, she does not concern herself with what her husband and tenant might do away from his lodging. ‘There, indeed, gleamed a hope’,81 and at the end of the story, Jordan is cautiously optimistic that he might regain the freedom of his bachelorhood. He falls asleep dreaming of his old lodgings and his old power. Gissing’s story crystallizes the representations of English landladies and their relationships with their male tenants that were beginning to circulate at mid-century. Mr Jordan’s struggle to exact his own preferences over that of his landlady; the possibility of marriage always lingering behind the acceptance of service from respectable women; the symmetry between the tyranny of the landlady and the authority of the wife – each of these tensions had proved more problematic to writers of the 1850s and 1860s as they depicted comparatively minor conflicts between landladies and tenants. The late-century reader instead sees Jordan as a fool for seeking wifely qualities behind his landlady’s competent management. He is punished for his belief in the tie between well-run lodging and private home, and for not taking advantage of the masculine freedom he had as a discerning ‘prize lodger’. By the end of the century, the landlady’s antagonistic relationship with her male tenants was no longer controversial, but had become a familiar convention of the literature of the lodging. DISCLOSURE STATEMENT No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author. Footnotes 1 Leonore Davidoff, ‘The Separation of Home and Work? Landladies and Lodgers in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century England’, in Fit Work for Women, ed. by Sandra Burman (London: Routledge, 1979), pp. 64–97 (p. 68). 2 See Jane Hamlett, Material Relations: Domestic Interiors and Middle-Class Families in England, 1850–1910 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010), p. 165. 3 Davidoff, ‘Separation of Home and Work’, p. 79. 4 Alison C. Kay, ‘A Little Enterprise of Her Own: Lodging-House Keeping and the Accommodation Business in Nineteenth-Century London’, The London Journal, 28 (2003), 41–53 (p. 43). 5 Alison C. Kay, The Foundations of Female Entrepreneurship: Enterprise, Home and Household in London, c. 1800–1870 (London: Routledge, 2009), p. 110. 6 [Henry Morley], ‘Apartments, Furnished’, Household Words, 16 July 1853, pp. 457–63 (p. 457). 7 ‘Some Landladies of Fiction’, Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Arts, 12 September 1896, pp. 586–89 (p. 589). 8 ‘Some Landladies of Fiction’, p. 588. 9 Davidoff, ‘Separation of Home and Work’, p. 68. 10 ‘The Lodgings That Wouldn’t Suit’, Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Arts, 26 March 1853, pp. 197–99 (p. 197). 11 [Tom Hood], ‘I.—Landladies’, Life in Lodgings, Fun, 25 April 1868, p. 69. 12 Paul Prendergast, ‘The Lodging-House Keeper’, in Heads of the People: or, Portraits of the English. Drawn by Kenny Meadows: Engraved by Orrin Smith, 2 vols (London: Tyas, 1841), II, 95–100 (p. 96). 13 [Morley], ‘Apartments, Furnished’, p. 457. 14 [Hood], ‘I.—Landladies’, p. 69. 15 ‘Some Landladies of Fiction’, p. 586. 16 ‘Tales of My Landlords’, Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Arts, 25 April 1863, pp. 257–61 (p. 257). In fact, ownership of property in London was not dominated by men. Women were slightly more likely to invest their capital in this way; see Alison C. Kay’s analysis of London fire insurance records in The Foundations of Female Entrepreneurship, p. 108. 17 Prendergast, ‘The Lodging-House Keeper’, p. 99. 18 Alfred W. Cole, ‘A Tale of My Landlady’, Alfred W. Bentley’s Miscellany, July 1854, pp. 188–94 (p. 189). 19 Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son (London: Bradbury, 1848), p. 609. 20 Prendergast, ‘The Lodging-House Keeper’, p. 96. 21 Davidoff, ‘The Separation of Home and Work’, p. 91. 22 Charles Dickens, ‘The Boarding House’, The Monthly Magazine, May 1834, pp. 481–93 (p. 491). 23 Dickens, ‘The Boarding House’, p. 485. 24 Prendergast, ‘The Lodging-House Keeper’, p. 99. 25 [Hood], ‘I.—Landladies’, p. 69. 26 Sharon Marcus, Apartment Stories: City and Home in Nineteenth-Century Paris and London (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999), p. 48. 27 Marcus, Apartment Stories, p. 49. 28 [George Augustus Sala], ‘Four Stories’, Household Words, 26 June 1852, pp. 336–42 (p. 336). 29 [Wilkie Collins], ‘Laid Up in Two Lodgings’, Household Words, 7 June 1856, pp. 481–86 (p. 483). 30 [Collins], ‘Laid Up in Two Lodgings’, Household Words, 14 June 1856, pp. 517–23 (p. 517). 31 [Collins], ‘Laid Up in Two Lodgings’, p. 518–19. 32 Lorna Huett, ‘Among the Unknown Public: Household Words, All the Year Round and the Mass-Market Weekly Periodical in the Mid-Nineteenth Century’, Victorian Periodicals Review, 38 (2005), 61–82 (p. 72). 33 ‘Letting Lodgings. A Widow’s Tale’, Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine, June 1854, pp. 346–49 (p. 346). 34 ‘Letting Lodgings’, p. 349. 35 ‘Letting Lodgings’, p. 347. 36 ‘Letting Lodgings’, p. 346. 37 [Hood], ‘I.—Landladies’, p. 69. 38 ‘Letting Lodgings’, p. 349. 39 See Kay, Foundations, pp. 113–14. 40 See Kay, Foundations, p. 108. 41 Prendergast, ‘The Lodging-House Keeper’, p. 77. 42 Cole, ‘A Tale of My Landlady’, p. 194. 43 ‘The Lodgings That Wouldn’t Suit’, p. 197. 44 ‘Reviews. Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgings’, The Saturday Review, 12 December 1863, pp. 759–60 (p. 759). 45 ‘Some Landladies of Fiction’, p. 587. 46 Adolphus William Ward, ‘Introduction’, in Cousin Phillis and Other Tales, in The Works of Mrs Gaskell, ed. by Ward, 7 vols (London: Smith, 1906), VII, xiii–xl (p. xxxix). 47 ‘Reviews’, p. 759. 48 ‘Reviews’, p. 759. 49 [Charles Dickens], ‘Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgings’, All the Year Round, 3 December 1863, pp. 1–48 (p. 3). 50 [Dickens], ‘Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgings’, p. 4. 51 [Dickens], ‘Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgings’, p. 8. 52 ‘Bachelor Householders’, The Saturday Review, 18 September 1880, pp. 360–61 (p. 360). 53 Prendergast, ‘The Lodging-House Keeper’, p. 100. 54 Hamlett, Material Relations, p. 172. 55 ‘Why I Don’t Leave My Lodgings’, Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Arts, 14 January 1860, pp. 30–32 (pp. 30–31). 56 [Hood], ‘I.—Landladies’, p. 69. 57 Nancy Armstrong, Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 82. 58 [Morley], ‘Apartments, Furnished’, p. 460. 59 [Browne and Henry Morley], ‘Perfectly Contented’, Household Words, 13 September 1856, pp. 213–16 (pp. 215–16). 60 Wendy Gamber, The Boardinghouse in Nineteenth-Century America (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), p. 89. 61 The broad spectrum of individuals who made up Britain’s middle classes were by no means secure in their income, but remained vulnerable to changes in fortune due to poor health, bad investments, or overextended credit. See Margaret Ponsonby, Stories from Home: English Domestic Interiors 1750–1850 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), p. 55. 62 ‘London Lodging Houses’, The Mirror, 7 June 1845, pp. 448–50 (p. 450). 63 Kay, Foundations, p. 114. 64 Davidoff, ‘The Separation of Home and Work’, p. 89. 65 ‘My Landlady’, Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Arts, 22 September 1855, pp. 185–88 (p. 186). 66 ‘My Landlady’, pp. 187–88. 67 [Dickens], ‘Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgings’, p. 3. 68 [Dickens], ‘Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgings’, p. 3. 69 [Dickens], ‘Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgings’, p. 4. 70 [William Blanchard Jerrold and William Henry Wills], ‘Christmas in Lodgings’, Household Words, 21 December 1850, pp. 295–98 (p. 296). 71 [Jerrold and Wills], ‘Christmas in Lodgings’, p. 296. 72 [Jerrold and Wills], ‘Christmas in Lodgings’, p. 296. 73 [Jerrold and Wills], ‘Christmas in Lodgings’, p. 297. 74 [Jerrold and Wills], ‘Christmas in Lodgings’, pp. 297–98. 75 [Jerrold and Wills], ‘Christmas in Lodgings’, p. 296. 76 [Jerrold and Wills], ‘Christmas in Lodgings’, p. 298. 77 [Jerrold and Wills], ‘Christmas in Lodgings’, p. 296. 78 Hamlett, Material Relations, p. 166. 79 Arthur Conan Doyle, ‘The Adventure of the Dying Detective’, in His Last Bow: A Reminiscence of Sherlock Holmes (New York, NY: The Review of Reviews, 1917), pp. 179–204 (p. 179). 80 George Gissing, ‘The Prize Lodger’, in Human Odds and Ends (London: A. H. Bullen, 1901), pp. 133–54 (p. 150). 81 Gissing, ‘The Prize Lodger’, p. 154. © 2018 Leeds Trinity University This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Journal of Victorian Culture – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 18, 2018
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